Are coworking spaces shaping entrepreneurship cultures? A case study of Tøyen Startup Village
Coworking spaces have become an important phenomenon of urban life since the first one opened in 2005. There were just 75 coworking spaces worldwide in 2007, but ten years later, that number had risen to approximately 14,000 (Dunlop, 2017). Even for people who have never visited one, it has been hard to ignore the tastefully designed street frontage for spaces like WeWork popping up everywhere from Shoreditch to Brooklyn to Gangnam. In this thesis, I will look at whether coworking spaces are shaping entrepreneurship cultures and how they might be contributing to increased accessibility, community and diversity in the entrepreneurship landscape. I use focused ethnography and secondary research methods to study Tøyen Startup Village (TSV), a coworking space in Oslo that has strong connections to many different kinds of communities, institutions and businesses.
The research presented in this paper reveals that coworking spaces are playing a role in influencing the entrepreneurship culture in cities like Oslo. They have promoted entrepreneurship by breaking down traditional framings of business, adapting new working methods and lowering the threshold for networking and collaboration across industries and sectors. I also show that the coworking space values of community, openness, collaboration, sustainability and diversity are strong within the internal communities of coworking spaces. However, it appears that coworking spaces have facilitated only limited collaboration with local communities, a factor that limits their potential to draw upon the diversity of resources in their communities for future development and innovation. There is a latent, unused potential to establish a new set of start-ups, networks and forms of knowledge production that contribute to a broader discourse around open innovation. Overall, there is a need for a deeper understanding of and further research on the role of coworking spaces in entrepreneurship cultures.
Over the past decade, coworking spaces have become a significant factor in the daily lives of many entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses. Thousands of coworking spaces have opened around the world. Coworking spaces sublet workplaces to entrepreneurs and business people at a significant price premium over standard office space. These types of arrangements offer more services, flexibility and reliability than traditional leases for offices. They are defined as ‘membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a shared, communal setting’ (Spreitzer et al., 2015, n.p.). The first coworking space opened its doors in San Francisco in 2005 (Foertsch and Cagnol, 2013). Since then, the number of coworking spaces has increased rapidly, reaching 2,000 by 2012 (Deskmag, 2017). Today, there are 17,000–18,000 officially registered coworking spaces worldwide. It is estimated that the number of people joining coworking spaces will grow from 1.74 million in 2017 to 5.1 million spread over 30,432 spaces by 2022, and these figures are regularly revised upwards (Global Coworking Unconference Conference, 2018).
In general, coworking spaces have the potential to serve as platforms for collaboration across disciplines and sectors. They often market themselves as facilitators of important networks consisting of resourceful members with valuable skills. We are likely to get a vibrant entrepreneurship culture when talented people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate through social interaction (Spinuzzi, 2012). Start-ups formed in this way possess cultural values that are influenced by the circumstances from which the entrepreneurs originate, the industry in which they operate and the features of the start-up itself (Saijad et al., 2012). Approximately 2,000 coworking spaces across the globe have signed an agreement to share five ‘coworking space values’: community, collaboration, openness, diversity, and sustainability (Coworking — Join the movement!, 2017). Of most interest to this research are the commitments to community and diversity, which point to the potential for coworking spaces to play a key role in creating entrepreneurship cultures that reflect the diversity of a broader community.
Viramgami (2007) has identified that the economic, social and political environments, in addition to government incentives, education, skills and the culture, influence entrepreneurship cultures. Sigri Sevaldsen, partner and manager at Oslo-based coworking space 657 (657, 2017) describes how the coworking space era has changed the entrepreneurship landscape in Oslo. The current thriving start-up scene was very different just five years ago. Sevaldsen remembers that entrepreneurs were an unusual sight. She said she felt a strong lack of community or support for start-ups. She explains that, in contrast, entrepreneurs are now receiving more respect because it is generally understood that entrepreneurship is hard work that requires forward thinking and risk taking. In her view, the combination of coworking spaces and technology has opened doors for new ways of working and has helped to trigger a rapid acceleration of the start-up culture in Oslo. It was only after the first coworking spaces appeared that a significant culture around entrepreneurship was able to flourish.
In this thesis, I examine the role of coworking spaces in shaping an entrepreneurship culture and explore the interrelations among the people, communities and businesses they support. I was intrigued to discover how coworking spaces were contributing to the broad concept of entrepreneurship cultures in the popular imagination, particularly through concepts like coworking space values. I wanted to investigate the extent to which coworking spaces were connecting with and building upon the various communities with which they interact. In particular, I was keen to understand how they fostered relationships within their local communities, where diversity could be the key to developing new innovation approaches and talents. In this way, I wanted to explore how coworking spaces are related to, and how they might be a source for, the concept of open innovation, which relies on increased diversity and reaching beyond traditional organisational boundaries.
I propose that coworking spaces be seen as a key part of the larger trend towards open innovation, where contributions to novel innovations come from both inside and outside the traditional organisation (Hippel, 2005). Open innovation calls for businesses to examine how their products and services can be developed in self-organised, peer-to-peer and community-driven ways (Lakhani and Tushman, 2011) that mirror many of the ways that coworking spaces are structured. However, very little research has focused on the relationship between these seemingly overlapping and connected topics.
Tøyen Startup Village, referred to as TSV (Tøyen Startup Village, 2017), is a coworking space located in the East end of Oslo. It aims to support entrepreneurs from the city and invites them to become part of a thriving coworking space community in a lively part of town. I chose TSV as my main case study because it is known to be engaged in broad activities, including supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups across many institutions, businesses and communities, while also being involved in local regeneration. These broad sets of interrelationships offer this research rich observations and findings about coworking values, functions and activities. They also provide insights into the interconnectedness of coworking, entrepreneurship culture, community and innovation.
Research questions and hypotheses
The main research questions stem from a belief that the rapidly growing coworking space movement, which connects different kinds of people and businesses, must affect entrepreneurship cultures in significant ways. Based on this idea, I wanted to explore and to uncover in more depth how coworking spaces cultivate interrelationships between an entrepreneurship culture and the local community. Specifically, I wanted to understand the role of coworking spaces in increasing access, diversity and community, and the effect of this on innovation.
Main research questions
1. How is Tøyen Startup Village changing or shaping the entrepreneurship culture in Oslo?
2. How are coworking spaces, in general, changing or shaping entrepreneurship cultures?
Sub research questions
3. How are coworking spaces managing to introduce community values inside the coworking space and in entrepreneurship cultures more generally?
4. In what ways are coworking spaces having an impact on the local community?
5. To what extent are coworking spaces increasing diversity in entrepreneurship cultures?
I have used the following hypothesis to guide my exploratory research:
Coworking spaces can foster new entrepreneurship cultures by nurturing interrelationships among start-ups, entrepreneurs, business institutions and their local communities. In the following model, coworking spaces collaborate with local communities, increasing diversity, which strengthens the coworking community and triggers innovation. These coworking communities reinforce coworking space values that, in turn, have an effect on broader entrepreneurship cultures.
The coworking space ecosystem on how coworking spaces effect an entrepreneurship culture
I anticipate that coworking spaces have a strong influence on the communities in which they participate, including start-ups, entrepreneurs, local businesses, government and institutions, and this will place them in a unique position to shape the future of entrepreneurship cultures.
This research is based primarily on a case study of the coworking space Tøyen Startup Village (TSV), with further research conducted at the coworking spaces 657 in Oslo and The Trampery (The Trampery, 2018) in London. The study takes a qualitative approach, combining structured and unstructured interviews, secondary research and participant observations using focused ethnography over a period of six months from August 2017 to January 2018. Through these approaches, I was able to explore coworking space communities and entrepreneurship cultures in depth.
Focused ethnography as research method
Ethnography is a research method originally used for studying remote cultures. The researcher takes an emic perspective and gathers first-hand experiences of a culture, community and/or environment (Eriksson and Kovalainen, 2008). Focused ethnography is a specific ethnographic approach that can be applied when field visits are short-term, the researcher already has knowledge of the subject under study and the researcher has specific inquiries about an emergent environment that he/she wants to investigate further (Wall, 2015). This method was selected because it allows for the study of coworking spaces from a social and cultural perspective (Knoblauch, 2005). Focused ethnography is an appropriate method in this case study because it enables insights into people’s behaviours and work patterns. In addition, it is useful for analysing coworking spaces because they are discreet communities and organisations: they are a social phenomenon (Higginbottom, 2013).
My principal observations were conducted at TSV and its surrounding community. TSV offered a level of access that would have been difficult in other coworking spaces. The observation sessions lasted on average from one to three hours every two weeks. They took place 09.00–18.00 in the members’ communal area and workspace on weekdays and 11.00–20.00 in the TSV workbar, usually during events, on weekdays. Furthermore, there was a mix of structured and unstructured interviews. For the structured interviews, the interview subjects were asked to answer each question in order. For the unstructured interviews, only some of the questions were asked and there was increased opportunity to cover broader, related topics.
