Head start: Swanky co-working spaces boost Capital’s start-up scene

  • Manoj Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 31, 2016 11:50 IST
Stirring Minds at Asaf Ali Road (above) calls itself a boarding school for start-ups. (Raj K Raj / Hindustan Times)

The large, colourful room is abuzz with the excited chitter-chatter of youngsters in their mid-twenties. A life-size portrait of Steve Wozniak, the unsung co-founder of Apple, is painted on one of the walls. Contemporary chic interiors and soft pendant lights adorn the place.

These young men and women — white chits with their names are pinned on their arms — are exchanging pleasantries, business ideas and phone numbers. Many others are sitting alone, hunched over their laptops. These aspiring entrepreneurs are attending an open co-working event called Delhi Jelly at Coworkin, a co-working space in Lajpat Nagar that hosts a range of events for start-ups. “They not just get a space to work here but also mentorship to bring their ideas to fruition,” says Yatin Thakur, 28, the founder of Coworkin.

In the past couple of years, a whole new kind of co-working spaces such as Coworkin, Investopad, Stirring Minds and 91 Springboard have come up in Delhi and NCR, giving a fillip to the start-up culture. They organise learning programmes, networking events, hackathons, pitching sessions, workshops, etc.

Apart from providing regular services such as a desk to work, private lockers and cloud telephony, many of these co-working spaces such as Stirring Minds at Asaf Ali Road provide sleeping bunks, legal clinics and accounting consultancy.

Then there are those that double up as incubation spaces and even make investments in start-ups. Delhi and NCR has over 40 co-working spaces and their membership fee ranges from `4,000 to `8,000 per month.

“Our co-working space has a diverse mix of entrepreneurs who contribute to each other’s knowledge and create a win-win opportunity for each other. Our pitching events have been attended by venture capital funds such as Sequoia and seed funds such as Unitus. Many young entrepreneurs have found funding for their start ups at these events,” says Pranav Bhatia, founder, Stirring Minds. “We are not just a collaborative co-working space but also an incubation space.”

Thakur, who set up one of the city’s first co-working spaces, says that many start-ups such as Oyo rooms, Urban Clap and Qlicket have passed through his co-working spaces. “Youngsters no longer like the idea of reporting to others, they want to be on their own. Instead of setting up their own offices, they prefer to work out of a space where they get mentorship and become part of the larger start-up community.”

These co-working spaces in Delhi and NCR also attract youngsters from smaller cities such as Jaipur, Dehradun and Lucknow, many of them from the service class. What brings them to co-working spaces is the belief that home is not where one should attempt to start a business. Take for example Anurag Murli, 25, a member of Stirring Minds, where he is preparing for the launch of Vigour Fitness with his college mate Divya Jain 23. His App, he says, is India’s first virtual solution for fitness and nutrition.

“One cannot create a company at home and I cannot afford an office right now. I needed an organised space where I can come every day,” says Murli who quit his job with a multinational realty firm to launch his own company. Like Murli, there over a dozen youngsters at Stirring Minds, trying to realise their start-up dreams.

The Stirring Minds brands itself as the ‘boarding school for the stirred ones, where they are mentored and made ready for the market’.

Its yellow-white walls are adorned with framed motivational quotes and pictures of the likes of Lary Page, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Tony Hsieh. Bhatia says that about 50 start-ups including Prozo, Velfie and Karma Circle were born at Stirring Minds.

In fact, some co-working spaces such as Investopad offer not just mentorship but also early-stage capital. “But we do not allow everyone to become a member. First one has to make an online application, and a decision is taken based on the team, idea and whether it is the kind of start-up that we can invest in. We only work with technology-start-ups,” says Rohan Malhotra, co-founder of Investopad.

Right now about 45 start-ups are working out of Investopad in Delhi and Gurgaon where it has a whopping 33,000 sq ft co-working space. Malhotra says Investopad has already made investment in 9 start-ups since it was set up in 2014.

Raghav Gupta, a member of Coworkin, who is about to launch Befinicky, a video content sharing platform, says co-working spaces allow one to focus on the essentials. “You do not have to bother about electricity connection, furniture and water. Besides, working out of a co-working space gives you the option of easy launch and easy exit.” Adds Devashish Dey, Gupta’s partner in the start-up: “With so many overheads that setting up your own office entails, your start-up dream never becomes a reality”

Bhatia, who founded Stirring Minds in 2013, says that Delhi’s start-up scene has grown exponentially in the past two years. And the reason, he says, is that today Delhi offers better funding opportunities than Bangalore and the fact that it is a seat of government also helps. “Founders of many big tech companies that have grown out of Delhi’s ecosystem have become big investors in start-ups,” says Bhatia.

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