Day 2 of the Coworking India (CWI) Unconference 2016! I beg your pardon, yes you read it right! Unconferencing is what we did. When my suggested topic was selected for ‘unconferencing’ session, I  knew that the day was going to be just great!

Let me start by introducing myself! I am Shruti Kela, Growth Hacker @ Kowrk.com! Much as my job title is a off beat, so is the concept of unconferencing! It takes away the formal garb and the guard people put on in a conference and thus ushers in an open form of a meeting which is interactive and participant driven!

Team Kowrk at Coworking India Conference -Shruti Kela

Our unconferencing topic was Coworking business models in small cities’! It was a very lively session revolving around the different types of coworking business models which are/ will be effective in tier 2 and tier 3 cities in India. We had a lot of enthusiastic participants. These included owners of established coworking spaces in Delhi, Chennai & Hyderabad and founders of coming up spaces from Jodhpur & Aligarh.

Some of the interesting insights that were discussed and discovered in our session:

Why are different coworking business models needed in small cities?
Viewpoints of founders of coworking spaces :
– For any business setup in India, the basic infrastructure is not readily available. Thus, there is a need to invest a lot in infrastructure acquisition and initial setup in order to build something from scratch.
– The spending capacity of people in smaller cities is way below that in main metros.
– People find themselves limited and restricted, as they do not have much access to opportunities such as networking events.

What are the models that can be used in terms of:

– Infrastructure:
Most participants agreed that it was simplest and cheapest if already established spaces be modified into coworking spaces. These can comprise of:
Coffee shops/restaurants:
Non-working hours of the restaurants can be used for coworking in small cities as restaurants already have the basic amenities and paraphernalia (viz. Wi-Fi, AC, coffee, tables, chairs) needed in the coworking space. Jaipur/Jodhpur has a lot of scope for these sorts of spaces. They can be run on a partnership basis with restaurants and established coworking chains from the metros. Also, local communities can help in managing the space. Thus generating additional employment!
University libraries/entrepreneurship development centres/e-cells:
For early stage startups in small cities, the established universities can provide a good place to work from and also a great opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people. Incubation centers can offer coworking spaces at market price or less. The existing setup at IIIT Hyderabad is a live example of how successfully this can be done.

– Networking:
People with different skill sets can work collaborate together and build a community in these coworking spaces which is otherwise difficult in small cities. Events from universities/community centers can be organized at these places. Everyone agreed that the access to local / remote (virtual) mentors is a good idea to provide guidance for early stage startups & individuals.

– Coworking for professionals/freelancers:
In the small cities, lots of professionals work from their home office. These people need a small office/desk for themselves. A coworking space can cater to their needs perfectly, where they get an office environment at affordable cost.

– Incubation centers in small cities:
Many coworking spaces provide incubation & acceleration facilities in big cities. If these centers can extend the work in smaller cities by setting up their incubation centers, it will benefit the startups there as well as this will help in establishing the community and coworking brand of the particular space. A win-win!

– Wi-Fi:
Unanimously agreed upon, this is the most crucial factor for coworking industry in small cities as finding a reliable & fast internet connection is difficult. The government projections to provide connectivity through fiber optic cables throughout India will definitely benefit this industry.But till that dream is realized, Wi-Fi connection will be one of the biggest issues to tackle in small cities! A middle path and (a sensible one too) is to get Wi-Fi from educational institutions for the spaces inside campus!

A summing up!
There is no denying that the Startup India movement is growing rapidly and hence coworking spaces are much needed in tier 2/3 cities.However, it is also strikingly clear that the challenges faced by space providers in these cities are of a totally different tine as compared to those faced by their counterparts in the metro cities.
There are some limiting factors like Wi-Fi that require government support. For the rest of the issues, the thoughtful and intellectual minds at this energetic session came up with feasible solutions or alternatives.

My musings:
It is without a doubt that coworking in Tier 2/3 cities will require further localization of coworking business models as is being currently seen. From my experience at Kowrk.com involving 15+ cities and after discussion with others from coworking industry, I am more convinced than ever before that the local community building has always been and will stay as one of the best ways to start and sustain coworking. Come what may, the way of coworking is the way of the future!

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