In total, I conducted eleven structured interviews lasting from 30 minutes to 1.15 hours, depending on the amount of input from the interview subjects. I structured the main interviews in this way to get a broad set of results across every research question. In addition, I did three unstructured interviews and had conversations with members and non-members of coworking spaces, often groups at social gatherings. The research follows the code of conduct on informed consent. Participation was voluntary, and the research subjects received information on the project prior to the interviews. (Directorate-General for Research and Innovation Science in Society/Capacities FP7, 2013). The structured and unstructured interviews referenced directly in the case study section of this essay can be found under ‘Interviews’ in appendix B. The observations are embedded in the outcomes and highlighted if they were particularly interesting, contributed additional information or deviated from the interviews. The primary research material is corroborated by secondary research from academic and non-academic sources.
Limitations to the methodology
Focused ethnography uses a small number of subjects for observation; therefore, it is difficult to produce highly generalisable outcomes (Marcus, 1998). The interview subjects are representative of people associated with TSV in terms of their various views and approaches. However, it is still possible to encounter bias from their perspectives (Flick, 2014). That those under study will alter their behaviour while under observation must also be considered. In relation to researcher bias, it can be challenging to escape one’s own mindset as a researcher (Kawulich, 2005), and it has been important to be aware of these limitations.
Concepts and terminologies
I will be covering broad, complex and interrelated topics in this essay. In the following section, I outline some of the concepts and terminologies before providing a brief history of coworking spaces.
The concept of entrepreneurship culture is fundamental to this research. The word culture was defined by Edward Burnett Tylor (1871) to mean a ‘complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society’ (Tylor, 1871, p. 1). Culture can be seen as a set of goals serving as guiding principles in the lives of human beings (Schwartz and Ros, 1995). According to Wong (2014) the concept of entrepreneurial culture has existed for decades and can be described as:
‘an organizational culture embodying and championing entrepreneurial characteristics and attributes. These have included risk-taking, innovation, and creativity; the elements one would expect to see among entrepreneurs as individuals. The literature suggests that entrepreneurial culture relates itself to a number of positive organizational outcomes, such as generating new business and improving firm performance’ (Wong, 2014, p. 2).
An entrepreneurship culture relies on people, relationships and networks, as well as a fragile set of conditions such as a positive, can-do attitude and supportive cultural and social frameworks. Some environments nurture entrepreneurship more than others (Kaufmann and Shams, 2015), and according to Peterson (1988), entrepreneurship is tightly bound to culture. For instance, in Israel there is a general acceptance of the experimentation and failure that come with start-ups. This is in marked contrast to Norway, which has traditionally been skeptical and afraid of failure.
Despite a large body of literature on entrepreneurial cultures, the concept remains ambiguous. In this essay, I use the term to describe the shared values, practices, customs and beliefs shaping the popular imagination about entrepreneurs, start-ups, businesses and innovation, which are brought into greater focus by the increased accessibility of entrepreneurship facilitated by technology and coworking spaces.
Entrepreneurship and start-ups
Peter Drucker (Drucker, 1985) defined entrepreneurship as change agent. Howard Stevenson (2006) considers it ‘the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled’ (Stevenson, 2006, p. 3). In this thesis, entrepreneurship describes both start-ups (individual entities) and the start-up culture (society). Therefore, when describing entrepreneurship, it is also important to understand the start-up as a construct created by entrepreneurs who seek to resolve a problem without the certainty of a successful outcome (Shontell, 2014). A start-up is usually less than 10 years old, employs innovative technologies and/or business models and is trying to grow (Kollmann et al., 2016). Start-ups are known to be open-minded about trying new working methods and business models, often acting as advocates for social and economic change (Decision Innovation, 2017).
Coworking spaces are sometimes referred to as innovation hubs because they provide the infrastructure and framework to support innovation. The term innovation can be confusing because of the lack of a common definition (Baregheh et al., 2009). Innovation is associated with change, and Gopalakrishnan and Damanpour (1997) consider it the creation and adoption of new products and/or services. Innovation is most often associated with either entrepreneurs tinkering in their garages in Silicon Valley or the well-funded research laboratories of large corporations. More recently, the definition has been expanded to include the ways in which problem-solving ability has become highly accessible and distributed through communication technologies, open innovation, where ‘previously firm-based innovation activities may now be done on the outside in market or community settings’ (Lakhani and Tushman, 2011, p. 358).
Diversity and community
According to Global Diversity Practice (2017), diversity is about differentiating groups and people from one another. It takes several characteristics, such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability, geographic location and social and economic background, into account. Diversity in the workplace encourages openness and respect for people and their differences (Thomas and Ely, 1996). In the context of coworking spaces, diversity is strongly linked with community and community values. A sense of community is defined by membership, influence, integration and fulfilment of needs and shared emotional connection (McMillan and Chavis, 1986). Coworking spaces construct communities by focusing on people and putting relationships at the forefront. Gusfield (1978) referred to two kinds of communities, the relational and the territorial. I tackle both the internal coworking space community (relational) and the local community (neighbourhood).
Next, I present a brief history of coworking spaces before discussing the actual case study.
The rise of coworking spaces
A brief overview of coworking spaces
The phrase ‘coworking in a given location’ was introduced in 2005 by Brad Neuberg, founder of Citizen Space, in San Francisco (Bacigalupo, 2017). Neuberg’s idea was to bring independent workers together in a shared building where they could socialise, share knowledge and network. Such spaces have become increasingly popular. They are associated with the rise of the start-up culture and are also a reaction to the financial crisis of 2008 (Merkel, 2015). According to Zobrist and Grampp (2016), coworking spaces meet the contemporary demands for increased flexibility, an independent and on-demand workforce and knowledge sharing. They are described as places where new businesses are developed, ideas are exchanged, useful skills are acquired and relationships are established (Shuermann, 2014). Those who join a coworking space can be part of a larger ecosystem, a ‘second home’, with short-term or part-time employment, entrepreneurship, flexible time arrangements, teleworking and nomadism (Curtis, 2017). The names of these spaces such as ‘WeWork’ and ‘Second Home’ also indicate new orientations, practices and processes (Merkel, 2015).
Coworking spaces often claim to be highly concerned with people rather than real estate and business. They focus on members, internal communal areas, front office staff, community managers, events, networking facilities and inter-disciplinary collaborations. Coworking spaces are selling not just spaces in which to work but also opportunities to meet people and to generate new businesses through involvement in coworking space communities.
Coworking spaces are inextricably linked to recent political shifts toward urban regeneration and the support of ‘start-up capitals’. They are seen by politicians as drivers of innovation and a simple way of increasing the number of start-ups in a given geographical area. Lukjanska (2016) notes that in the rapidly changing economy
‘the coworking movement is one of the best options to meet new needs of the society. Such spaces provide an adaptable environment for the new economy — and a new generation of freelancers — to operate’ (Lukjanska , 2016, p. 5).
Many of the smaller coworking spaces aim to nurture entrepreneurs working in ‘social innovation’. They are focused on developing business cultures that are less concerned about short-term financial returns than about creating new organisations that work to achieve social progress in areas such as healthcare, politics and civil society. Haines (2016) argues that instead of relying on the traditional venture capital (VC) values of scalability, metrics and data, businesses should start questioning the value of a product or service to potential users. Many coworking spaces have nurtured companies that are geared towards creating shared value for various kinds of stakeholders (Porter and Kramer, 2011). They act in opposition to the dominant Silicon Valley culture, where rapid growth and fast accumulation of wealth are the main measures of the success of a business (Friend, 2015).
Coworking space values
As the coworking movement has grown, a set of values based on shared ideals has emerged. These are built largely upon the experiences of relatively small, independent coworking spaces, such as Makeshift Society in San Francisco (Makeshift Society, 2018) and Makerversity in London (Makerversity, 2017). Alex Hillman, co-founder of the coworking space Indy Hall in Philadelphia, identified five ‘coworking space values’: community, sustainability, collaboration, openness and diversity (Coworking — Join the movement!, 2017). He recommended that coworking spaces implement as many of the coworking space values as possible and formulate some of their own to personalise the spaces. These values form the basis of the global coworking movement.
These values echo the concepts that I focused on in this study. As seen in the Concepts and Terminologies section above, I focus on the concepts of community and diversity, in the context of the ideas of openness and collaboration.
Coworking spaces in Oslo
There is general acceptance that Europe must look to new sources of income (World Economic Forum, 2014) and that entrepreneurship could be the key driver of future economic growth (Lichtenstein and Lyons, 2010). Norway is an affluent country with highly educated citizens and one of the strongest private and public sectors in the world (The Economist, 2013). The Norwegian workplace operates in ‘the Nordic model’ that is founded in principles of democracy, equality, welfare, participation and redistribution (Esping-Andersen, 1990). However, it is struggling to define a new identity in difficult economic times in which the country’s once lucrative petroleum industry is suffering and putting public sector finances at risk (Sørnes et al., 2015).
