Interview: Gareth Jones on co-working

Gareth Jones is the founder and CEO of Caerphilly-based co-working space Welsh ICE, a hub for start-ups and the entrepreneurs behind them in South Wales.

We speak to him about why he set up the space, the benefits it offers to entrepreneurs and start-ups, what it adds to the Welsh economy and co-working, in general.

TD: Why did you set up Welsh ICE?

GJ: We set up ICE to create a space for like-minded people to get together, share ideas and learn from each other.  There is a loneliness that comes from trying to carve a niche, especially against all the odds, so we wanted to make sure that people went on that mission or venture knowing they had a great team in their corner.

TD: How does it benefit entrepreneurs and start-ups?

GJ: The big thing here is that while the obvious product is office space and superfast broadband access, the real value comes from the community, attitude and culture.

We then bring in experts like Broomfield Alexander and Greenaway Scott who offer their huge knowledge for businesses in the community to ensure they’re keeping on the right path, while the community offers support from their own experiences and wealth of expertise.

TD: What does it add to the Welsh economy and business culture?

GJ: It’s still too early to talk about the lasting impact on Welsh business culture, as more established clubs, groups and communities are still very evident and reflected in the traditional media, but the emergence of platforms like Tech Dragons highlights that we’re starting to reach a level of critical mass now that becomes a catalyst for other spin-out activities.

As the community starts to enable things like this, we’ll start to see more recognition like the Tech City report, which really helped to give us coverage in the mainstream national media. As for the Welsh economy, it’s difficult to say, especially as the performance of Cardiff, Swansea, and their city regions don’t do much to address issues in Milford Haven, Aberystwyth or Bala. So we have to understand how those communities can benefit from the increased activity in the south.

TD: Can you give us some examples of Welsh ICE success stories, please?

GJ: This is a real challenge because we don’t define success by number of employees, turnover or investment raised, but also in that we can’t possibly take credit for the sacrifices that the founders of the businesses had to make along the way. But we are inspired by the incredible achievements of Bomper, Noddlepod, Do IT, Nudjed, Service Tracker, Life’s Chocolate, Creatables, Go Connect, RecRock, DW Studio, Profit Sourcery, XIBO, and the list goes on and on. It’s truly an honour to get to work with these teams.

TD: What have you learnt on the way?

GJ: That people are their own worst enemies.  Some of the most unlikely business successes have survived adversity through stubborn belief, and tenacity, where those who seemed destined for greatness have really struggled. Also, there seems to be a lot more people who want to start a business than those who want to run a business.

TD: Why are co-working spaces important, more generally?

GJ: There are many reasons as to why they’re important, whether that’s for the impression it makes on your client by having somewhere formal to meet them or meeting clients in the spaces, but there are broader influences that it can have on people with early stage business ideas.

That could be as simple as having somewhere to leave the house for at 8am every day, or a community of people who understand why you’re willing to sacrifice so much to live your vision, or just having spaces for different parts of your life, and being able to draw the line at 5pm, or 9pm, or 3am, depending on how hard you find it to tear yourself away!

TD: What does the future hold for them?

GJ: Co-working across the world seems to have an energy that’ll see it keep moving. The question is what identity does that space have – access to funding, narrow sector/vertical focus, endorsement from a major PLC, embedded training/accelerator service or just where it happens to be located.

They might end up like gyms, where you have a subscription every month that you forget to cancel, but use every now and again, or they might have high churn, with new faces appearing every three months. They might become showcases for sectors in cities, like the Life Sciences Hub, or they could become extensions to coffee shops, like Google Campus.

TD: What are Welsh ICE’s plans for the future?

GJ: We’re making a big announcement in mid-September, so we shall keep the surprise until then!