Communes may have gone out of fashion since their hippy heyday in the 1960s, but the concept of people with a shared outlook living and working together is being reinvented for the 21st century entrepreneur. House shares where small business owners sound out ideas with like-minded peers are popping up in cities around the world.
Berlin has been experimenting with the concept for years. Palomar5 was the first “innovation camp” to launch in Germany back in 2009. Over a seven-week period, 30 participants under the age of 30 from 17 countries lived and worked together in an old warehouse in the city’s Tempelhof neighbourhood, coming up with tech projects around the topic of “the future of work”.
The Housepreneurs project is another co-living space for entrepreneurs in the city. David de Ponte Lira, chief executive of Spanish fitness startup Full Musculo, was one of 12 small business owners to move into the shared apartment in Berlin in October. He says: “If you want to be a winner you have to be surrounded by them.” He saw the project as a great opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
Residents, whose backgrounds include software programming, marketing, architecture and music, share bedrooms in the 200 sq foot flat for a minimum of three months. There are two bathrooms, a kitchen, a large room with a TV for work and a communal area for eating and relaxation.
While the entrepreneurs are free to work on their own projects, they are encouraged to take advantage of weekly lectures from expert advisers on everything from how to present to investors to growing your business.
Housepreneurs co-founder Viktoria Töws explains that unlike most shared flats where residents do their own thing, this experience is much more intense. The entrepreneurs see each other almost the whole day, work together, eat together and go out together.
Töws says: “The main benefit is that you are living together with like-minded people who have the same goal as you and you support each other in achieving that. There are so many different projects being developed in the apartment that you can get inspired by the other residents and how they work.”
Despite the entrepreneurial fervour in the apartment, the residents still face all the usual mundane challenges of communal living such as quibbling over who left the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. The burden of household chores was lessened by hiring a cleaner and a kitchen timetable was drawn up to avoid the problem of too many cooks.
Töws claims that because the entrepreneurs only have to sign up for three months in the flat, it is not such a huge commitment for participants with families. Nevertheless the current intake is mostly men under 30, with only two female entrepreneurs in the group of 12.
In fact, women accounted for less than 10% of Housepreneurs applicants – Töws says it is unfortunately a reflection of a male-dominated tech industry. She hopes, however, that more women will join the community in the future.
Driven entrepreneurs are known for taking their work home with them, but is it really helpful to be living and breathing your business 24 hours a day?
Last year, small business owner Henry Blanchard had an idea to set up a similar house share in London. His plans included waking up early to go for a group run followed by a breakfast brainstorm then off to work in the shared office space with the rest of the housemates.
In the evening there would be learning events with guest speakers and at the weekend Blanchard imagined holding hackathons. With the capital’s soaring rents and house prices, it was the perfect plan for startup owners struggling with living costs in the city.
Unfortunately, Blanchard’s dream was scuppered by administrative hurdles such as struggling to find a lease for short-term tenancies. So he called it a day and travelled to Uganda with his micro investment business Shauku to set up the country’s first marathon. Since returning from Africa, where he gained first-hand experience of sharing a home with other entrepreneurs, he realised that all work and no play wasn’t necessarily a recipe for innovation.
Now back in London, Blanchard is looking for entrepreneurs to join him for a houseshare experience, less rigidly structured than in his original plan. He says: “At some point you have got to accept the fact that people are living as well as working and everyone wants a home and downtime.
“That was definitely something I didn’t realise last year. I was very gung-ho about it, thinking work, work, work, and that we would be wanting to be absolutely on it 24/7 and really high intensity.”
The new plan is to rent a flat in zone one for five people. There will be one name on the lease and a “rotating cast of characters”. Blanchard insists it will feel a lot more like a home where everyone is aware of the hard work involved in running a business and is interested sharing ideas, but is also happy to switch off with a beer or a game of table football.
“You can’t manage every aspect of people’s lives,” Blanchard says. “There needs to be freedom and expression as well as space and time for reflection. Less pressure, less structure and more go with the flow.”
Tom Penn, founder of new startup The Sales Hub, agrees. While he only shares a flat with one other entrepreneur, he admits it is easy for work to creep into leisure time. Making a cup of tea can quickly turn into half an hour’s brainstorm about a new idea and he often finds himself chatting until late at night about business. Nevertheless, he finds the experience refreshing rather than draining.
“I have been in house shares before where no one has been doing anything proactive. In most situations you sit around watching the telly and having a chat. But when you are living with an entrepreneur it adds a new element to the conversations you might have.
“I find it is a very supportive environment because my flatmate understands where I’m coming from, why I am working ridiculous hours and staying up late. It is nice to be in the same boat as someone else who also hasn’t switched off at that time.”
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