Norwegian culture is defined by Aksel Sandemose’s Law of Jante (1936), a set of rules from the novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, that posits that everyone is equal: you are not special, smarter or better, nor do you know more or can do better than we (Sandemose, 1936). These ‘laws’ are entrenched in the Norwegian popular imagination. But they go deeply against the grain of entrepreneurship cultures in which individual success is admired and encouraged — not looked down upon. This has resulted in a lack of an entrepreneurship culture in Norway and a slow process in developing one (Kshetri, 2014).
In 2012, there were four coworking spaces in the heart of the Oslo city centre (Evers et al., 2014). By 2018, there are close to twenty (Coworker, 2018). Business angel Thomas Berglund (Berglund and Smith, 2017), suggests that Norway’s fast-growing start-up environment is partly the result of the rapid development of the coworking space culture in Oslo. According to Berglund and Smith (2017) Norway has started to use coworking spaces as a strategic tool to forecast industry needs, markets and business potential. Coworking has slotted well into Norwegian business culture with close alignment between private and public institutions. The proximity of coworking spaces to entrepreneurs should mean that they will fare better than previous top-down initiatives from governmental bodies and academic institutions. The Norwegian culture also praises empowerment, engagement and participation, which align with the coworking space values of community and collaboration. However, the coworking space business model is fragile. The flexibility afforded members can be problematic when covering the long-term and rapidly increasing costs of real estate. This is especially challenging in expensive cities like London and Oslo (Seo et al., 2017).
In this section, we established that coworking spaces have become an important dynamic in an interconnected world, and a significant part of many working people’s lives. They are highly visible in almost every city around the world and have become tools for policymakers and politicians interested in facilitating start-ups, innovation and urban regeneration. They are behind a movement emphasising values such as community, openness, diversity and collaboration in entrepreneurship. In Oslo, coworking spaces have played an important part in bringing entrepreneurship and the start-up culture to the popular imagination.
In the next section, I present my primary research on Tøyen Startup Village. I explore the activities, behaviours, opinions and attitudes in the daily life of an active and vibrant coworking space.
Case Study: Tøyen Startup Village–a deep dive into coworking space culture
Tøyen Startup Village is a small, independent coworking space located in the east-end of Oslo called Tøyen. It supports entrepreneurs and start-ups across many institutions, businesses and communities. It is part of a broader scheme to regenerate the low-income neighbourhood of Tøyen. TSV was chosen for this study because of its specific and rather broad set of interrelationships that allowed a deeper examination of the interconnectedness of coworking, entrepreneurship culture, community and innovation.
The case study is presented from the point of view of the interview subjects who tell their own stories and experiences in answer to my questions. The concrete examples and detailed descriptions give us insights into the experiences, attitudes and activities of people intimately involved in the coworking culture. I conducted observation sessions and did structured and unstructured interviews with members and full-time employees of TSV. I also interviewed staff and members of other coworking spaces, and had conversations with urbanists, employees of the municipality of Oslo and citizens of Tøyen. In addition to TSV, I visited the following coworking spaces in Oslo: 657, MESH (MESH, 2017), StartupLab (StartupLab, 2017) and BI Startup (BI Startup, 2018). In London, I paid visits to: The Trampery, Second Home (Second Home Global Community, 2017) and the global WeWork (WeWork Coworking and office Space, 2017).
Regenerating Tøyen through coworking
TSV is involved in a long-term process to regenerate Tøyen, a low-income area in Oslo, where the council has established the Tøyenløftet initiative/rise of the Tøyen area (Oslo kommune, 2017). TSV has partnerships with industry, Norway’s third largest university and a VC fund, and it collaborates closely with the local government. It mirrors the arrangement in many Norwegian institutions that often have close ties with academia, industry and the public sector. Like other Norwegian coworking spaces, TSV gets a small amount of public funding.
TSV is located in a square in Tøyen where one out of three families live under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) poverty line. There is an urgent need to move people into jobs and off government support. Brattbakk and Andersen (2017) found that existing regeneration processes have been too slow, creating huge gaps between Tøyen and the more privileged parts of the city. This particularly affects young people between the age of 16 and 23, who do not have the same opportunities as those living in higher-income areas. TSV is not officially part of the Tøyenløftet initiative, but it aims to be an active participant, alongside the government, in helping to tackle social and economic problems by focusing on inclusion, citizen participation and community engagement (Tøyen Startup Village, 2017).
TSV itself has a large open-plan area with multiple desks and a welcoming kitchen with a long table where people gather to eat and to engage in discussions. In addition to the main coworking space area, TSV has a coworking café/bar open to the public. This is located at street level in the main square and is a place where members and residents can host meetings and events (Tøyen Startup Village, 2017).
Interviews on coworking spaces and entrepreneurship culture
The next section presents the interviews with people directly or indirectly involved in TSV. This primary research follows the same order as my main research questions. In order to achieve this ordering, I have grouped perspectives from multiple people under the same headings.
How is Tøyen Startup Village changing or shaping the entrepreneurship culture in Oslo? How are coworking spaces, in general, changing or shaping entrepreneurship cultures?
In TSV, one can meet members like Henrik Brenne Fjellestad, founder and CEO of Snapex (Snapex, 2017), an online platform for managing business expenses. The first time I spoke with him in mid-September 2017, he was new to TSV. Fjellestad says he decided to join TSV because he felt it was the right place for him after he had looked at other coworking spaces. He likes the fact that the space itself is in the midst of a lively community and thinks that there could be potential clients inside the coworking space as well as in the local community. In an interview two months later, his first comment is that TSV has not let him down, and he enthuses about the diversity, culture and sharing of ideas that he finds daily. Fjellestad is eager to interact with TSV’s coworking space members, and he has a desire to learn about other projects and companies and to share his own knowledge and practices.
Beathe Due, the manager of TSV, is strongly committed to her coworking space and members. She stresses that unless people are true to the coworking space values, TSV is not the right coworking space for their businesses. As Fuzi (2015) says, a manager should uphold the community vision. According to Due, implementing the coworking space values from the start is important because the first members set the standards and shape the culture. Having a welcoming and inclusive staff, inviting work and leisure zones and holding communal events is how Due makes sure people talk and share, feel safe and act friendly, characteristics she wants in her members and characteristics she wants them to transfer to the entrepreneurship culture.
Senta Lürssen works for TSV as an events coordinator/community manager. She grew up near Tøyen, and has followed the gradual changes in the area closely. Lürssen said that TSV’s hosting all these talented people is creating synergies. Fjellestad, who joined TSV mainly because of the mix of people and businesses, supports her views. ‘You work with people who do something for the first time; they are starting up a business, which is not an easy task,’ Lürssen says. Because coworking spaces are home to so many resourceful people, it is inevitable that they will have positive effects on an entrepreneurship culture. The values practiced in coworking spaces will stay with individuals, and this will in turn influence the entrepreneurship culture, she adds. Lürssen emphasises that the commitment of politicians and entrepreneurs to Tøyen is one reason why people now know about this area. Both locals and non-locals are engaged in improving Tøyen for all stakeholders, and TSV wants to involve residents, business managers and Tøyen enthusiasts in the debate, Lürssen concludes.
Magnus Køber from Nyby (Nyby, 2017), a company creating a platform connecting academia, businesses and the public sector, explains that because a coworking space provides the infrastructure and practicalities such as internet, utility bills and maintaining the building, the start-up can focus on its business completely. Køber believes coworking spaces are about people. In his view, coworking spaces allow people to engage in conversation without having to worry about proving anything to a boss or climbing the career ladder because everyone is on the same level. Expertise is less important now, he said, because of the focus on relationships and interactions between people. Another member, Anniken Quirk, associated with Too Good To Go (Too Good To Go, 2017), an early start-up dealing with food waste, talks about the advantages of having a pool of people and competencies that might eventually lead to innovation and new start-ups. Peter Selmer-Eide, partner at Rebel Light (Rebel Light, 2017), explains that he joined this coworking space because he wants to create a cross-disciplinary company in the future and that the connections he gets from being in TSV will enable him to realise this dream. He supports Købers’ comment on the spaces being first about the people. In Selmer-Eide’s opinion, people in coworking spaces are part of a culture without giving it too much thought. The culture inside a coworking space grows organically and independently around all these dedicated, passionate and goal-oriented members, he says. They are ‘impacted by the hidden social rules, since they often do not come to the space as part of a previously formed group’ (Torres De Souza, 2016, p. 18). These are rules that eventually will affect an entrepreneurship culture, Selmer-Eide adds.
