By its very definition, a good coworking space isn’t just about the ping pong tables, nap pods, and coffee machine, but community.
With Sydney’s Fishburners nestled between ABC, UTS, and TAFE buildings on Harris St in Ultimo, a street populated by more startups than any other around Australia, you might be hard pressed to find a bigger community on just one road.
Named after one of the ships in the First Fleet, Fishburners is a not for profit founded by Peter Davison and Mike Casey in 2011. It’s now overseen by AdMuncher founder Murray Hurps, who originally joined the space with a startup.
Hurps said he accepted the role of general manager because he believes Fishburners is truly focused on helping startups. It’s helping more and more: as Australia’s largest coworking space, Fishburners has come off its biggest six months yet and is now home to over 100 startups and almost 200 people.
The growth means that there are more startups applying than Fishburners can accommodate. On average, startups stay for 12 to 18 months, before graduating to their own larger spaces. With just one startup leaving each month, space is at a premium. As a result, new applications are judged on two main criteria: is the company scalable and impactful, and is there confidence that the team will be able to execute their plan?
Hurps believes that by being selective, Fishburners ensures startups get value out of being part of an innovative, collaborative community. For Hurps, this community is Fishburners’ greatest asset. Startups are constantly learning from each other and sharing their expertise, while new ventures have also come out of collaborations.
He also sees the four storey building as a watering hole of sorts: Fishburners holds various startup events almost every other day, attracting 300 to 400 outside visitors per week. Its Friday night pitch sessions alone regularly attract 100 visitors.
While Hurps said he would like to be able to attract investor attention for the startups, the not for profit nature of the space makes this a difficult issue. Fishburners does not currently facilitate investment, needing to tread carefully to ensure all activities are purely in the interests of its members – this focus on working purely in the interests of its startups is Fishburners’ driving mantra.
Hurps said Fishburners is also more about attracting pro-bono services for its startups rather than delivering specific services itself. It has been able to keep going thanks to sponsors like Google, PwC, Xero, Optus, and News Corp.
“This ties in with our ethos around not competing with anyone that’s already doing an amazing job. There are great companies around working hard to help startups, and we’re happy to ensure their generosity reaches our members,” Hurps said.
It’s this generosity that Fishburners relies on. Though it offers full time desks for $400 per month, part time space for $300 a month, and hot desks for $40 a day, space in Sydney is at a premium and, as rents skyrocket, most of the fees are put into keeping Fishburners open on Harris St.
The members, for their part, seem happy.
One of them is Tom Walenkamp of soon-to-be-launched startup The Wine Gallery. He said that he discovered Fishburners after searching for Sydney startup events online. After working on his startup at home for four months, he decided to join Fishburners.
“I thought Fishburners would be a great place to come and work, and it really has. I’ve met inspirational and useful people here. I’ve got a corporate finance background, which is great but it’s not relevant to startups, so coming here I’ve been able to get a lot of information on the day to day practicalities of getting something startup,” Walenkamp said.
“Everyone’s so welcoming and generous with their time. You just have to go up to someone and ask them a question, or ask if they know someone who’s had experience with a certain thing, and they’ll lead you straight over. It’s very collaborative.”
With some exciting news in the works, the future looks bright for Fishburners.
Hurps said, “It only takes a few big success stories to really move the needle for a country the size of Australia, and we have all the ingredients here waiting for the right support to bring them together.”