Running a “disruptive” start-up? A very cool and worthwhile pursuit, but where should you be showing your face to make sure you are at the “bleeding edge” of London’s start-up scene & are up-to-date with all the latest pivots whilst staying lean, mean and agile? Without boiling the ocean, here are some of our recommendations for the place to be seen on London’s start-up scene:
If you are looking for office space in Central London, there are cheaper options (Launch 22 in Shoreditch, Bathtub2Boardroom), but there are none as hip as WeWork is right now.
Founded in 2010 and headquartered in New York City, WeWork now own 29 co-working spaces in 10 cities across the world, from Austin to Amsterdam, and their representatives are easy to spot around London, too, in their cool black T-shirts with funky white lettering.
What makes WeWork such an exciting place to be? Firstly, being an American company it has American style levels of motivation; these are not spaces in which to sit quietly in the corner tapping away at your Apple Mac, but big, open plan spaces (although offices are available to rent too) full of bold, brash entrepreneurs doing their thang.
Strolling round the corridors of spaces in Shoreditch, Moorgate (offices only), Devonshire Square, Soho and The South Bank, you’ll be mixing with movers and shakers in an environment where, according to Community Associate Mitch King, “you can create your life’s work”.
And there are plenty of extra perks too thrown in for good measure. WeWork has more than 200 partners, from Amazon Web Services, to General Assembly, to Moo, there’s free coffee, arcades, fruit water, private booths and arcades to play on for when you are enjoying some, ahem, downtime. WeWork put on lots of events too.
If you’re thinking big, like a challenge and want to feel like you are at the “bleeding edge” of the start-up / hipster scene, prices start from £250 pcm at Devonshire square, to £950 pcm for an office in the heart of Soho. Not great for your burn rate, but sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate, and WeWork is the place for those who feel they belong.
Just be careful you don’t feel like you’ve made it just by moving in.
Hipsters, Hackers & Hustlers at Google Campus
Rough yet refined, raw yet ready, and run by the redoubtable Rob Fenton of Hipsters, Hackers & Hustlers, HHH Speed Pitching nights are one of the highlights of Google Campus’ month. Rob has run nearly 25 iterations of his now famous Speed Pitching nights, having taken over the HHH and Devs & Ents Meetup groups nearly 2 years ago.
This is the event at which to declare your start-up open for business, and to pitch, in under 30 seconds, for help in the form of investment, technical help, marketing PR, feedback, and well, just about everything really. Just don’t pitch for longer than 30 seconds or you will be chased off stage by water pistol wielding assistants.
The beauty of HHH Speed Pitching is that anybody can come on stage and pitch any business they like, (in fact some entrepreneurs pitch 2 or 3 businesses in the same evening), but despite the open nature of the event the quality of ideas has always been high, and more than a few start-ups have found the team or the support they needed at one of these events. There is always networking after the event which takes place initially in the Campus basement, over hotdogs and a beer, before spilling into nearby pubs and bars. The event is run with the just the right mix of adrenaline, testosterone, good humour and genuine ambition to get things done, and it’s a colourful experience that provides just the right kind of proving ground for founders, from those who are new to the game to seasoned pro’s looking to engage at the ground level once again.
Worth looking out for too are the HHH GaP->GaS (Got a Problem->Get a Solution) nights which are run in parallel with Speed pitching; start-up founders are invited to share their start-up teething problems with the audience who then provide crowd-sourced solutions, often becoming personally involved with the projects. Networking at its finest, you can catch the next events here, and here!
The Hoxton Hotel
But which one? Confusingly, there are two; the Hoxton Hotel, and erm, the Hoxton Hotel, Holborn. The original Hoxton on Great Eastern Street, which runs parallel to Shoreditch High street, near the Old Street Roundabout, is first and foremost a funky hotel which offers a contemporary, stripped down hotel experience that still manages to be expensive enough to discourage any lean, agile methodology devotee start-up founder from ever actually staying there, but no matter, the open plan lounge and restaurant, with its free Wi-fi, is the perfect place to break out the laptop and bash out a few lines of code before entertaining clients, or impressing investors.
It’s a hipster spotter’s paradise, and despite its plush appearance, the staff are welcoming, there is almost always space to sit down and work, and the workers lunch, £10 for a soup and a sandwich, is great value (the porridge with pistachio is pretty tasty too).
