Introducing A Workspace Provider Determined To Boost Innovation Across The UK
Flexible workspaces have been on the rise for years. However, one operator is taking the model further, combining flexible offices with specialist facilities and expert business support in a drive to create social uplift in areas most in need of skilled jobs. Plus X currently has two innovation hubs and is on an ambitious growth path.
“Everyone agrees that innovation is unequal across the UK,” Plus X co-founder Paul Rostas said. “Our aim is to attract entrepreneurial job creators to struggling areas across the UK. We’ve done it and it works. For the landlords we partner with, this is not just an opportunity to have a fantastic socioeconomic impact, but it delivers healthy returns.”
Plus X innovation hubs offer flexible offices and facilities to businesses of all sizes, from startups to divisions of large corporates. These are combined with specialist facilities such as prototyping workshops and media suites. The hubs aim to be a one-stop shop to grow innovative businesses that employ highly skilled people by also offering business support, such as information about how to raise capital or protect IP.
In partnership with developer U+I, Plus X created its first innovation hub seven years ago in Hayes, west London. The company took over the former headquarters of EMI Records, which had an in-house innovation division before it shut down in the manufacturing recession in the 1980s.
“We wanted to attract people by focusing on the industries that make products, which can be exciting,” Rostas said. “The building quickly filled up and unlocked the regeneration scheme for the area. It was so successful that we thought, surely other areas must be facing similar challenges to Hayes?”
The next Plus X workspace was in Brighton, in an area called Moulsecoomb, 10 minutes from the city centre. Moulsecoomb has struggled economically for several years, which is exactly why the team picked it, Plus X co-founder Mat Hunter said.
“There’s the mantra: Talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t,” he said. “Why should people have to leave the area they grew up in to find high-value jobs? We want to create those jobs and companies all around the country. Moulsecoomb is not what you’d consider a destination, but now people have made it their home.”
Such was the popularity of the Plus X Brighton innovation hub that even though it opened amid the pandemic in July 2020, it filled up rapidly. Today it is 90% occupied, providing workspaces and facilities to more than 400 people. The need for flexibility coupled with business support is clear, Rostas said.
“Lots of graduates have great ideas, but not great business knowledge,” he said. “They don’t know how to prototype, raise capital, protect their IP and so on. Whatever sector they’re in, they’ll face the same business challenges. The best way to come up with solutions is not to have people from the same sector in the room, but to work in a rich pool of diverse talents and skill sets.”
The hub has many success stories of ideas that have become fully fledged businesses. In 2019, entrepreneur Lucy Hughes won the Dyson Award for her company MarinaTex’s invention of a bioplastic made from organic fish waste. She worked on her invention from her workspace in the Plus X innovation hub, using the specialist facilities and support.
The Plus X model goes even further than supporting the businesses within its hubs. The team has embedded its drive for economic development by not only selecting locations that are in need of innovative jobs and companies but by supporting local social value creators.
“For example, we work with an organisation called Dad La Soul in Brighton that supports single fathers,” Rostas said. “We held an event for them and several of our members said they wanted to get involved. We also support apprenticeships in the local area, giving businesses in our facility a free desk to host an apprentice and putting them in touch with the right organisations.”
The entrepreneurs in Plus X innovation hubs value the company’s commitment to the community and the ability to boost local economies and society themselves, Hunter said.
“We’re in a tight labour market, businesses need to attract staff,” he said. “Just because you work for a small business, it doesn’t mean you have to have a boring office. Our properties offer yoga and have a roof deck ,for example, as well as opportunities to get involved with social organisations.”
Rostas and Hunter said their aim to have 25 innovation hubs across the UK is “demanding but achievable”. They’re looking to partner with landlords who share the same socioeconomic vision, as well as understand that offering flexibility today isn’t riskier than a traditional office lease.
“Flexibility is essential for SMEs because otherwise real estate is only going to be the wrong size — it will have been right for a single moment,” Hunter said. “We can’t stop people from downsizing, but if they do we have many more people looking to expand or move in. As we offer a range of carefully curated benefits, we generate excellent brand loyalty.”
Plus X is looking for spaces of more than 25K SF with good local infrastructure. Ideally, there will be higher or further education institutions nearby. Most importantly, the team is looking for locations that need a boost. The current economic uncertainty has only increased their ambition to create facilities in areas that most need them.
“We know that other coworking facilities are doing this; there are lots of worthy businesses driven by having a social impact,” Rostas said. “Our unique selling point is that we try to do it all under one roof and make it easy for businesses and people to do the right thing while being successful themselves. And as a result, landlords can make more money than having a traditional office.”
This article was produced in collaboration between Plus X and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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