Sevaldsen, who is from the more central coworking space 657, argues that coworking has become a respectable and well-known way of working and that coworking spaces have played, and are still playing, a role in creating entrepreneurship cultures. They guide and mentor entrepreneurs, and they put topics that are important to entrepreneurs on the agenda, she says. Sevaldsen tells me that the first coworking space established in Oslo was MESH in March 2012 and that 657 was established soon after, in September that same year. The coworking space trend has expanded rapidly in the city centre, and 657 is now the largest, with about 200 members, according to Sevaldsen.
Sevaldsen likes the fact that the coworking spaces in Oslo collaborate. They shape the entrepreneurship culture with their own coworking space values, at least locally. ‘In 657, we live by the motto that collaboration is the new form of competition.’ Sevaldsen adds that to grow further as an entrepreneurship nation, there is a great need for investors and that a VC culture is almost absent in Norway, in contrast to Sweden, for example.
The coworking space environment in London is much larger than it is in Oslo with more than 150 coworking spaces in the city (Coworking London, 2017). Some coworking spaces, such as The Trampery, in eight locations since 2009, are very concerned with community values. Currently, there are four Trampery locations across London. They share common features such as the core philosophy and mission. Most buildings focus on specific sectors; digital arts, travel and tourism, fashion or software. The Trampery are in different geographical environments, but they are all in the heart of London’s innovation community. The founder of The Trampery, Charles Armstrong, explains that before opening a coworking space, they do a great deal of research to understand the spaces and the nearby facilities. According to him, culture and entrepreneurship are at the centre of The Trampery, and this happens simultaneously, directly and indirectly, once people with different backgrounds are brought together. Armstrong explains that one of the problems with entrepreneurship in a global context is the Silicon Valley approach, a fixed model in which the rapid accumulation of power and wealth is associated with success.
A major aspect of establishing The Trampery was generating a different entrepreneurial culture, Armstrong says. The workspace, the people who manage the space, the work environment and those individuals who use the space for their offices all portray the culture that The Trampery wants to represent. Individuals engage with the working environment and participate in everything, from floor plans to event programs. The Trampery is all about a culture of mutual support, the idea that the success of one person can mean the success of many people. More broadly, it is about the entrepreneur’s responsibility to society. The entrepreneur can influence what happens in the world, but in the end, every entrepreneur has different motivations. Making money might be one, but for many, it is not the only goal, Armstrong continues. When a business is seeking admission to The Trampery, the responsibility for those who manage the coworking space is to discover what the motivation of that business is and to decide whether the business is the correct enterprise for the environment.
In organisations such as a coworking space, there is typically one dominant culture and a series of sub-cultures (Schein, 2010). There are also cultures that are sectorial and geographical. Regarding the community, Armstrong believes that the Nordic region is especially interesting as the national cultures already have a strong element of community spirit and mutual trust. A communal culture, the dominant culture in the Nordic region, is what The Trampery and similar coworking spaces would like to see become the global entrepreneurial culture. This culture embraces values other than those of Silicon Valley. This is a valuable lesson for start-ups. In the Silicon Valley culture, a company that chooses not to raise money from VCs is rejected by the system. This then excludes all kinds of possibilities, he continues. Businesses cultivated in cultures different from that of Silicon Valley can also become successful, and coworking spaces like those in the Nordics could potentially become platforms for nurturing these businesses (Technopolis Group, 2016).
Jade Withfield, who formerly lived in London, has just joined TSV. She shares insights gained from her previous coworking space experiences. She worked as a coordinator for the London-based coworking space Second Home. Withfield explains that Second Home is a coworking space in Brick Lane, London, which is now expanding to other locations in London and abroad. She adds that many join this coworking space purely because of its architecture, environment and atmosphere. Second Home is a community of people from different fields, such as media, fashion and technology. Withfield explains that members work closely with various companies, regardless of the type of business in which those companies are engaged. This is partly why it is an inspiring place to be. People are sitting and eating together in the community area, which is where the magic happens, she exclaims.
Withfield describes Second Home as warm and homely, and she is convinced that what makes it extra special is the events organised in the coworking space that bring people together. She gives an example of a real estate company and a Virtual Reality (VR) company that found each other during one of the events and decided to start working together. Withfield sees London as very professional on the networking side; however, she believes the entrepreneurship culture there is more money-focused than, for instance, in Scandinavian countries like Norway.
How are coworking spaces managing to introduce community values inside the coworking space and in entrepreneurship cultures more generally?
Due and Lürssen insist that community values are a top priority for TSV. Even though members work on their own and are fully devoted to their businesses, they are interested in others and participate in organised lunches, parties and other activities. There is a congenial atmosphere, and the members possess the right values of sharing, collaborating and giving back, they confirm. Fjellestad agrees and gives an example of how he collaborated on one of his marketing campaigns with some of the design students from OsloMet — Oslo Metropolitan University (HiOA, 2017):
‘The students get some hands-on experience with work life when they are directly involved with companies. Coworking spaces could definitively be a role-model for children and students, demonstrating to them that they can start their own business and become like those members of TSV.’ (H Fjellestad 2017, personal communication, 9 November)
Everyone is responsible for the community, Due indicates, like the Norwegian dugnad, a custom in which people belonging to the same community come together twice a year to maintain their local surroundings. This is a long-term tradition, which helps to create a down-to-earth atmosphere among citizens (Maudal and Fossen, 2017). People are dedicated to themselves, their co-workers and their community. It begins with a mix of entrepreneurs, resulting in a diverse and growing community of high-quality entrepreneurs and businesses (Lyons, 2015).
In The Trampery Old Street, one-fourth of the coworking space is open to anyone. A great deal happens in this space, especially in relation to the development of the community within, Armstrong explains. Other aspects are the design of the space. This includes the layout, which provides for two kinds of areas, one private and the other for social activities and networking (Congdon et al., 2014). In Armstrong’s opinion, behaviours that are different from those in the outside world can be cultivated in coworking spaces, and this can be important in ‘harsh’ cities like London. People join a specific coworking space to be part of a group rather than to work from an isolated home office (Waber et al., 2014). In the early days, the full-time staff of The Trampery used to track whether their recipe for building their internal community was working. The employees quickly discovered that it worked when, for instance, people who previously did not know one another started to go out together after work or a guest would drop by to have a chat or a simple laugh with a member. The fact that people come and go creates shifts in behaviour and culture, Armstrong continues. The core values are rooted in the culture of the founders. The personality of the founding team is imprinted on the culture; however, everyone somehow puts their mark on the culture, allowing it to adapt whenever needed, just like an organic ecosystem, Armstrong adds.
Jamie Craven is the community manager of The Trampery Old Street. He has held this position for three years and has been a witness to successes and failures, companies and people coming and going. Craven reckons that employees and members of The Trampery are working in an entrepreneurial manner in that they are flexible, open to change and new ideas, and they are savvy relationship builders. Craven’s main task as community manager is to help to shape the community and to make everyone feel welcome. It is refreshing to be part of such a powerful community in London, he says. You can tell when people are becoming more relaxed and attuned to the community inside the coworking space. He sees it in people’s appearance. They are becoming more at ease in the workplace by taking off their shoes, wearing more casual clothes, and, for women, not always wearing make-up. ‘People’s proximity indirectly makes them influence one another. It is difficult not to become energetic because those around you display an engaging behaviour,’ he says. The people shape this culture, he continues. People from various backgrounds share a space and see one another daily, and from that come both ‘workships’ and friendships. An innovative environment is not possible if everyone comes from the same background, Craven adds.
The staff of The Trampery are sensitive to the end-users’ needs. The challenge is not to create spaces where the rent is so high that only financially well-off companies can participate (Schneider, 2017). However, having one company that has scaled up under the same roof as the other companies is not harmful. It can be useful for those who would like to take this path, providing opportunities to learn from someone they know, respect and trust, Craven says. According to him, there can be problems when businesses outgrow the space but still want to stay. However, companies leaving coworking spaces because they have become too big usually treasure the coworking space and its community spirit. They want to give back and to contribute whenever they can to those in need of their help, input and business connections. The founders of Kahoot! (Kahoot!, 2017), a game-based learning platform, having raised US $26.5 million, are still very much aware of what The Trampery did for them when they were a start-up, Craven affirms.
Most people join a coworking space to be part of a community (Spreitzer et al., 2015). The coworking space 657 chooses members for their genuineness and honesty first. According to Sevaldsen, being an entrepreneur requires passion and a focus on process rather than a focus on the big sale at the end. The companies in 657 are engaged in business to earn a living, but they are not money-focused; they are not merely striving towards a big exit, she states. For 657, the values of the coworking space are indispensable for having a healthy and vibrant working environment. They could easily transfer the business model and expand to another city as WeWork, which now operates in multiple countries, did. However, according to Sevaldsen, the reason for not doing so is that it takes a long time to develop an internal culture and community. This is not transferrable because the culture is the people who have put their mark on the place throughout time, she underlines.
