An interview with Betahaus, Barcelona’s largest coworking centre

Coworking in Barcelona is in fashion. And arguably, if coworking is in fashion, then riding the crest of the wave is Betahaus Barcelona, currently the largest coworking space in Barcelona in terms of both members and square metres, and based in Gràcia. So what are coworking and Betahaus all about? We interview Edu Forte, cofounder of Betahaus Barcelona, to find out.

Coworking from home

First of all, what is a coworking centre? I’m told that it’s not just a business centre, but a space for meeting people, making connections and getting inspired. According to Edu, “the space stops being just four walls with an internet connexion and a printer”. And at the heart of this is a sense of community or, as Betahaus calls it on their website, “a happy family living in one amazing house”. Although it might seem surprising to have a family that charges you for desk space, at least your new Betahaus colleagues won’t have any embarrassing stories about your childhood to hold against you. Edu calls the space as “something comparable to a university or a library, a third, shared space that is neither the office nor home”.

In a city with a strong international streak and a transient population, it’s perhaps not surprising that the self-employed and small business owners are looking for this sense of community if they’re not getting it via work. In fact, Edu estimates a large majority of the coworkers in Betahaus are from overseas. Among the 170 people working in the centre, there are 35 nationalities and 18 different languages.

So apart from “foreign” (or “international”, to put it a little more kindly), what kind of profile does Betahaus attract? Edu insists on the variety of the coworkers in the space. Given the university comparisons, are they all young? Typically so, but there’s people of all ages in Betahaus. What unites them, according to Edu, is their open-minded spirit. They are “the kind of people who see this mark on the wall, and see an image or a possibility rather than a stain”.

What’s on show?

That said, Betahaus does not skimp on the facilities. “We are not a low-cost model”, says Edu. As well as the standard coworking facilities – desks, terraces and toilets, Betahaus contains its own members’ café, space for holding events, educational projects and a workshop. This is more than just a space where you can lay your laptop – Betahaus holds events such as global start-up competition Betapitch, Big Data talks and much more, making it an important nexus for business trends in Barcelona.

The graffiti on the walls and hammock for siestas make Betahaus feel more like a social club than an office. It’s clear that this is a space for a certain type of mindset that is quite far from the corporate world. That said, I’m reassured to see that the entrepreneurs hanging around do look pretty focused on what they’re doing. Despite the trendy surroundings, it’s good to see the nose-to-grindstone approach hasn’t gone out of fashion.

Are there any notable success stories from Betahaus Barcelona? A couple. One ex-Betahaus member has produced a soft security device which successfully achieved around $240,000 funding on Kickstarter. Acording to Edu, however, the greatest success story is not anyone who’s been wildly successful, but simply “the member who comes here and stays here because they’re doing well and it’s helped them build their business”. Sounds about right.

What does coworking bring to the table?

Coworking spaces are, like any kind of real estate outlay, not free, although Betahaus charges are reasonable enough. Is it worth the cost? Although you might find a few people hanging around who could use your services, this is not always a given. Having spoken to Edu, it seems that the real value of coworking is the water-cooler chat – the social motivation and the opportunity to bounce ideas off like-minded people.

How much is that worth in terms of getting your business off the ground and giving you the lifestyle you want? Up to you to decide. One thing’s for sure – your work environment is important, so before renting a coworking space, make sure you check if it really feels as though it’s for you.

Desks in Betahaus cost from €15 for a day pass to €79 – €229 per month. See their website for more details.

coworking-space-barcelona

Text by Penelope. Photos courtesy of Betahaus Barcelona (not mine this time!).

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