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Disrupting the coworking space

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By Tullah Stephen

Africa is presently experiencing a dynamic increase in the coworking industry. Within a decade, there are over 250 coworking spaces in Africa.

Kenya like many African countries is experiencing a growth in the number of coworking spaces. Entrepreneurs and digital nomads, whose entrepreneurial ethos list collaboration as their key objective, are taking to these spaces as they seek cost effective solutions to running an office.

With that in mind, creators are listening and responding to this need by creating coworking hotspots across the country. With so many benefits to sharing spaces Nyambura Gichohi co-founded Ikigai, a coworking space in Nairobi.

Ikigai, whose name was inspired by Japanese philosophy which translates to reason for being, encompassing joy, a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of well-being, today is open co-working space, with a mix of public and private offices shared by companies and startups.

The idea of a coworking space according to Nyambura, started with a dream of opening an incubator in Nairobi’s Kibera area.  Kibera, one of the most entrepreneurially vibrant places in the city, is home to thousands of small and micro-businesses.

Together with her co-founder, Nyambura discovered artists from Kibera designing beautiful fabric shoes. These traders later sold the shoes abroad making mouthwatering profits. However, she believed with more support, the entrepreneurs would earn much more. 

“There were three more things my co-founder and I were also really interested in; space design, shipping container construction and coffee. But could we build a coworking space in shipping containers to support small business in Kibera and at the same time experiment with our love for coffee?”

A short feasibility study in 2016, saw the two develop a concept that would support businesses through space, community and design.  “We started to search for a location and when we eventually bought an old house that we now occupy and we opened our first co-working space in November 2016.”

Ikigai prides itself on being among few coworking spaces with an expansive garden. Members can opt for the quiet indoors or work under the canopy of Jacaranda trees, or next to the bamboos and agapanthus trees. This is an opportunity Nyambura says is increasingly rare in cities such as Nairobi.

Ikigai is modelled on architecting interaction, a concept we learned from renowned architect Stephani Akkaoui, which encourages building a space that is incomplete, impermanent and imperfect.

“The three aspects allow members to inform the design spaces by interacting with it. They then show us where to place specific pieces of furniture to improve movement within the space and to provide flexibility of design. This is done through continuous recreation and regeneration over time.”

Design, Nyambura says, is important. It can be a driver to productivity and success of companies, enhance interactions, collaborations and ultimately well-being of the individuals and the health of companies.

Members at Ikigai, can also chose to work from The Patio adjacent to The Commune or the Coffee Deck overlooking the garden and many small and large nooks and crannies for anything from a skype call to a meeting or a workshop.According to several studies, spending more time outside improves short-term memory, restores mental energy, relieves stress, improves concentration and allows for sharper thinking and creativity.

“We also house our very own coffee start-up at Ikigai, our in-house café called Roasted Truth, which aims to serve specialty coffee and tea to our members and recently lunch as well.”

Ikigai offers private offices that attract medium to large enterprises. The private offices are designed for teams of 4 or more. They include individual desks that are linked allowing users to move them around into a formation that works for them. Entrepreneurs and larger organizations have access to meeting rooms that include traditional boardrooms and Think Rooms equipped with writeable walls for brainstorming and ideating.  

Recently, the space introduced complimentary yoga for members. Most people according to Nyambura, often leave workplaces to find other places for physical and mental wellbeing. “We want our members to focus on their health when at work, just as they spend majority of their time in the workplace.”

To further support members, several initiatives are on the pipeline according to the space creators. Soon, Nyambura says the space will begin offering members discounts at partner organizations to provide HR, Wellness, Accounting, Business, Relocation and Immigration services. “In the near future we plan on adding legal, digital marketing, coaching and technology support.To round out our current services and designs we have provided a prayer room and a mother’s room in our new locations.

Unlike other coworking spaces, Ikigai does not target specific professionals. The space is composed of a mix of clients ranging from companies working on, ICT startups, linguistics and journalism, technology, food, maternal health, public relations and marketing among others.

“We believe that part of the vibrancy of our community lies in the diversity of our members. The mix of members we have is today, the strength of our community.”

According to a research done by Coworking Africa, the coworking business is expected to see a boom. This exponential growth is attributed to 70 percent of the total population of Africa which are the millennials and also the many opportunities currently flooding the continent. Already, Ikigai has identified is looking to open two new spaces in Nairobi.

As co-working principles continue to evolve and influence broader ‘co-learning’ and ‘co-living’ concepts, businesses that integrate these progressive strategies into their own enterprises will be well equipped to meet the needs and expectations of the future workforce.

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