Withfield is certain that people join a coworking space for its community. She offers that the role of the staff is to facilitate a well-functioning community, to connect members and to help to break the ice for those who are less outgoing. In Second Home, this is accomplished by organising events targeted to members. To maintain the internal community spirit, every Friday is members’ drinks, which are a big success because members get to know one another both personally and professionally. Having events that bring members together enhances the coworking community. This community feeling will have an effect on the internal culture and the entrepreneur’s actions. In turn, this kind of thinking will make its way into the entrepreneurship culture because more entrepreneurs will praise certain values and beliefs, those that embrace community spirit, Withfield concludes.
In what ways are coworking spaces having an impact on the local community?
From my observations, TSV’s intention is to integrate its community with the local community through citizen participation and engagement. TSV and other stakeholders in Tøyen seem to be aware of the danger of gentrification, where low-income and immigrant communities have been replaced with white middle-class hipsters (Coffey, 2017). TSV depends on the people who manage it and their opinions of what constitutes a successful coworking space, Lürssen explains. For TSV, it is about integration with the local community. TSV has had mostly positive reactions from local residents, who are curious and want to know what is happening in the coworking space. This is a good sign that TSV is on the right track, Lürssen says. She wants to make the public workbar a place for many types of people. Having more activities aimed at children in the area is, in her view, the first step to uniting the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ cultures. TSV is currently hosting several events for which the local community actively participates in the planning and execution. Slam poetry and open microphone evenings have so far become hits among members of TSV and residents of Tøyen, Lürssen tells me.
Armstrong from The Trampery is also one of the co-founders of TSV. He originally advised the municipality of Oslo to establish a coworking space in the heart of Tøyen square. From the beginning, TSV has been about culture and community values, he states. According to him, to understand the local culture and the community, coworking spaces must go into schools and encourage more engagement. He explains that research into gentrification has found that new aesthetics can change the culture (Davidson and Lees, 2005). Old and new members of a community must be equal in a high trust community, and all the connections should be open to everyone, he says. ‘One must believe in this huge egalitarian possibility, and we must direct it to become a norm,’ Armstrong continues. The choices people make are transmitted onto the culture of which they are a part. TSV is a cultural platform and was the first project ever done on a scale larger than just one workspace with the vision of growing and developing its local (Tøyen) community, he adds. Armstrong said that there are other options besides the VC path. Building a company for a big buy-out is not good for the community, he says. Most failures are addressable if there is openness to approaches other than the Silicon Valley school of thought, he adds.
In Second Home, the internal communal values play a major part in the coworking space environment; however, local residents are always interested in what is going on inside the coworking space, Withfield explains. One of their main selling points is their attention to community values. She thinks that people on the outside like the fact that there is a coworking space in the area that helps boost the community of Brick Lane, making it a livelier neighbourhood by bringing more interest to the area.
Even though coworking spaces do want to emphasise community and culture, Withfield is certain that this is easier to accomplish in a culture like the Norwegian one in which these values are already ingrained. Armstrong claims that even though The Trampery and TSV are advocates for communal values, this is not necessarily the case for all coworking spaces. He indicates that many other coworking spaces around the world are like embassies for Silicon Valley. Coworking spaces are changing the work environment, but the level of commitment invested in relationships and the amount of thought that goes into the consequences vary, he says.
Sevaldsen from 657 is certain that 200 members and 90 companies influence the surrounding area and community at any time. In her opinion, the local stores, coffee shops and restaurants benefit from the coworking space members’ actively using their services. Besides, the local businesses have indicated that they enjoy having 657 and the vitality that comes from its being nearby. She stresses the fact that coworking spaces are an aspect of the urban development of the city.
To what extent are coworking spaces increasing diversity in entrepreneurship cultures?
People whom I spoke with at TSV mostly agree that coworking spaces attract two kinds of people: those who are highly skilled and ambitious and those who are too restless to work for an established company. Coworking spaces reflect a change from traditional business strategies, they facilitate the adoption of digital tools and they appeal to people who want to work across disciplines (Kooyman, 2015). In Due’s opinion, a coworking space like TSV takes a bottom-up approach, which gives its members the opportunity to use, to hire and share skills and to meet people from different backgrounds, all on their own terms. The physical space facilitates collaboration and communication, which in turn enable the people in it to shape the spaces and the entrepreneurship culture, she says.
Due argues that TSV is constantly engaging in social activities that contribute to the community and society. Diversity exists in coworking spaces, but this does not happen on its own, she says. A coworking space requires that a great deal of energy and many resources be put into developing an inclusive place with a perspective of the entire world, representing all cultures and societies. This can be costly as it calls for extra educational programs to teach the less resourceful about entrepreneurship and business. Coworking spaces themselves are also a business. They must pay rent, and several find it hard to make ends meet, Due informs me. Although coworking space managers would like to do more for diversity, it often gets a low priority and is excluded from the long-term strategy if there is no external funding, she says.
TSV works with businesses that promote the local culture, e.g., Moving Mamas, which introduces immigrant women to the work life in Norway (Moving Mamas, 2017). They also link the local library for children under the age of 15 with TSV start-ups and activities tailored to their age group. There are people in Tøyen who want to contribute, but without creating a system to facilitate this, only a few businesses in TSV are able to assist because of limited resources, Due sighs. Politicians must understand that long-term planning is needed to make the changes sustainable, Lürssen elaborates. Unfortunately, this long-term perspective is hard to sustain when politicians change every four years, she continues. We also notice that often those who get VC funding are the strong and resourceful that are aiming for a high return on investment, Lürssen says as our conversation ends.
Armstrong states that coworking and coworking spaces are very much for the white middle class and that coworking space managers should feel more responsible for promoting diversity. Phillips (2014) argues that diversity makes people more resourceful, hardworking and diligent. In the beginning, The Trampery was male-dominated, but the staff made sure this changed quickly. In a coworking space, nothing is fixed. Even rearranging the furniture makes a difference, Armstrong continues. Coworking spaces are a result of the increasing accessibility of coworking. Anyone can go into a coworking space, and it is a way into something, but there is still more to be done, he concludes.
Sevaldsen believes that people who work in coworking spaces must be open-minded and tolerant of others with backgrounds different from theirs. Tolerance and inclusiveness also make it more likely for a business to succeed, as a business will better understand the environment in which it operates, she says. Sevaldsen implies that coworking space members will never question someone’s motives for starting a business. It is this level of acceptance of others and passion about working together across sectors, disciplines and cultures that makes the coworking space industry so unique, she exclaims: ‘It is a trend that has come to stay’.
Results and discussion of the main findings
This section presents the findings structured around the research questions, followed by discussions and interpretations of the main results. I reflect back on some of the significant remarks and do a detailed analysis of these outcomes.
Coworking spaces and entrepreneurship cultures
First, coworking spaces have found a place in the international economy. They are behind important debates and dialogue on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship cultures, and have helped to promote entrepreneurship in cities like Oslo. Dialogue is key to resolving social, economic and political problems (Raz, 2017). Coworking spaces have become facilitators for an infrastructure that supports experimentation with entrepreneurship and open discussion about issues surrounding entrepreneurship cultures. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, coworking spaces started appearing around the world. The economic downturn provided opportunities to develop entrepreneurial environments that stimulate innovation and create value. In Norway, the financial crisis hit about the same time the first coworking spaces opened in Oslo. Several factors must be accounted for in this transformation of the entrepreneurship culture. However, I have observed that coworking spaces are breaking down barriers and lowering the threshold for networking, innovation and collaboration across industries and sectors. They encourage critical thinking by facilitating interaction between people and through the organisation of events where one can learn about the latest trends (Jones et al., 2009).
Second, to understand entrepreneurship in a given national culture, it is necessary to comprehend the relationship between cultural values and entrepreneurship (Berger, 1991). Culture is an important element, but other factors such as social and economic development and political environment are also important (Johnson and Lenartowicz, 1998). Norway has a long history of social, economic and political stability; however, the Law of Jante has had a significant influence on the cultural values, discouraging thinking outside the box or trying something untraditional (Rao, 2005). Entrepreneurship in the past has been heavily dependent on regional commitments, and it is encouraged in many European regions (European Entrepreneurial Region, 2015). Coworking spaces, however, are established mostly in cities and influence the entrepreneurship culture in urban environments such as Oslo. These city entrepreneurs often address gaps in the availability of public and private goods, and engage with primarily urban problems (Cohen et al., 2016). Coworking spaces like TSV have become a platform for these types of entrepreneurs.
