By Diana Sterck
Merton Chamber of Commerce has been in the business of working with start up and growing businesses for over 15 years. We know times have changed, so in this debate on 3rd November we brought together businesses, workspace providers and policy influencers to hear their points of view.
We were really interested in hearing what the current barriers to growth for all stages of businesses are and whether we have the right type of workspace available here in Merton and what we should be doing to influence future provision.
There are so many types and descriptors – from accelerators, incubators, tech centres, co-working and just the plain old managed workspace.
We heard from Steve Pette, the co-founder of Central Working on their approach. Using a membership approach providing huge flexibility to the members at a fixed price, for hours and meeting rooms but in a curated style. We talked about other approaches – here in Wimbledon we have Wimbletech which encourages peer to peer learning and a new development proposed by First Base close to Earlsfield. The Chamber of Commerce runs the Generator Business Centre which was initially set up as an early stage incubator which, seven years on, is now a fully occupied and thriving hub for 23 businesses with business support on site.
Traditionally, Councils have been a financial supporter of early stage business hubs. These days newer entrants to the market are Universities and FE Colleges – but the commercial market still has a place.
So what did we conclude?
1. New working practices need to be understood by planning departments. Gone are the days when x amount of square footage meant x amount of jobs. With co-working and hot desking becoming the trend, it’s the number of jobs being created that should be the measure.
2. That existing space should be optimised – so for example unused executive boxes as sports grounds could be used to house businesses at other times; as can libraries, and empty buildings as temporary pop ups
3. That start up and growing businesses like “curated” support – it doesn’t matter if they are from different sectors, it’s creating a loving/caring working environment that counts
4. Meeting room facilities/private space are pretty important
5. And finally, all the traditional barriers, rents, business rates, leases versus licenses are still there for all stages of business growth – but they can all be reviewed to make business space flexible, accessible and affordable.
Thanks to our sponsors – First Base and our venue – the delightful Vallebona (Italian delicatessen) as well as our panel of experts and our audience for what was truly a stimulating and informative evening.