There is always something going on at the Hoxton which founders will want to know about. Oxygen Accelerator holds its cohort’s investor demo days there, Dreamstake host the HoxTech Angels invitation only pitching and investor event there every third Monday of the month, and you just never know who you might end up bumping into and swapping business cards with.
The Hoxton Hotel in Holborn, despite probably needing a name change to prevent an endless series of people turning up in the wrong place for a meeting (although it’s a great excuse if you are trying to avoid somebody…”oh, I thought you meant the Holborn one, I’m so sorry, let’s reschedule…?”), is pretty much a carbon copy; same comfy lounge, same friendly staff, same buzz, same food. Slightly more crowded. Grab a space at the communal table in the far rh corner and watch yourself gradually wilt in the face of a succession of ludicrously dressed, ludicrously young hipsters with old heads on their broad, upwardly mobile shoulders.
Sarf London’s answer to hipster cool, Brixton is open for business! Pop Brixton is a project to support local jobs, training and enterprise designed by award-winning architects Carl Turner, commissioned by Lambeth Council and supported by The Collective. Pop Brixton comes with its own community garden, Pop Farm, a long term initiative to educate, inform and share food and plant growing knowledge within the community. The space will play host to independent start-ups drawn from the creative, retail, food & drink and arts industries, supporting 80 entrepreneurs in total and creating more than 200 jobs, says the press release.
Similarly to BoxPark, the Roger Wade inspired row of mostly independent, fashion oriented boutique shops that line the approach to Shoreditch High Street Station on Bethnal Green Road, Pop Brixton will be fashioned from converted shipping containers, with 85% of tenants drawn from the local community, and 10 units available at rents reduced to 20-50% of the standard charge.
As well as being the busiest place on the whole planet* Brixton is well known for its village-y feel and range of independent, often foodie related businesses, inspired by the area’s multi-cultural background, and Pop Brixton will hope to preserve this “doing it for ourselves” culture, with 20 new food and drink venues, including Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen and Baba G’s Indian / British fusion, vintage clothing sellers Make Do & Mend, and Impact Hub, the start-up co-working space that is currently situated in Lambeth Town Hall but is scheduled to relocate to Pop in September.
Applications for the spaces are now closed (prices range from £800-£2,500 per unit per month), but you can still run events there and local artists are particularly encouraged to do so. The site will exist until 2017 but has been earmarked for redevelopment after that by Lambeth Council. Get it while it’s hot!
*it’s not really but it feels like it every time you emerge from the underground
Mass Challenge at Tobacco Dock, Shadwell
Has to be one of London’s quirkiest and most iconic start-up spaces, currently occupied by an exciting not-for-profit with friends in high places, not least Liverpool Football Club owner John Henry’s wife Liza Pizzuti Henry.
Mass Challenge is a Boston based incubator founded by the charismatic John Harthorne, whose stated ambition is to “catalyse a start-up renaissance”. It’s a not-for-profit start-up accelerator which has operated in Boston for 4 years, creating more than 5,000 jobs and $450m of revenues, and expanding into Israel, and now London.
Tobacco Dock is an elegant Victorian storage warehouse by the Thames, a few minutes walk from Shadwell DLR / overground station, that has been largely unoccupied since a failed attempt to convert the space into a high-end shopping centre (tourists weren’t prepared to travel that far East) was abandoned in the late 1970’s, since which time it has been used primarily as an occasional event space.
Now it’s home to Mass Challenge, and will be for the next 5 years, (although the ultimate owners are a Kuwaiti-based investment firm), which is great news for start-ups. This year’s cohort numbers more than 90 start-ups all competing for a prize of £500k’s worth of subsidised funding. The program runs for 4 months every year and provides free office space to the entire cohort, as well as providing “world class” mentoring and a community of alumni, many of whom have gone on to complete sizeable fund raisings (more than $950m to date) and grow successful businesses.
Currently home to ground breaking companies such as MOM incubators, Haute Arabia and Carbon Analytics, to name a few, the stunning and unique Tobacco Dock may finally have found a compelling use-case, just like its current inhabitants.
Proud Archivist in Haggerston, canal-side bar, restaurant and event space that also does a fantastic worker lunch offer for just a tenner; Somerset House, home to MakerVersity, a pioneering co-working space for people who make stuff; The British Library, inspiring place to work obvs but hard to get a seat, even harder to get one with an electrical socket; the parks and green spaces around the South Bank (be nice to the homeless people and they will be nice to you), TechHub, Shoreditch / Soho House or the Hospital Club (if you can afford it).