How we bootstrapped our coworking space – Part 1
transforma bxl is celebrating its one year anniversary and Wow.. What a ride it has been!
If someone would have told us that one year from the opening of transforma bxl, we would have had an amazing community of 70+ on board, hosted numerous events and workshops on many different interesting topics and a totally badass FabLab, I would have said “hold your horses my friend, maybe you are too optimistic!”
Almost everyday someone asks us, what’s your story? How did you end up here? Well, it is time to tell the untold story of transforma bxl.
Collaboration has fuelled some of history’s best ideas. Different minds come together to form an exciting and dynamic project, transforma bxl is a story of encounters and symbiotic relationships.
Where it all started..
It all started at the HUB Brussels, the first coworking space to open in Belgium, where I was working as the ideas manager (content and events). There I met Jean-Yves Huwart with whom I started collaborating on topics such as Intrapreneurship and Coworking. Together, we created the first international conference on the subject of intrapreneurship and co-organized the Coworking Europe Conference in Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and Lisbon. Unfortunately the HUB Brussels had to close its doors late 2012. All the HUB community was gutted by such terrible news. Jean-Yves and myself didn’t want to stop there. So we decided to work on a business proposition to open a coworking and innovation space in the Brussels’ European district. We particularly targeted that area, aiming to open the European “ghetto” to innovators and entrepreneurs, and to help dynamise an area where nothing happens after 15h. An area with a clear lack of creativity, real innovative content and diversity.
We quickly understood one of the reasons of the European neighbourhood situation: the outrageous price of real estate. The initial investment for the project we wanted to initiate was prohibitive, and we had to abandon our plans to conquer the world. Then I thought, why don’t we do it the lean startup way ? Work on an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), bring it to market, test, learn, fix and reiterate. Applied to a coworking space, this meant find a flexible space, that doesn’t require a hell of an investment, start a community there and test the waters, not that easy of a plan.
While looking for the space, we organised the Coworking Europe and Intrapreneurship Conferences in Barcelona. There we got to meet and work with Vanessa Sans, co-founder of transforma bcn, with whom we decided to join forces and initiate a network of coworking spaces: transforma.
Finding the right place
It took one year to find a suitable space, Solvay Sport was closing its doors and was made available for a temporary short-to-mid term occupation, during the time necessary for another project to obtain the required construction authorisations. I immediately fell in love with this beautiful fifties-style building, its huge Rotonde room flooded with light and the incredible view on the four hectares park.. But before saying yes, there were some big challenges. We didn’t have the funds to do much. In the meantime, Jean-Yves went on and co-founded Coworking Namur with Yves Vandeuren. He had less time to dedicate to the transforma bxl project operationally. I had to find help to support this crazy project while getting ready to welcome my first baby son.
Bootsrapping a Coworking Space
So with the help of friends and future transfomers we went the bootstrapping way: do the maximum possible with the resources in hand. The transformation work of the space started, we used as much furniture available on site as possible, and acquired second hand stuff. Eventually our friends from Silversquare shipped in and helped with some furniture as well. We spent our Sundays working on our DIY skills, painting, installing, fixing, refreshing until this old clubhouse looked like a coworking space.
Different minds coming together..
I looked for support in my direct network: my wife Valerie, a gender specialist, would take care of the topic of gender equality and women entrepreneurship in order to create a gender balanced coworking and innovation space.
Then there was an ex colleague of mine, Paul-Henri, with whom I really liked working with and found very skilled and an all around player, in addition to being very funny and agreeable to work with. It happened that the SME where we used to work made the mistake to let him go, so I thought this is my chance. That’s when I invited him to visit the project and used all my sales skills to convince him to join as a co-founder. It didn’t take much convincing, the project appealed to him and he was on board. The dream team was formed !
We made an open call for collaboration and disseminated it in our networks: “Hey, this is our project, you can use it as a platform to innovate, create and make things happen, do you want to join forces?” And this is exactly what we got back, a community of makers. Nicolas de Barquin and Anne-Camille Gilbert showed up and shared their interest and motivation. An idea emerged to create a multidisciplinary community made of coworkers, makers and cooks. The old bowling turned damp would become home for a FabLab, while the Sodexo kitchen would become a co-cooking project.
We opened in alpha mode (not even beta) in march 2014, the first coworkers joined the community and the adventure was on. And my son was born on the same month we opened 👶🏻 🍼.
Here’s a little recap of the most significative events that happened during this incredible year:
- A thriving community of 70+ amazing coworkers formed.
- An incredible FabLab with a CNC machine, a home made laser cutting machine, two 3D printers, a number of power tools and many projects realised.
- The first Open Data Hackathon Brussels, with a gender balanced participation. Two of the three winning teams had a majority of women.
- A monthly pitching event dedicated to Positive Impact Entrepreneurs, seven PIE-Time have been organized so far, with close to 25 projects supported.
- A successful crowdfunding campaign (Thank you all!)
- The Brutaru Monster Game Jam
- The Startup Week end Brussels Ageing Population and and the upcoming Startup Week end Brussels Makers edition in the works.
- Great press coverage.
- And countless other community events & workshops…
But much more importantly, in addition to all the freelancers that are sharing our working space daily to accomplish their various missions, a number of incredible projects are born and / or have been operated from within our beautiful Rotonde or Veranda coworking rooms; here are just a few of them:
- Youtic – Local Business for Local People
- BeeODiversity – Generate and preserve local biodiversity and food diversity through regeneration and conservation of bees
- Brasserie En Stoemelings – Spread the craft beer love around Brussels, Belgium & THE WORLD!
- Brussels Beer Project – Co-create atypical beers inspired by both Belgian savoir-faire & new influences
- Trees & People – Connecting Nature with People through arboreal habitats with no impact on the trees and the environment
- Smoall – A web app offering essential tools for managing small businesses
- AmWell – Stress management solutions at work
- MEOH – A new approach to Social Networking
- And much more..
Finally, we had the chance to host companies and organisations such as Emakina, Universal Music, Axa, Credal, the City of Brussels or Etopia, who chose to organise their trainings and Team Days in our innovative and inspiring setting, where they had the possibility to visit the coworking space and the FabLab, and interact with coworkers.
And guess what? This is just the beginning! Stay tuned and remember:
« When you are in a room with great people great things happen »
Want to know what happened next? -> Check out the part 2 of this story here
Co-founder at transforma bxl
Anis is the the cofounder of BottomUp Innovation, a company helping organisations innovate from the bottom up using the principles of intrapreneurship, open innovation and crowd sourcing. (Read More)