Spotlight: Co-working spaces

(Photos by Amey Mansabdar)

On an average day, Anushka Rao spends her time curled up in one corner of The Daftar scribbling away on her design projects. When she gets bored, she hops over to The Hungry Traveller for a bite and takes a quick peep into The Workshop to check whether there are any interesting classes going on. She wraps up her day attending an open mic poetry or stand-up comedy event or even better a film screening at The Xircus. The 24-year-old freelancer, who is a “painter-turned-graphic artist-turned-screenplay writer”, has found all these under the same roof at The Hive, a co-working cum cultural space in Khar’s Chium village.

Founded by Sudeip Nair, Pramod Sippy and Rajeesh Marar, The Hive is one of the many new collaborative workspaces that are mushrooming around the city. Co-working, collaborating, networking, creating–these spaces are all this rolled into one. In a space-starved city like Mumbai, it is heartening to see the rise of such cultural hubs that facilitate the coming together of like-minded people for both work and leisure, to bounce off ideas, show off their work, create something new or just to meet and catch up. A four-in-one hub, The Hive offers freelancers and artists work and exhibition space; an organic cafe; a soundproof performance and screening room and a mirror-walled workshop area for unconventional educators. “Our space ensures that you are most comfortable while working at what you love doing the most,” says Nair, who is also one of the founders of India’s first alternate culture curation company Culture Shoq. As of now, a hulahooping workshop has just wrapped up, there is a monsoon book sale that is on during the day, at night The Hive is gearing up to screen a 1929 classic, and the coming weekend it will be host to a drum circle event for music enthusiasts.
Mumbai is a city inhabited by dreamers of all kinds. Some of them have left their small towns to get a taste of the big city and others have given up on their well-paying jobs to put together that quirky start-up. Whatever your notions are, whatever your views, it isn’t hard to find a like-minded group in the city. However, Shobita Kadan, president, marketing of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality Pvt Ltd, rues that nowadays being social means being active on social media web sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr etc. “When was the last time social meant actually meeting people?” she asks. “Now friendships, collaborations and discussions are all restricted to online forums. We wanted to bring back real networking and make actual face-to-face meeting possible.” This gave rise to the idea which has now been translated into a bar-restaurant that offers co-working space called Social. Having started out in Bangalore and Delhi, Social has just kicked off its operations in Mumbai’s Colaba. “We had seen a lot of freelancers work out of cafes and restaurants, but they find it difficult because of the cover charges and there is also a limit to the time they can spend in a cafe,” says Kadan. “We thought why not make this official and open up a space for such people. With Social, we also want to bring back the culture of socialising offline. We want people to network, sit down and discuss stuff by looking at each others faces and then ideas will take birth from that.”

Shekhar Gurav of The Playce
Shekhar Gurav of The Playce

It is easy to blame it all on social media, says Shekhar Gurav, founder of The Playce in Mulund. “Anyone who has spend sometime in the city will attest that lack of space is a crucial problem we face here,” he says. Gurav got a taste of this bitter truth while he was on the lookout for an office space for a startup he was planning around online education. He searched every nook and corner of Wadala, dealt with brokers waiting to make a fortune at his expense and finally gave up. “A person who is starting up his own business has a lot of things to take care of and finding an affordable space should be the last thing bothering them,” says Gurav. With friend and collaborator Gargi Shah, Gurav found an old 5,000 sqft office space in Mulund and set up The Playce there. “In less than two years, we now have 30 companies and 14-15 freelancers working from here now, which makes it a total of 80 people working out of here every day,” he says.
Equipped with high-speed internet, scanners, printers, photocopy machines, conference rooms and anything that an office space would need, such spaces come at an affordable price. While Social offers a desk at Rs 5,000 per month (the amount fully redeemable through food and drinks) and pricing at The Hive starts at Rs 500 a day, The Playce has three options: a desk for a day plan for Rs 500, a 10-day trial plan for Rs 4,000 and a month-long plan for Rs 6,500. The mathematics would work fine if you were to compare it to renting out your own space and paying for other overheads like electricity, internet, food and so on. At Matterden CFC, the newly formed space for filmmakers and enthusiasts at Lower Parel’s Deepak Theatre, however, entry is free for all. “The idea is not to set up an elite and restrictive space, but to have a live creative community here,” says Pranav Ashar, the founder. The folks at Matterden are aiming at a sort of “Prithvi theatre for films”, which will not just be a space for consumption and exhibition, but also for creation. “Till now, there has been no space where filmmakers can come, sit, watch films, get inspired, discuss, collaborate and create something together,” says Ashar. “This is the void we are trying to fill with Matterden.”

