Co-working giant WeWork has rolled out a brand new variety of startup support program in Sydney, launching its WeWork Labs offering in Australia for the first time.
Running in more than 57 WeWork locations across the world, Labs is a unique take on a startup incubator or accelerator, providing light-touch support for companies in the co-working space through workshops, events, mentoring and investor introductions.
The Labs program will be run by former startup founder and advisor David Smith out of the company’s Pyrmont location, with Smith telling StartupSmart the Labs program is significantly different than a standard incubator or accelerator.
“We take startups from anywhere and at any level, and it’s not a fixed cohort … We also don’t take any equity out of the members, so we’re not sitting on the cap table right from the start,” he says.
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Along with the various workshops and events run by the company, startups also gain access to the global WeWork Labs community, which Smith says helps founders tap into international networks.
“I had one of our startups tell me they were going to Shanghai tomorrow, so we filled out a form and connected them with the Shanghai Labs manager, and their card worked on the door there the next day,” he says.
Labs has been running in ‘stealth mode’ for the past few months, says Smith, and launched with 12 different startups in its Sydney office. The program now has 20 startups, who pay $650 per desk, per month, to access the program.
Founders are also introduced to VC funds and other investors to help them kickstart their ventures, but Smith says the company is not only focused on equity-based investment solutions.
“We also educate them about different types of investment, as it’s pretty hard to get an angel cheque at the moment. We give them access to people who can help them with grants, R&D rebate and any other options,” he says.
Labs a supportive environment
Tom West, co-founder of gamified code education platform Magic Carrot, told StartupSmart he wouldn’t have met his co-founders Stuart Ngo and Mike Yan if not for WeWork.
“We met as dedicated desk members, and it started with me asking for some help on something in Photoshop (which Mike is the master of) and from there we would stay back and have a few beers on a Friday, at which point we’d start talking about ideas for products we want to build,” he says.
“Eventually we all started helping each other on our businesses and found that we complemented each others’ skill sets substantially. We aren’t people that would normally have gravitated to each other, but the WeWork environment made it happen.”
The founder says he’s also benefited from mentors and engineers from Google, Amazon and IBM, who have helped him work out how to scale his business.
Another founder, Andonis Sakatis from Zenify, told StartupSmart the Labs experience had been great for sharing ideas and helping him further develop his fledgling retail startup.
“I look around and I’m surrounded by genuine positive energy, world-class talent and the best support a founder could ask for. We all want to see each other grow,” he says.
WeWork was recently valued at a whopping $US47 billion ($67 billion) after investment from VC heavyweight Softbank last year. The company is also gearing up for an IPO, but appears to be yet another loss-making tech-giant heading public, having made a $US1.9 billion loss in the last financial year.
Smith says the company’s Labs offering doesn’t see itself as a competitor to standard incubators and accelerators, and instead services the “pre-accelerator” market. He also indicated Melbourne may be the next location Labs will be available.
“Melbourne is a market we love the look of at the moment, but we like all of Australia’s capital cities equally,” he says.