Supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses is essential to the health of the city economy. But how do you do it in real time and respond to ever changing space demands and business types? And how do you create cheap, fast, flexible space without breaking the municipal bank?
Clever cities have learned to be light on their feet and make something out of nothing – which after all is what most new start-ups are trying to do. Across the world we are seeing imaginative re-use of old warehouses and factory buildings with minimum investment and maximum effect. Some of the smartest new spaces for start ups and small businesses make creative use of basic materials to create cheap, fast, flexible work space that doubles as a driver of urban regeneration. They also create a culture – the pool tables and cafes are key creative infrastructure. Our new blog series profiles some projects that might give Toronto some inspiration.
The Sharp Project, Manchester
The warehouse that formerly housed electronics company Sharp just outside Manchester City Centre has been transformed into The Sharp Project, now home to dozens of digital entrepreneurs and production companies. The barebones renovation offers three classes of offices, starting from flexible, affordable office units housed in recycled shipping containers that can be grouped together to create workspaces of different sizes and configurations. These offices are suitable for start-ups and small businesses that require short term leases – you can rent by the week – and basic amenities to get on their feet. Two classes of serviced offices ranging in size offer plenty of options for larger and more established businesses. Companies at the Sharp Project are carefully selected to maximize potential for collaboration and business development on site. A bank of table tennis tables and a café fill the common area.
A joint investment by Manchester City Council, Northwest Regional Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund, the Sharp Project was developed specifically to grow the creative and digital sector in Manchester and create job opportunities in the area. An independent report recently found that since opening in 2011 The Sharp Project has exceeded job creation targets and increased productivity of its tenants. Two new spin-off projects to accommodate some Sharp Centre ‘graduates’ are in development.