As more people start businesses from home with nothing but a laptop, the rapidly growing 'Hub' network aims to create a mutually beneficial work environment that provides some of the perks of working for a larger firm.
Entrepreneurs are often happier working at a Hub than at home
Europe's first 'Hub' opened its doors near central London five years ago. The aim was to bring together like-minded businesses, particularly those in their start-up phase, and provide them with a place to work and more importantly, make them part of a wider network.
"The Hub started really to bring together people who have projects that are trying to change the world," said Alex Rinsler, programming director at the flagship ‘Hub' in London's Islington. "That could be anyone: small charities, NGOS, social enterprise, starting businesses, aspiring poets, politicians, journalists; anyone who has a social goal will find a home here at the 'Hub'."
The Hub offers small businesses flexible office space
Pay as you go
The concept is dedicated entirely to flexibility, meaning members can use the space as and when they need it. Moveable desks and an open-plan office allow the space to adapt to demand on the day.
Similar to a mobile phone contract, members buy as many hours as they would like to use per month. Basic membership starts from 10 pounds per month right through to 400 pounds for unlimited access.
Regardless of the level of commitment, all members will benefit from the full range of Hub services that include post, franking machines, storage and Wi-Fi internet and broadband.
"The environment has been created to really make it as bespoke as possible for people starting a business," said Alex Rinsler.
Luke Nicholson runs a sustainable innovation business and has been a member at the 'Hub' in London since the very beginning. Starting his business in such a flexible environment removed a great deal of friction, saved time and allowed him to establish much needed contacts.
"I think the main benefits of the 'Hub' are about access to lots of different people, with lots of different sets of expertise in a way that normally you only get in a large institution," he said.
"There are people working here that have access to contacts, influence and bits of knowledge that otherwise you'd have to work in a large company to be able to access."
Hub members can configure the furniture any way they like
For many Hub members, such as recent sign-up Steve Mustardy, the 'Hub' has fast become a vital alterative to working at home. "My wife and I are expecting a baby within in the next few weeks so that's quickly going to become an untenable working environment," he said.
"It's a really good place to separate your work life from your home life, psychologically that's quite powerful," he continued.
Aside from physically shared work space, 'Hub' members are in constant virtual contact via their intranet service, which, in the case of this Hub in London, means having an instant contact book of at least 600 other like-minded entrepreneurs at your finger tips. It's the strength of this community aspect that dictates the success and direction of each Hub.
"The thing about the Hub is that it doesn't start with the space, it starts with the community," said Alex Rinsler.
"You can find a space anywhere really - there's a real willingness on the part of commercial real estate companies to get involved in projects such as this, because it's seen as having spread risk, lots of members, it's fashionable, it's trendy… but to make it sustainable it really needs a powerful community first and we can't dictate too much where those communities come from."
Hub users see themselves as a members of a community, not tenants
The 'Hub' was started five years ago by a group of post university students fresh from development projects in Africa. The 'Hub' was born out of their frustration at the lack of suitable working environments.
Now, the concept has obviously touched a nerve with many others working in the social sector. There are now 3,000 members at over 20 'Hubs' in 14 countries around the world. Locations include Johannesburg, Sao Paulo and Stockholm. Being a 'Hub' member entitles you to one day's work in any hub around the world.
According to Alex Rinsler, the success of this model is a sign of things to come. "There's a real demand for the way that we're working here," he said.
"It responds to big social changes relating to globalization and the end of perhaps more traditional routes of going into large multinational companies and perhaps a reaction to those structures as well."
"This is a way of working that will become more important and more common this is a model that you will see popping up all over the world in the next three to five years," Rinsler concluded.
Aside from providing a healthy working environment, a full program of events from breakfasts and lunches to performances in the evening ensures something extra-curricular is going on almost every day of the week.
Judging on feedback alone, this may become an extremely important business model of the future according to Alex Rinsler.
"In the last year we've had more than a 1000 enquiries about how to start a 'Hub'. There is so much demand out there for people to come and work together like this –it's so much more fun!"
Author: Sarah Stolarz
Editor: Sam Edmonds