Incubator and accelerator programs offered by big companies such as AIA and Swire are highly sought-after by many aspiring startups.
But if you are not in the tech business, or if you are past the startup phase, this type of workspace, which typically offers benefits such as mentorship, network sharing and idea swapping, is rather inaccessible.
A group of successful entrepreneurs from different industries have banded together to launch a business-center-cum-coworking-space to help SMEs effectively and systemically share their networks, resources, experience and ideas to create business opportunities for everyone in the loop.
Members and co-founders of NeighborFarm project are in their twenties to fifties.
Some are businessmen at the top of their game, others are experienced and accomplished but no longer have the guts, ideas, time or energy to venture into promising new businesses.
There are also young entrepreneurs full of passion and fresh thinking but lack knowledge about how to turn their ideas into viable businesses.
NeighborFarm sees itself as a platform where these different groups can meet, collaborate, co-invest and solve problems together.
“You are not on your own anymore” is the message co-founder Ip Chin wants to get across to renters and new members.
“Many useful ideas and business leads do not come from people we usually hang out with, but from outside this small circle,” Ip says.
“This place aims to do just that.”
Rather than pooling a group of people from the same industry, NeighborFarm will be a community of a wide spectrum of businesses and professions.
“An IT firm may have a better chance of winning, say, a business conference contract if it can team up with an audio-visual specialist,” co-founder Martin Hui explains.
Sometimes, the benefit is less obvious at first glance but an unexpected guanxi can work wonders.
Dragon Chan, another co-founder, runs a swimming club.
He wants to enroll more students and the best place to find them is schools.
“I have been trying to get in touch with principals but with little success, ” he says.
“Then I met someone in a business association and the guy’s wife happened to be a principal. With his introduction, I got it all set up with just one phone call. You never know who your contacts’ family members or friends could be.”
People looking for small office space are not always startups. Some could be moving in the opposite direction — downsizing from a big office, Hui says.
The company hopes the chemistry with their neighbors can help these struggling residents find their bearings.
For instance, some factory owners are trying to transform their business or start building up their own brands as rising costs and a tough marketplace threaten their survival.
As for startups, there are lots of issues young entrepreneurs usually have no idea how to deal with.
For example, to start a business, is it better to register as a limited firm or unlimited firm? What sort of partnership is best?
When negotiating rents, what are the effective tactics? When pricing your product, what sort of margin is considered reasonable?
Ip says co-founders from various backgrounds such as advertising, design, IT, law and accounting can fill new comers in on such practical business tips.
New members are also expected to build up and bring in his or her network outside NeighborFarm, leading to organic growth of the business circle that can be tapped by all members.
A weekly meeting is held in NeighborFarm to let members discuss problems and share opportunities
Everyone is encouraged to participate.
It’s not just the physical space NeighborFarm is offering. More importantly, it’s the invisible links that this place hopes will set it apart from other landlords.
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