Third, the entrepreneurship culture already embodies most of the ideals promoted by coworking spaces. These include flexibility, collaboration, networking, knowledge sharing and creativity. Nina Løvmo, a representative of OsloMet (one of TSV’s partnering institutions), claims that perhaps one of the most important contributions of coworking spaces to the entrepreneurship culture is that they have managed to gather all these enthusiasts under one roof, and this, in her opinion, is a significant trigger for innovation. Entrepreneurs are natural problem solvers, and coworking spaces facilitate networking in the coworking spaces themselves or during events. This is an essential contribution to the entrepreneurship culture because creating networks and partnerships for future problem solving is vital to the existence of businesses (Corbett, 2016).
Coworking spaces and the work environment
Coworking spaces have become advocates for ‘the future work culture’. They are challenging cultural values, education and working methods, and they are versatile, all of which are important in a fast-changing society. They offer places in which a variety of people can work, allowing different kinds of people to join. This in turn creates synergies and facilitates innovation. Coworking spaces are drivers of change in the future job market in that they accommodate flexibility in a society faced with high uncertainty. They are more than just a place to work meeting the requirements of a contemporary labour-market in a time where digitalisation is changing our everyday lives. As increasingly more people turn to self-employment, coworking spaces have opened up for a number of opportunities in an era ruled by a fast changing society where flexibility, efficiency and relationships are the building blocks of business.
The business model of coworking spaces
Coworking spaces often struggle to make ends meet because they rent expensive buildings in city centres; hence, their first priority is unlikely to be community work. Unless coworking spaces in higher-priced neighbourhoods that are engaged in their local communities find more sustainable business models, they are likely to fail. Løvmo from OsloMet thinks that coworking spaces should stop thinking that public funding will solve their problems and, instead, invent business models where they collaborate actively at the community level and generate engagement from local residents. Responsible innovation has recently gained more attention and a vital place in research (European Commission, 2014). As noted by Stanford University (2016), new research and technological developments have created opportunities such as artificial intelligence that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Unfortunately, there is a danger that no one will take advantage of these opportunities without financial profits. Therefore, it is important to find ways to encourage sustainable entrepreneurial opportunities (Long and Blok, 2017). If sustainable innovation and/or a community focus does not offer financial benefits, it might be challenging to justify this approach to investors, partners and even founders as an accepted way of doing business.
Coworking spaces as triggers of innovation
One of the most important observations throughout the case study was that innovation and new businesses and partnerships do not happen in solitude. Coworking spaces have taken the role as idea creation hubs and generators of new businesses and partnerships. This is important for economic growth and innovation in general. According to Cohen et al (2016), future innovation depends on collaborations between the public and private sectors. It requires the involvement of many kinds of stakeholders from various industries, in addition to citizens and governments. A coworking space like TSV can bring these stakeholders together in an atmosphere of positivity and creative thinking that stimulate innovation (Healey and Hodgkinson, 2017). Nesta refers to the importance of connectedness among businesses within a cluster as an opportunity for unexpected ideas to arise (Chapain et al., 2010). Coworking spaces invite their members to take an unconventional approach to the relationships between citizens, companies and the public sector, and to adopt a mindset in which innovation is generated through knowledge sharing and cross-disciplinary collaborations.
Coworking spaces and societal challenges
Coworking spaces are often ambassadors for the environment, inclusion, sustainability and shared prosperity, and some share the same values inherent in being a good citizen and human being (Calvo et al., 2017). For example, the TSV company Too Good To Go is providing systems for recycling food. Lesemeister (Lesemeister, 2017), another start-up within TSV, uses educational technology to improve children’s reading abilities and is contributing towards improving the quality of education. Other businesses in TSV are working on responsible consumption, clean energy, social and economic inclusion and the well-being of citizens. Members appear to be loyal to the coworking space values and are committed to doing good, if not specifically for the local community, then for society in general. Frode Jensen from Start-up Norway says in an interview with the BBC that Norwegians seek the ability to make a change rather than to make more money when setting up a business (Savage, 2013). There is less competition in Oslo than in a big city like London. According to my observations, Norwegians can allow themselves to be more community-focused and less concerned about success (as it has been traditionally defined), and they can therefore spend time to consider the well-being of others. Furthermore, in Norway with a well-functioning welfare state that is the foundation of ‘the Nordic model’ (Andersen, 2007), people can afford to live their start-up dream because they will be provided for by the state if their company fails. This could be an advantage for an entrepreneurship culture, in particular for social entrepreneurship, because it removes many of the risks inherent in start-ups. Having a safety net to fall back on and health services and pensions embedded into the welfare system, makes it less critical for entrepreneurs to run companies that do not necessarily scale into large entities or get acquired.
Coworking spaces like TSV are good examples of the sharing economy and the values that the United Nations (2017) wants to promote to ensure a sustainable future. People in coworking spaces share a significant amount of infrastructure, from the coffee maker to printers, heating, lighting and the building itself. This is a positive contribution at a time when consumption must decrease drastically. These collectivist values have entered the entrepreneurship culture through the ways that coworking spaces support small businesses and encourage collaboration and the sharing of goods and services (Cohere LLC, 2017). Coworking spaces are also advocates for the interpersonal skills necessary for relationship building, which is one of three core competencies that the OECD (2014) considers key across all jobs. Coworking spaces fill a gap by providing opportunities to experience problem-solving and the reality of the workplace, real-life perspectives that educational institutions are not able to provide (Dunlop, 2017).
Coworking spaces and the local community
The question of whether coworking spaces can connect their strong internal cultures with the local community culture remains ambiguous. According to Royden (2015), coworking spaces foster a culture where ideas are generated from the bottom up, and they enable local communities to prosper socially and financially. Coworking spaces like TSV are connecting with the local community by reaching out to schools, the library and other communal institutions. The attitudes of many Norwegian entrepreneurs are rooted in the values of coworking spaces, values that will continue to play an important role in entrepreneurship because they could serve as lessons in good business practice (Jacobs, 2016). Coworking spaces are not just enablers of innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth, they are also, to some extent, contributing to value creation in society by acting as role models for schools, helping students to become more involved in their communities (Valente et al., 2017). Start-ups and partners of TSV, such as the mobile phone provider Telia (Telia, 2017) and the interest group for the Norwegian ICT industry ICT Norway (IKT-Norge, 2017), engage in activities with and for the neighbourhood. Coworking spaces such as TSV do serve as role models for future entrepreneurs in the community (Dee et al., 2015). However, there is still a distinct lack of structured collaborations.
The opinions on the involvement of coworking spaces in the local community are conflicting and contested. This is the most significant area where the results deviate from my hypothesis. Due repeatedly states that TSV would like to do more for the local community, but that they are constantly reminded of their economic situation. ‘More than ever do I have to be a sales person as we constantly must prove our worthy existence, and, unfortunately, this takes time away from doing more work on giving back to society,’ Due explains. The members of TSV and the local community are part of a movement in which they have a shared responsibility for making Tøyen a place for ‘old’ and ‘new’ residents to coexist, and I saw good examples of this during my research. One example of inclusion occurred during the VR events that have taken place in the TSV workbar. Members of the coworking space and local residents came together to try a novel technology most are unfamiliar with. Everyone looked equally silly when experimenting with this high-tech equipment. The people in the room laughed together and shared experiences across cultural, social and economic boundaries.
Coworking spaces started from the position that diversity was the driver of a functioning social ecosystem, but does the new generation of coworking spaces continue this idea? Is there a link between the shifts away from the tightly curated one-off spaces and the move to larger spaces like WeWork’s global office? Has the community spirit been neglected under the weight of the commercial imperatives of WeWork and its franchise model? Coworking spaces like TSV manage to do only a minimum for the local community, and there are few signs of positive ripple effects. When coworking spaces such as TSV fight constant battles to make ends meet, there is less of an incentive to focus on the community.
More time is necessary for the effect of TSV’s efforts to be seen. Accommodations must be made for experimentation and failure. It is especially hard to measure long-term aims within short-term economic models and a Silicon Valley-influenced start-up culture. This endeavour is not like a start-up, where processes are fast and dynamic. In urban development, results are often seen only after several years (Hutchinson and Batty, 1986). TSV is located in the town square; it has office spaces and a café/community building. This has opened a public debate about the role of coworking spaces in a community such as Tøyen. Such coworking spaces have inherently complex and dynamic boundaries. They often have relationships with local communities, local governments, entrepreneurs and sole traders all the way up to large companies. In this way, they foster entrepreneurship in a community setting, which is fundamentally different from the environment for traditional firm-based innovation. This suggests that the coworking space culture could play a key role in the research and development related to open innovation, where ‘previously firm-based innovation activities may now be done on the outside in market or community settings’ (Lakhani and Tushman, 2011, p. 358). However, TSV’s success rate in engaging with the local community does not seem particularly high so far, and there is not enough economic activity and spontaneous social interaction between the local community and the coworking space members.
