Let’s Talk Coworking

As the coworking scene in Luxembourg is really revving up, we decided to talk to some of the main players in the market. What happens when you bring together four competitors running four very different spaces? Find out here!
Who’s Who?
(C.B.) Claudine Bettendroffer Country Leader of Silversquare Luxembourg
(M.G.) Martin Guérin CEO of the Luxembourg City Incubator (LCI) and accelerator, nyuko
(G.K.) Gosia Kramer CEO & Co-founder of The Office
(C.M.) Christian Muno Co-founder & Manager of Bamhaus

Great to have you all together in one space! The industry just keeps going from strength to strength. Why do you think there is such a strong need for coworking spaces?

C.M. Working from home can be tough. You’re not in a place where you can interact, exchange ideas or be challenged. Most freelancers just need a desk or a small office – somewhere they can work independently whilst being part of a creative community and have an impact on their environment. When we started out at Bamhaus we had a videographer, an artist and an audio specialist renting workspace. From one-man shows, they all grew, they all now have employees and they’re still there! This not only proves a coworking space was needed but that the concept actually works.

G.K. Yes! Coworking spaces are bridges for emerging entrepreneurs for quick go-to-market. Being surrounded by other entrepreneurs sharing hard-won advice can make all the difference between seeing a promising idea disappear, or come to life.

C.B. It’s so important for entrepreneurs to have a place where they can exchange. And what makes that happen? The diversity of a community. In a coworking space you have freelancers and companies at varying stages, from completely different sectors, cohabiting. They work separately on their individual projects but then who knows who they might end up chatting with at the coffee machine.

M.G. A good coworking space is not about the space, it’s about the people. That’s why we say CO-working. That spirit of working together was at the essence of nyuko (which stands for “new-you-co”, where “co” means “together”). Even though the nyuko coworking space has been transferred to the Luxembourg-City Incubator, that spirit remains.

Gosia Kramer, CEO & Co-founder of The Office © Anna Katina

How has Luxembourg taken to this coworking phenomenon?

G.K. We can’t deny that the mentality is not the same here as in Berlin and London, for instance. We’re here to influence the change.

C.M. Culturally speaking too. Luxembourg is pretty conservative in comparison.

G.K. It’s just the beginning though. I think the mentality will follow.

C.B. I agree. The startup ecosystem has evolved so much now that people are striving more and more to work in dynamic, inspiring, collective environments. There’s been a definite shift towards a new “mood” of working.

M.G. It’s true, things change. Indeed, the Luxembourgish startup ecosystem has changed more in the last two years than in the 10 before that! For example, a few months ago it became possible to create a SARL-S in Luxembourg with just one euro. More and more people are willing to start their own businesses. And they need flexible workplaces to start, with the ability to sustain their potential rapid growth.

Martin Guérin, CEO of the Luxembourg-City Incubator (LCI) and accelerator, nyuko © Anna Katina

So how can we promote coworking and startup culture in Luxembourg?

C.M. Education. Growing up in Luxembourg, I always got the same advice: get a stable job, ideally as a civil servant, and then you’ll never need to worry. It’s incredible that 39% of Luxembourgish people work for the municipality or the government. I think we need to teach people that it’s okay to take risks, to start something new. You might fail…but then you might also succeed!

M.G. It’s never “you tried”, it’s “you failed”, and this mindset needs to change! We have to work harder to activate the spirit of entrepreneurship. Taking risks is okay as long as you measure the risk. And if a venture doesn’t work then you can always go get a job later. What you can gain in terms of contacts and experience makes it worth it. I always say: start small. And the best way to start is by being a freelancer in a coworking space. Some people don’t consider freelancers to be startups and I am fighting against this. You have to start small to create bigger things. Freelancers and entrepreneurs are the same – just at different stages of maturity. We shouldn’t differentiate them.

C.M. Absolutely. It’s also so important to shine a spotlight on the champions out there…We don’t celebrate success nearly as much as we should!

G.K. That’s so true. Surviving the first year is a huge milestone. We should throw a party for every company who makes it through the first year! I think coworking and entrepreneurship are trends that are getting stronger by the day. People are inspired by success stories. People want to be independent. Just look at the millennial generation: It is estimated that 75% of them will not take on permanent jobs but head straight towards freelancing instead.