Anirudha Swarnkar of Ufaber.com
Anirudha Swarnkar of Ufaber.com

Apart from the affordable pricing, the huge positive spillover of working out of such a space is the opportunity to bump into future collaborators, says Anirudha Swarnkar, founder of http://www.ufaber.com, a start-up that offers video-based courses. “Every start up, be it of any kind, will need a content team, developers, PR people and designers,” says Swarnkar. “What better if you can find all this at your own office? At The Playce, we have met experts who have come to talk at events here and have later collaborated with them for courses on our site.” He also gets suggestions and reccomendations on subject matter experts on a daily basis from his peers, he says, adding that a start-up village like The Playce also fosters easy project piloting and testing, thus saving a lot of costs for entrepreneurs.
Even in the social sector, there is no dearth of youngsters with good ideas, says Guncha Khare, member of the founding team of Bombay Connect in Bandra’s Mount Mary Steps. What is of utmost importance, she feels, is to provide a platform for individuals from various walks of life to take the plunge towards social entrepreneurship and introduce them to a community of like-minded peers through interactive activities like talks, community lunches, film screenings and musical performances. From retail brands like Kara and No Nasties to a social business initiaitive The Grameen Creative Lab, a strategic innovation consultancy Bombay Innovation Group and a launchpad for social entrepreneurs Unltd India, Bombay Connect houses a horde of different small companies. The favourite part of the day, say these entrepreneurs, is when they all gather for lunch at the community table and bounce off ideas over food.

Guncha Khare of Bombay Connect
Guncha Khare of Bombay Connect

The biggest fallout from this model is undoubtedly the creation of such a community of like-minded people. This, according to Nair, forms the foundation that supports all kinds of creative pursuits. Agrees Khare who adds that this is critical as it helps facilitate peer learning, builds a collaborative culture and blends skills, approaches and perspectives. However, Parmesh Sahani, founder of Godrej India Culture Lab, a space that provides a platform for fruitful interactions between academia, the creative industries, the corporates and the non-profit sector through events, feels that it should not stop at creation of a community. “This community should be ready to share multiple perspectives in an atmosphere of openness and with the aim to learn more, if not there is no point to this exercise,” says Sahani, who modelled the lab around a think-tank called Convergence Culture Consortium that he had helped create during his years as a student in Massachusets Institute of Technology.
While setting up such a cultural space, location is also a key factor to take into account. While Bandra and Colaba are considered the creative nuclei of the city, Matterden CFC closed in on Lower Parel because of its character as an emerging cultural hub, thanks to its accesibility from both the suburbs as well as the town area. When Gurav and Shah was finalising on Mulund, they first doubted whether they had got it right. “As people started coming in, we realised that the location is actually a huge advantage because while all creative freelancers and artists are based in the western suburbs and in town, the techies and software entrepreneurs are all based around the eastern and central suburbs,” says Gurav.
For most behind such spaces, profit is hardly the driving factor. There are times when they barely break even. Most of them market themselves through word-of-mouth publicity and invite people for events through social media platforms. “More than money, our aim is to help nurture, develop and hone talent spread across the arts and technology,” says Nair. Sahani says that he measures the success of his venture not in numbers but by the “connections we empower and the quality of conversations we facilitate”. “For us success is a process of discovery and not an endpoint,” he says. “We believe that we are, through the lab, creating a whole philosophy or a work environment conducive to a culture of thinking.”

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