Coworking spaces and diversity
Diversity exists in coworking space cultures. People from different geographical locations, different skill sets and social backgrounds come together under one roof to build communities of like-minded groups (Nathan, 2017). However, they currently are composed mostly of resourceful and educated young people and, very often, ‘white men’. My observations have shown that coworking spaces could expand their social capital beyond the current levels of diversity. Coworking spaces like Les Grands Voisins in Paris (Les Grands Voisins, 2017) give refugees an opportunity to develop their talent. This helps them to become integrated into society and, at the same time, enhances the diversity in the coworking space. The local government uses this model strategically to integrate immigrants and refugees into the culture and/or to develop marginalised areas (Levels, 2017). This is a perfect example of how coworking spaces can create diversity, engage locally and become a place for everyone to feel ‘at home’.
Coworking spaces looking to the future
Can coworking spaces both embrace financial success and be attuned to the local community, or will they, as Michael Porter (Porter, 1996) describes, get ‘stuck in the middle’? Are coworking spaces the best tool for change in a community? What could coworking spaces do to further challenge the entrepreneurship culture?
Coworking spaces should acknowledge responsibility for the wellbeing of their surrounding communities — not replacing long-time residents and affordable housing with ‘hipsters’ and expensive housing (Gander, 2017). Sarah Prosser, managing director of the social entrepreneurship initiative Tøyen Unlimited (Tøyen Unlimited, 2017), claims that giving back to the community means that profits should also go in that direction. Community work evolves around people who take a bottom-up approach to working collectively towards the same goal, she explains. Her idea is that coworking spaces and the local community should have common tailored entrepreneurship and start-up programs so that companies work together instead of competing against one another for grants and other types of funding. Policy makers should therefore integrate coworking spaces into communities so that the coworking spaces can support initiatives that are ongoing in the community (Rus, 2015).
According to Prosser, coworking spaces could share knowledge about entrepreneurship with local communities and, thus, create new networks and businesses. The potential ripple effects are enormous, and there will be a long-term economic benefit to society as more people become familiar with the concept of entrepreneurship and gain the confidence to start their own companies, she explains. The actions taken must be relevant to those who represent the local community (Bierwirth and Gutiérrez , 2017). Despite the fact that it’s possible for everyone to be an entrepreneur, many have neither the knowledge nor the confidence to strike out on their own. Those with a high level of education will have acquired skills that many uneducated people do not posess, Prosser says.
From an economic perspective, entrepreneurship cultures are overlooking a huge potential by excluding many citizens who have access to markets, networks and industries. Coworking spaces that claim to support local communities still comprise mostly people who would otherwise have opportunities to become entrepreneurs. There are clearly missed opportunities for ‘grassroots’ collaboration and building entrepreneurship competencies strategically at the local level. Instead of imposing themselves on local communities, coworking spaces should partner with community organisations like Tøyen Unlimited to empower the local entrepreneurship culture. Prosser says that Nyby, one of the most successful companies in TSV, grew out of Tøyen Unlimited, and she says that she would like to see more of these collaborations. ‘Citizens of Tøyen and other similar areas are simply not ready to enter a coworking space, but what they have is the local knowledge,’ she continues. Prosser thinks coworking spaces ought to be in close contact with community organisations that promote entrepreneurship and help potential entrepreneurs to build confidence and to acquire skills. The following statement from Prosser ended our conversation:
‘Once they feel ready, they relocate to a coworking space in their area and develop their community project alongside other co-workers. This way, we can introduce entrepreneurship to other groups of people and engage all sorts of co-workers in community work; it is a win-win situation.’ (S Prosser 2017, personal communication, 15 November)
A new model for coworking spaces
In my observations, I saw the need for three different, but connected, kinds of coworking activities. Coworking spaces like TSV are trying to do community work and to accommodate growing businesses. This requires considerable resources and makes their business model fragile. TSV does not currently have the resources nor the infrastructure to accommodate a large number of growing businesses and to support innovation between the companies and the local community. Coworking spaces will have to restructure their business models to interrelate these various activities, and I suggest such a model below. When a company grows beyond three or four people, it often requires its own separate office. Coworking spaces are usually structured to offer desk space, not small offices. To keep the coworking space intact with the same ‘services’, ensuring innovative work environments, I propose a third model for companies that have outgrown coworking spaces as they currently exist.
The three-part model of coworking spaces
This model is based on the model of open innovation used for ‘purposeful inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate innovation internally while also expanding the markets for the external use of innovation’ (Chesbrough et al., 2006, p. 1). The key element of this model is linking some of the financial success of growing and exiting companies with the incubation stage of new businesses in the community.
I divide the coworking space entity into three parts. Organisations like Tøyen Unlimited work with the community to educate potential entrepreneurs who are not yet ready to enter a coworking space like TSV. Once they enter TSV, these local entrepreneurs will be in contact with existing members and will create the diversity needed for innovation to prosper. Companies that outgrow TSV will move to a new kind of coworking space that is closely connected with TSV so that they can develop their own companies and cultures within their confined office spaces but, at the same time, participate in the coworking space culture as a part of the larger community of businesses. Some coworking spaces like WeWork offer office space to companies; however, such space is in high demand and is often costly, so there is need for development in this sector of the market. A critical factor here is linking the financial success of the cohort of growing companies with the ability to facilitate more diverse and less profitable early-stage investment in the community.
I discovered the enormous potential of coworking spaces to influence entrepreneurship cultures. I also saw the important role they play in communities, regions and/or countries. I found that the entrepreneurship culture is a complex topic with many definitions and that it does not exist in every culture (e.g. Hayton et al., 2002). As we have seen, there is not one entrepreneurship culture but several entrepreneurship cultures. This study has opened a debate on how to broaden this terminology, and this should be studied further.
Responsible innovation can help companies to develop an even better value proposition by including community values. However, it requires more knowledge about the benefits for companies/start-ups, entrepreneurs and coworking spaces to adding responsible innovation to their value proposition. Therefore, we need deeper insights into the effect of diversity on the culture within the coworking space and the entrepreneurship culture in general. It is crucial to investigate ways to ensure more social and cultural diversity in coworking spaces, not to increase the social gap.
This research provides some insight into the effect of coworking spaces and their values on entrepreneurship cultures, mainly in Oslo. However, research needs to be conducted to understand their possible effect on larger geographic regions, the coworking space values that are most adhered to, and of the extent to which particular types of coworking spaces might have a greater influence on entrepreneurship cultures. Moreover, it is important to investigate coworking spaces as platforms for open innovation approaches. The model of open innovation in the context of coworking spaces does not appear to have been investigated previously; therefore, it is important to continue to ‘explore how communities inform and shape the firm, and how the firm shapes and leverages its communities in service of its innovation streams’ (Lakhani and Tushman, 2011, p. 376).
Another aspect of study is the gentrification that comes with the new coworking space culture. To what extent are coworking spaces contributing to excluding groups of people, including minorities and marginalised citizens? Trends show that an increasing number of people want to live in cities (United Nations, 2014). In Oslo, where space is scarce and attractive jobs are usually located in the city, there will be pressure on centrally located areas like Tøyen. An understanding of community-focused and sustainable business models for coworking spaces, especially those in city centres, would be useful, and to document future change processes, additional research is highly recommended.
Finally, I recognise the need for developing frameworks and a set of indicators to explain in detail the effect of coworking spaces on entrepreneurship cultures. This impact is not easy to detect, which is why we need to develop criteria to allow for more thorough measures of this phenomenon. I have designed one framework that can be developed further and eventually be used to detect the effect of coworking spaces on entrepreneurship cultures of local communities and the wider society.
Framework for understanding the Impact of Coworking Spaces on Entrepreneurship Culture
With rapid environmental, social and economic changes, coworking spaces such as TSV and The Trampery and others are evolving and creating emergent cultures (Cefkin, 2013). Their ability to keep abreast of societal changes have made them increasingly relevant and the source of a social movement in business.
Technology and innovative business models, the sharing economy and the increased focus on sustainability and the regeneration of cities have enabled coworking spaces to become influential in entrepreneurship cultures. The World Economic Forum (2016) states that coworking spaces will be one of the major demographic and socio-economic drivers of change in the future job market. Changing societal needs and fast-evolving work environments require lifelong learning, and as more and more jobs are replaced by machines, people must be in charge of creating their own jobs (Deloitte, 2017). Coworking spaces have become places where entrepreneurs and start-ups find their business partners and learn from one another. In the future workplace, it is less about mastering a profession than having the right connections and the ability to reflect, reason and ask the correct questions. In Norway, the introduction of coworking spaces and their values has been one of the main factors behind the development and acceptance of a new entrepreneurship culture. They have united the entrepreneurship landscape in Oslo where the start-up environment was previously fragmented and complex, giving coworking spaces an influential position across business, government and urban development.