C.B. It’s a matter of time. Just five years ago the ecosystem was really small. Look at London and see how many years it’s taken to build the ecosystem. There are plenty of public and private initiatives driving this in Luxembourg. What would be fantastic would be to organize events connecting all the spaces. Like a table football tournament or co-networking parties! And there’s plenty of scope to expand on the coworking concept: co-living, coworking cafés, spaces with kindergartens and gyms. We need to promote work-life balance.

C.M. Totally. For me it’s about optimizing. As an entrepreneur your private life is your professional life, so balance is key.

Claudine Bettendroffer, Country Leader of Silversquare Luxembourg © Anna Katina

With so many new spaces popping up in a small city like Luxembourg, how can keep your current coworkers, and attract new ones?

M.G. The LCI, a public institution, is a whole different ball game compared to other privately-owned coworking spaces. We are a non-profit and run for the country. We are well-connected with the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Luxembourg networks so our members get lots of direct advice and connections to help them grow. If they need, they also have access to nyuko’s incubation programs and a team of in-house experts.

C.B. At Silversquare we don’t see ourselves as a competitor but rather as a complementary addition to the ecosystem. We don’t just focus on one specific type of coworker but a real mix of companies, freelancers and startups. Most spaces in Luxembourg are full so there’s definitely a need for new ones.

G.K. Totally agree. I often get asked if I’m worried about losing business. My response: There aren’t enough spaces! I compare membership to a coworking space with joining a gym. When someone in the City opens another gym, no one bats an eyelid. People choose gyms based on various criteria: location, cost, classes and the people they’d like to meet. The same goes for coworking spaces. People are striving for feel-good, collaborative workplaces – it’s becoming a part of their lifestyle.

C.B. Yes, it makes no sense to be aggressive in sales; clients should be able to choose where they want to go.

C.M. I completely agree, but I think private structures are one thing and public structures quite another. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who want to open coworking spaces, and then a publicly funded space with huge capacity often causes an interference in the private market.

G.K. We shouldn’t forget what public-funded places can do for startups who need proper incubation and help with their business plans. I think there’s something for everyone here.

M.G. All European capitals have public and private spaces for startups. Schools, universities and even big corporates are also opening their own incubators. Some of them are even free of use, just like most hotel lounges… I don’t think public structures cause interferences. At the LCI we set our prices at market level to avoid that. And look at Technoport who has just celebrated its 20th anniversary: it obviously didn’t ruin the market; on the contrary it helped it grow.

Christian Muno (sitting, right) Co-founder & Manager of Bamhaus © Anna Katina

Is there still quite a gap between the corporate and startup worlds in Luxembourg?

G.K. Unfortunately, yes. From what I’ve seen so far, established companies are reluctant to use startup services. There seems to be some kind of stigma around using freelancers.

C.M. I think it’s because they feel more comfortable using agencies where they can have several people working solely on a project.

G.K. But lack of manpower shouldn’t be a reason to exclude startup talent.

C.B. It could also have something to do with companies sticking with what they know and reluctance to try new things.

M.G. I must say that we don’t see that gap. On the contrary, we work a lot with corporates and have noticed more and more collaboration with startups, especially those who are part of the LOIC (Luxembourg Open Innovation Club).

You can have a day pass to any coworking space in the world. Where would you go?

C.M. De Ceuvel in Amsterdam. The area used to be a heavily polluted industrial site until it became a coworking living lab dedicated to sustainable architecture. It’s so inspiring as you can see how the pollution problem was tackled by creatives who made a very local impact.

C.B. That’s a difficult question. Every space has its own character so it’s hard to decide between, let’s say, the Factory in Berlin, a small coworking café in Barcelona or the coworking incubator at the university of Copenhagen.

G.K. Hubud in Bali. I haven’t been there yet, but it looks amazing. It has featured in Forbes’ “10 Best Coworking Spaces On Earth”.

M.G. The Family in Paris, London and Berlin. It’s for coworkers who have a startup project. There’s a real sense of family spirit – coworkers have fun together, they give constructive criticism on each other’s projects. It embodies everything you would want to find in a coworking space.

This article was first published in a special report included in the 9th issue of SILICON Luxembourg magazine.

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