The Godfather of Coworking – Part 1

16 May 2018
Back in late 2007, Innovation Warehouse founder and CEO Ami Shpiro had the vision for an “experiential business school” – a hybrid shared-office space come accelerator, the curriculum being the day-to-day activities of the resident entrepreneurs’ own businesses.

He would scrawl the workspace blueprints on tablecloths and sometimes sign the doodles – depending on the audience. Effectively, Shpiro had conceptualised the model for a community of collaborating start-ups – now known as Innovation Warehouse – and all coworking spaces to follow. 

In the first of a series of articles, Shpiro reminisces on what the lean start-up world has gained in the last decade, and what an industry now dominated by big property plays has lost in the process.

“Back in 2007 I was just drawing circles on bits of paper – I wasn’t aware of terms like “coworking” or “shared economy”. I just thought it would be good to be able to share resources in a challenging economic environment.

“I’d made a number of broad investments – there was technology, there was a fashion magazine, there was education – various disparate areas, and I thought if we could get all these companies under one roof we’d save money, the investment would be able to go further, and it would be an eclectic environment – and they’d all inspire and complement each other’s capabilities. We could get the best of everything.

“We ended up creating what became Innovation Warehouse, and part of that early experience was that, actually, having a really diverse environment doesn’t always work. People in very different industries don’t necessarily have anything in common. So we ended up focusing more on the digital sector.

“But above all it was about sharing; sharing knowledge, wisdom and experience that would come from the mentor community. And sharing resources between start-ups – the same security, the same internet line, the same cleaner even – whatever made sense.

“When I told the City about this model I said it was a no-brainer, particularly in a recession environment where there wasn’t much cash liquidity and people would want to barter. At the time, I predicted that people would notice this model and it would proliferate across the country – and even the world. And that all happened much faster than I realised.

“I saw this as an ecosystem play, where the by-products are employment and growth and the fact that you’re using a high-density yield on property and other available services helps to keep down costs. I didn’t see it becoming a major business model in terms of WeWork-type property companies stepping in and saying: ‘Actually, we can get much higher yields than we get out of a normal lease’.

“And in a way it’s a pity, because instead of it being a grass-roots movement to share and bring down the cost of growth, it’s become a property play. So what has proliferated does not include the core of what we do at Innovation Warehouse, which is the mentoring and knowledge for equity, and exchange of experience with youthful exuberance and innovation – not just innovation in terms of ideas, but innovation in how to take those ideas to market.”