What can Australia’s economic development practitioners learn from digital entrepreneurship in the USA and New Zealand?
By Paul Johnson, Wellington Shire Council
As part of Economic Development Australia’s (EDA) Overseas Study Tour Program, Paul Johnson, Manager Business Development at Wellington Shire Council in Victoria, travelled to New Zealand and the United States in November 2018. Paul would like to thank EDA and Wellington Shire Council for the opportunity to participate, learn and share this research.
This report outlines experiences and observations made whilst investigating success factors for establishing effective digital coworking spaces to foster digital entrepreneurship in the US and NZ. The following factors were identified as critical.
Establish a vision
A vision or purpose needs to be established before a physical space is established. Coworking spaces are currently in vogue, and recent Australian government support is feeding this momentum. A vision needs to reflect the needs and capability of the local community.
For example, some spaces focus on tech startups which align with the objectives of a particular Government funding stream whereas others are purely focused on accommodating startups which have the greatest commercial potential. The vision of other spaces is to support micro-business which have traditionally fallen through the cracks of usual business support from Government.
In Australia, economic development practitioners may need to lead from behind. That is, engage with the local community, local startups and funding agencies to build a coalition of the ‘willing’- a group of stakeholders who commit to establishing a space to foster and promote digital innovation. This coalition needs to determine whether the proposed space will be underpinned by economic drivers or community drivers.
This report details coworking spaces which have diverse missions and drivers including:
- Covo in San Francisco’s mission is ‘Work. Life. Balanced’. Covo is privately owned and operated and includes an office bar and nap room.
- Ngahere Communities in Auckland which has a mission to promote innovation and entrepreneurship for Maori and Pasifika communities.
- Plug and Play Tech Center in Silicon Valley exists to connect the best technology startups and the world’s largest corporations and its mission is to bring the benefits of Silicon Valley to all four corners of the world.
Capability, diversity, and engagement of membership
Without engagement from members, a coworking space simply offers cheap office rental. The greater the demand from clients to work in a particular coworking space, the more management is able to curate the client mix to align with the mission or vision of the coworking space. Read more about the Capital Factory which has evolved from a coworking space to a highly successful accelerator with an extensive events program, cashed up venture capitalists and a highly competitive selection process.
Location and Perks
To attract tenants, the location must be a superior offering than what’s freely available at a home office, café or local library. Access to meeting rooms, a functional kitchen and high-speed digital infrastructure are non-negotiables. Ideally the space is located near public transport and near other partners including a university or TAFE, investors or other services to support small business.
Programming offered by workspace
Is there access to mentors, investor groups, workshops and educational training such as hack-a-thons or pitch training? This programming is a value add for participants and helps increase engagement and capability.
Breadth of network
To what degree can the coworking space provide clients with access to a network beyond its local community? This includes access to:
- a network of other coworking spaces
- experienced mentors
- finance or network of angel investors
- access to overseas markets or exposure through partners such as Austrade or operators in other geographies.