From a first location in New York’s hip SoHo district, WeWork has expanded into 18 other countries in seven years and raised billions of dollars worth of institutional investment to fund this roll out.
The trend seeing young and ambitious business leaders cluster together in co-working spaces, accessing an office environment probably beyond their means whilst also keeping control of overheads, means the UK has been a hot bed of growth for WeWork.
WeWork in numbers
- Locations: 160+ in 53 cities
- Space leased: 10m sq ft
- Members: 150,000 globally
- Largest location: Tower 49 in New York
Now, through its Creator Awards, WeWork has awarded more than £1.1m from a $20m kitty to 19 UK entrepreneurs. From over 1,000 applicants, a shortlist of 37 was created. Businesses were then invited to pitching live on stage.
For Eugen Miropolski, managing director of WeWork for Europe and Israel, the decision to give away millions in business grants reflects the company’s desire to support creatives and entrepreneurs of the future.
“Creativity is at the core of our business, so we are dedicated to providing financial support to people with a brilliant idea, as well as access to a close-knit community, space and services,” he added.
“We want to create the next generation of creators and entrepreneurs, and be regarded as a place where they can flourish and inspire. WeWork is synonymous with creativity, and we hope that our winners go on to do amazing things.”
Chatterbox, an online an in-person language tutoring service delivered by refugees, is one example of WeWork’s “creators”. Having “developed rapidly” since it was set up just over a year ago, it will be launching its services at several more universities, schools and businesses around the UK this autumn.
Mursal Hedayat, founder of Chatterbox, told Real Business about the challenges her business has faced so far. “Lack of funding to hire team members has been a major challenge for us over the past year. Our volunteering team has been a major help in overcoming these limitations,” she explained.
The £45,000 worth of business grants funding provided through WeWork, after Chatterbox was named at winner at the Creator Awards on 14 September, will go towards hiring a developer and ensuring the company’s technology “seamlessly” supports the tutoring that currently goes on.
In terms of business grants secured, Airlite was one of the most successful early-stage businesses at the Creator Awards. Picking up funding worth £135,000, the biotech company is at the expansion phase and is focusing on Europe, the US, China, the Middle East and Central America.
Its technology comes in the form of a nano material-based paint that reduces air pollution, one of the biggest environmental risks today.
Arun Jayadev, co-founder and COO of Airlite, commented: “The biggest challenge is the awareness of impact of air quality. Today it is the biggest environmental risk leading to more than seven million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).”
Having been based at WeWork since its inception, taking part in the Creator Awards was a natural next step, Jayadev believes. The £135,000 will be put to work hiring talent and expanding Airlite’s business development activities in the UK, US and China.
Echoing the sentiment of many Creator Awards winners, and giving some relevance to the $20m worth of business grants being distributed globally by WeWork, Miropolski things the biggest barrier to success for young businesses and entrepreneurs is financial.
“Money is needed to get a business idea off the ground. However, funding is’t the sole barrier to success. Often, fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs don’t have access to the support needed to grow,” he added.
“Mentorship and interacting with like-minded individuals is crucial within business. If you provide entrepreneurs and small businesses with a community, they will be more likely to flourish.”
In true WeWork style, the London edition of the Creator Awards was hosted by Reggie Yates and featured appearances by Grammy Award-winning British musician Estelle. However, despite guests being treated to a headline DJ act from Annie Mac, Miropolski emphasised the legacy the initiative should have.
“The Creator Awards is a unique initiative which builds on the support we already give creatives and entrepreneurs,” he said. “We want to recognise innovation and creativity, and what better way to do this than to support inspiring individuals and business ideas?”
With 16 London locations already in operation, and 26 announced around the UK, WeWork is a global force clearly here to stay. However, at least its business grants initiative proves the company recognises one of the key barriers to success – growth capital.
With co-working spaces becoming an increasingly popular destination for businesses to grow from within, Real Business begins its journey of the options out there by visiting Interchange in North London.
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