Coworking spaces are not merely platforms for business alliances, they can also be used strategically to develop sustainable entrepreneurship cultures to ensure diversity, a community focus and inclusiveness. Entrepreneurship can be adopted by more diverse groups if coworking spaces manage to connect their internal community with the local community. Coworking space cultures are unique and their business models are often hard to replicate successfully, which is why coworking spaces will stand out by including the local community in the coworking space environment. Local community outreach will help coworking spaces take advantage of the community diversity and passion. This is likely to boost their shared pool of innovation activities and attract interest from stakeholders like investors, which could increase their start-ups’ chances of funding and long-term success.
There is a need for more investments in local start-ups and funding for initiatives aimed at collaboration with coworking spaces and their local communities. Joining coworking spaces in marginalised areas, embracing cultural diversity within and around the coworking space and learning to spot opportunities for this diversity will add value to the understanding of business and markets. According to Hewlett et al (2013), diversity increases the quality and rate of innovation. Diversity within groups of people, relationships and networks are the drivers of entrepreneurship cultures and innovation. Building diverse coworking milieus that promote healthy ecosystems would therefore not only foster innovation, but it would also contribute to shaping entrepreneurship cultures in which societal values and morals are considered important and practiced.
Coworking spaces have opened up for non-traditional ways of working, and they serve as connectors of collaborations across disciplines and sectors, gathering people from various social and cultural backgrounds. However, this is still a relatively undiscovered domain of business and research. Therefore, we must learn to tell the story of coworking spaces and ensure outward communication to build bridges and new relationships. It is specifically important to communicate to the local community and other potential partners the value of establishing connections with coworking spaces and engaging in their events and activities.
Not only have coworking spaces taken advantage of buildings left empty after the financial crisis of 2008, but they have also managed to foster innovation by combining different skillsets and competences, bringing people from various social and cultural backgrounds together. This has given them an excellent starting point for creating new jobs and for developing products and services, including finding solutions to societal challenges such as climate change and an ageing population. This has undoubtedly led to their rapid growth around the world and significant influence within the entrepreneurship landscape. In fact, the coworking space concept has become so renowned that we see powerful and high-level actors such as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs establishing coworking spaces through their local embassies in African countries to help develop entrepreneurship cultures (Orange Corners, 2018). Other examples are Station F in Paris, being the world’s largest start-up campus with an entire ecosystem gathered in the same location that is acting as a catalyst bringing Paris to the attention of the start-up world (STATION F, 2018). China has taken the coworking space concept one step further and created coworking cities like Chengdu (McCarthy, 2017).
However, coworking spaces have overlooked one of their core strengths and have facilitated only limited collaboration with local communities. Despite the significant effect of coworking spaces on entrepreneurship cultures, I argue that they have the potential to become even more influential as sources of innovation. I was curious to uncover how coworking spaces might stimulate innovation through increased diversity, and this idea led to ‘the three-part model of coworking spaces’ (shown in Figure 7). If, as Lakhani and Tushman (2011) claim, ‘open innovation is radically decentralized, peer based, and includes intrinsic and pro-social motives’ (Lakhani and Tushman , 2011, p. 375), we should find that coworking is highly relevant for open innovation because of the close alignment in activities and values. Based on my findings, I suggest that coworking spaces foster open innovation by tapping into the ideas of diverse communities to stimulate continual innovation. This can be achieved by linking the local community with successful companies growing out of coworking spaces. This indicates the possibilities for re-thinking the current structure of coworking spaces in order to enhance social inclusion, to maximise the potential for innovation and to ensure their financial stability.
In the final section of this thesis, I have developed key recommendations for stakeholder approaches to coworking and entrepreneurship cultures. They are targeted to the four stakeholder groups I consider significant: coworking spaces, national and cross-national authorities, entrepreneurs and start-ups, and established businesses and corporations. I present the recommendations in order of importance to my target groups. I have justified each recommendation below by briefly looking at the cost-benefits and trade-offs involved.
Recommendations for coworking spaces
1. Become the place to go for networking. Having a reputation for facilitating successful connections between start-ups, industry, academia and government bodies would increase the chances of finding strategic partnerships such as universities and established companies who would want to be part of this vibrant ecosystem and who could contribute towards increasing the steady income. There is no cost linked to this apart from getting on board community managers and events coordinators who have what it takes to make this happen.
2. Recognise that coworking is one of the key ways that entrepreneurship can be adopted by more diverse groups and build on existing network-effects to connect the coworking space community with the local community. By actively encouraging more diversity within the coworking space with an increased representation of minority groups, one will foster innovation and open up for new markets and customer groups. In the example of TSV, we see that community work requires a lot of resources so to outweigh the cost, it is recommended to collaborate with local community organisations that would connect coworking spaces to their ecosystems rather than coworking spaces creating their own.
3. Be more proactive in identifying the value added from including the local community in the coworking space environment. Measuring the added value of engaging the local community in coworking space environments could be a significant pillar in open innovation strategies. Potential business partners should be made aware that diverse communities can form valuable and innovative environments.
4. Document good practices and encourage others to replicate them. Coworking spaces can open their doors to researchers who are interested in doing follower-research on coworking spaces. This way, they get free documentation of their practices which will allow them to analyse processes and find the business model that best suits them.
5. Look into alternative business models. The coworking space model is fragile, and coworking spaces struggling to survive should look into alternative business models such as ‘the three-part model for coworking spaces’ where they maximise their resources by for instance letting local community-organisations take responsibility for integrating entrepreneurship into the local culture.
6. Research additional revenue streams such as mentoring, guidance on funding sources and business management. Offering these services will attract potential new members who are looking for support in this domain. One solution is to hire full-time staff with multiple skillsets who can assist with for instance mentoring. If demand is high, one could consider having dedicated people covered for by the fees charged. One could also consider offering other types of services in order to attract new customers (for example child care), as long as the benefits outweigh the costs.
Recommendations for national and cross-national authorities
1. Make better use of coworking spaces to build sustainable business alliances across sectors and national cultures. In order to overcome societal challenges, authorities such as the government must collaborate with start-ups. Through these collaborations, authorities can make sure the outcomes of start-ups move up into the shared pool of innovation activities which in the long-run will benefit citizens.
2. Use coworking spaces strategically to integrate refugees and immigrants; earmark funding for integration, immigrants and minority-groups to join coworking spaces. Immigration is a huge challenge for many countries and the benefits of integrating immigrants wanting to start their own business into coworking spaces will create more diversity within the coworking space and give immigrants the opportunity to meaningfully contribute to society.
3. Establish policy learning networks and expert groups on the future of entrepreneurship actively involving coworking spaces, and seek advice from coworking spaces globally to develop a European entrepreneurship strategy and culture for the European entrepreneurship scene to step up its competition with countries like the U.S. and China. The benefits of involving coworking spaces more strategically in policy development on a national and European level in already existing national and European channels like the European Innovation Council, will have major benefits as coworking spaces are up to date on what goes on in the start-up scene and entrepreneurship environment.
4. Contribute to the development of a sustainable entrepreneurship culture to ensure diversity, a community-focus and inclusiveness by supporting socially-oriented coworking spaces. With a number of societal challenges ahead of us like social exclusion, we need initiatives to bridge this gap. Socially-oriented coworking spaces is a way for people to take part in work-life rather than being on social benefits.
5. Establish regional coworking spaces for student start-ups in collaboration with industry from various educational institutions to teach them the art of collaborating with students outside their own university. The cost should be shared between industry and the government. It will be a one-time cost for the set-up. The universities will run the coworking spaces and in order to ensure student engagement they will be student-driven. These initiatives will stimulate entrepreneurship on a high-level and help shape the values of the next generation of entrepreneurs. It will teach students to work cross disciplinary on student businesses and academic projects to enhance their interpersonal competencies and peer-to-peer learning skills, competences which are crucial in a fast-changing society.
Recommendations for entrepreneurs and start-ups
1. Take advantage of the community diversity, variety and passion that can be found in and around coworking spaces. Be open towards joining coworking spaces in marginalised areas. To move your own thinking and business forward, one must go outside his/her comfort zone. Having an open mind and embracing the cultural diversity around the coworking space will help you spot opportunities for this diversity to add value to your understanding of the business and its market.
2. See coworking spaces as an alternative or an addition to an MBA-degree. Coworking spaces offer access to people with a broad range of different skillsets. This can foster new skills, open up for new markets and business opportunities.
Recommendations for established businesses and corporations
1. Attend coworking events in a broad range of areas to network and discover cross-sectoral collaborations. This will broaden business networks towards different partnerships and ideas, which could lead to innovation.
2. Coworking spaces can be gateways into open-innovation approaches. Consider locating a discrete project or a small department in a coworking space in order to encourage open innovation approaches. Collaborating with coworking spaces can stimulate new cross-disciplinary approaches and broaden the range of ideas and input for innovation.