university coworking

By Brent Clark, cofounder of Wattblock

Over the past two years Wattblock has moved out of a spare bedroom in an apartment block into the muru-D accelerator space for eight months. From there it moved to Australian Technology Park, where the team worked for three months in the accelerator lab. The next step was four months in the iCentral coworking space on Sussex St in Sydney and then, when iCentral closed down, into UNSW Innovations on the University of New South Wales campus.

Each of these different coworking spaces provided something different to help our startup on its growth and development path.

One thing to consider for your startup is choosing a space which makes sense for the level of maturity of your startup.

Do you want to be close to customers? Or do you want to be close to talent? Do you want to be in an ecosystem which attracts investors?

Do you want to be close to other startups who don’t compete with you? Do you want to be colocated with other startups in your own industry segment working in a state of co-opetition such as Stone and Chalk’s fintech co-working space?

If you are fortunate to be accepted into an accelerator program such as muru-D or Startmate, it is best to take the offer and move into the location they provide. It will be a crazy five to six months working with the other startups side by side. What you will learn from them are the general things such as getting your startup into the right legal, accounting, PR, marketing and investor-ready state before Demo Day. The Demo Days run by accelerator programs attract investors.

When you graduate you will typically go into a capital raising effort. After raising capital you will have the choice to take out a lease on your own office space or continue to work within coworking spaces. If you choose another coworking space, you can share your learnings with the next generation of startups coming through and continue to learn from those that are further up the startup food chain.

After muru-D, we decided to take a generous offer from ATP Innovations, located at the Australian Technology Park, to trial their facility for three months. ATP Innovations, located behind Redfern station in Sydney, is a ‘national treasure’ backed by four different universities.

The benefit of working in ATPi is that there is always something going on there. Regular networking events are happening there which get you exposure to universities, government departments such as Data61 and CSIRO, and other startups. You will run into venture capitalists walking in and out of the facility. The Funkychino coffee shop is the daily network connection point.

ATPi also provides ongoing seminars which will help you with things like setting up an Employee Share Plan. We also found Australian Technology Park was accessible for student interns coming from universities to do industrial training with us. We had 20 students from UNSW come and work with Wattblock while at the site. This was a location which was accessible for talent, being one stop from Sydney’s Central Station.

In terms of our customer growth path, we were fortunate to secure a six month project with the City of Sydney. With this, the iCentral coworking space was located two blocks away from our key customer and also two blocks walk from Town Hall station. This was a location which was close to customers, accessible for talent and powerful for networking, being linked to Pete Cooper’s Start Society.

Unfortunately, iCentral coworking space was shutting down in February 2016 and we needed to find a new location to move into. We were fortunate to receive an offer from UNSW Innovations, who assist student entrepreneurs and alumni to commercialize startup businesses. They had previously co-sponsored a trip to China for us as part of the UNSW Shenzhen pitch competition run in December 2014.

Since moving onto the UNSW campus, we are close to other startup companies which are also working on the campus. We are accessible for talent coming from the solar engineering school, the business school, and languages school, who have helped translate our marketing materials into Chinese.

On campus, we are also able to tap into a network of researchers in our fields of solar and low carbon living. We are able to engage with other related academics from the law school to architecture to the City Futures project, which was investigating strata living. We have also had an introduction to a university-backed venture fund which invests in university startups.

There is also a steady stream of networking events on the campus and conferences being run which attract the likes of large energy companies. Before we knew it, we had recorded an eLearning course for our target market with another alumni startup.

In terms of building startup culture, the University provides options for us to collaborate in other spaces, such as bars and food courts which don’t usually work as well in inner-city locations where these locations are often chaotic. The other thing we realised is that a number of our Wattblock investors (which numbered 17 at this point) have strong connections with UNSW through being alumni or active philanthropists for university causes.

This confirmed to us why UNSW is the leading university in Australia for producing startups. It has the potential to become Australia’s ‘Stanford’ as it is strong in both the engineering and business faculties, the two secret sauces you need to take ideas and concepts and build successful startup businesses.

Image: Wattblock founders Brent Clark and Ross McIntyre. Source: Supplied.

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