Pakistan is a country that boasts one of the largest freelancer communities in the world. Recently, the growth of start-up ecosystem has added to the number of self-employed workers in the country. With this ever growing increase in the number of entrepreneurs and freelancers, there arises a need of co-working spaces, and more and more co-working spaces are opening up in the country. Many entrepreneurs and freelancers have already started taking advantage of these co-working spaces and it is evident from the fact that five co-working spaces have popped up in Lahore in the last six months. However, there is an attitude among the entrepreneurs and freelancers that might halt them from taking the full advantage of these spaces. In my recent interaction with entrepreneurs in Lahore, I learned that most of them are joining co-working spaces because it saves them the hassle and costs of setting up and managing an office. It is a fact that co-working spaces save their members a lot of cost and hassle but their greatest benefit lies somewhere else.
Breeding grounds for new ideas: Co-working spaces can serve as a platform to start discourse around the business models and the ideas on which they are based. At the time when the start-up culture is still in its infancy, these spaces have the potential to provide valuable critique and necessary reinforcement to the entrepreneurs. A few weeks ago an event was organized at the launch of Kickstart’s new location in Johar Town where five tech start-ups demonstrated their technologies and business models in front of an audience of local entrepreneurs. An interactive Q&A session and discussion around the presented ideas evolved into a networking event that lasted for a few more hours after the event. Similar events are being organized in other co-working spaces as well. Through events like these, co-working spaces are also bridging the gap between industry and start-ups by organizing events that are attended by both the people from industry and entrepreneurs. The Hive at Islamabad regularly invites industry mentors who share valuable insights about the industry with the entrepreneurs.
Co-working spaces promote openness: At co-working spaces, networking is a constant activity. When people work together, they learn that they can help each other in ways they had not imagined before. Regular interactions between members lead to strong relationships that can lead to mutually beneficial partnerships. “I couldn’t have found a designer for Dharti.pk who could be a better fit than Qasim Asad,” says Talha Masood after entering into a partnership with the coworker Qasim Asad at Kickstart. Talha, in return, is helping Qasim develop a technology for his anonymous social networking app, Campusfeed. During my recent interaction with the entrepreneurial community of Lahore, I found out that most of them underestimate the collaborative potential of co-working spaces. It was also hinted in a survey that we conducted with the members of different co-working spaces in Lahore. The results showed that about 35% of the members were working from the co-working spaces only because it is the cheapest alternative. They didn’t think their co-working space was helping them in any other way. While it can be partly attributed to a lack of effort on behalf of co-working spaces to nurture a sense of community among members but still we cannot entirely blame co-working spaces for it. Another strong social factor also seems to be involved: It is nothing but natural for an entrepreneur who stems from a society enveloped in chronic mistrust to be asking for more privacy at the working space. Co-working culture promotes the values of collaboration and openness which helps in building trust among the community members that can eventually lead to meaningful partnerships.
Dynamic Ecosystem: Co-working spaces provide a dynamic ecosystem that can help start-ups at all stages of growth. You could enter into partnerships or take benefit from the knowledge of co-workers from backgrounds ranging from coding to accounting and designing to advertising. “It’s been four months since I have joined Kickstart and I have already entered into a partnership with one of the co-founders of the co-working space,” says Ali Ibrahim who runs three start-ups out of Kickstart. He recently entered into a partnership with Saad over the development of a food product that they plan to launch in the US and Canada. While the government of Punjab has done a decent job by establishing Plan9 incubator and Techhub Connect space, there is still a need for lot to be done in this regard by the private sector and the co-working spaces can play a central role in the establishment of such ecosystems across the country.