Co-working is the future of collaboration for companies, automakers take bets


Volvo, Daimler, Porsche & Mercedes bet on co-working and collaboration to create future of transportation in smart cities; the time is right for Indian corporates to take a leaf from their book

Key takeaways

* Corporates want to find innovation outside their companies. 

* Automobile companies look at themselves as transport solutions companies.

* This will lead to a world where ideas will be taken to market faster.

Ludwigsburg is a city known for its beautiful Baroque palace and lush gardens. But on the main roads you can’t miss the powerful Porsches or BMWs speeding towards the autobahn. Apart from architectural splendor and natural beauty, the town is home to a Porsche Technology Centre where hundreds of bright innovators from various startups are ushering in the digital era for the carmaker.

Companies across the world are setting up their own co-work spaces too. The bets are taken by Volvo and Porsche among many others. (Picture courtesy: CoWrks)

Connectivity, smart mobility and autonomous driving are some of the themes which Porsche has invested in and, like other OEMs, is collaborating with corporate and venture capital companies to fuel innovation. The innovation has a cause -- the three themes Porsche is working on are envisioned to use technology to create sustainability and safety for the future of mobility. In that motley crew of innovators are future thinkers from Bosch GmbH.

Peter Guse, CEO and strategist at Heimat, a Bosch platform that incubates ideas and takes startups to commercial scale, says: “Collaboration is the future and we are going to build co-working spaces to work with the best minds.” He adds that Bosch, in under 12 months, is planning to set up close to 50,000 square feet in real estate space to collaborate and work with startups in Stuttgart.

The founders of Zenoway and myScotty agree with Peter.

Sebastian Tietz, founder of myScotty, says: “The idea to build something around shared mobility was something that Bosch and we are working on because in the future commuters may not want to own vehicles and would love to use services provided by the ecosystem of vehicle aggregators.”

Joerg Heckel, general manager PJ- robotics at Zenoway feels that a corporate can “learn to be nimble” with a startup. “We have collaborated with Bosch for 10 years to build software that automated forklifts and storage systems,” he says.

These collaborations focus on learning from each other. The corporate gives its sales resources to the startup while the startup provides the corporate’s engineers with insights on technology. These collaborations are not accelerators or funding programs; they are spaces for sharing knowledge.

Learning from each other

This kind of collaboration between corporates and small companies in a co-working environment is not limited to Germany alone. It is also happening in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The Volvo Group is setting up a large centre (size undisclosed) that will collaborate with smaller companies and startups. The centre will go live by the end of 2018.

Niklas Gustaffson, chairman of Volvo India, says: “We are an automobile company, but we cannot think about the future of mobility only in terms of mobility for roads. Only a collaborative company can build systems for smart cities.”

He adds that sustainability is at the heart of the future and Volvo intends to do this by collaborating with startups and SMBs.

“The future of sustainable transport solutions should achieve environmental, social and economic goals. This is possible by learning from new ideas outside of a company,” Gustaffson says. He feels that cycling, walking, electro-mobility, robotics and automation are some of the themes that smart cities of the future will look at.

Even Daimler Mercedes, along with an insurance company and tech firm, has partnered with StartUp Bootcamp accelerator to work with startups on the themes of mobility and autonomous driving. Bosch and Daimler will launch their first autonomous car by the first part of the next decade. Similarly Ford has been a pioneer in working with engineers by hosting the Open Developer Program to understand the interface of the cloud and devices connected to the car.

These kind of programs are happening in India, but the collaborations are basic and yet to evolve into meaningful partnerships. But the seeds of collaboration and innovation have already been sown in WeWork, CoWrks and other places like Awfis.

Automobile company Visteon and consulting company Deloitte have signed up with co-working spaces in Bengaluru.

Why is this relevant to India?

To attract talent, corporates are strategising operations to adopt the latest technologies in their workspaces and embracing new methods of working, including flexibility in location, co-working spaces, and so on.

Ram Chandnani, co-chair, India Chapter, Corenet Global & MD, advisory & transaction services, CBRE South Asia, says: “This means that developers who want to tap this growing consumer base need to be cognizant of the informed consumer and ensure that the product they are selling meets these parameters.”

CBRE believes that due to rapid urbanisation corporates are also rethinking how to get their employees to work in congested cities.

“Corporates need to factor in productivity versus physical presence of their employees, as most of them do not live close to their workplace,” Chandnani says.

The Global Co-working Survey, a survey conducted by more than 30 co-work companies, suggests more than 1.2 million people will be working in a co-work space by the end of 2017. There will be 13,800 co-work spaces by the end of 2017 when compared to 11,300 co-work spaces last year.

No wonder Sidharth Menda, CoWrks founder, is betting big on the journey of collaboration. He is very keen that corporates that work in his co-work centres actively collaborate with the ecosystem.

“A co-work space has to be built around collaboration and that's the value we bring at CoWrks – at all our 150 centres, some of which we will be opening in three years,” he says.

WeWork in India, which is being promoted by Karan Virwani, has similar plans. WeWork launched in India recently and believes collaborations are the way forward. Enterprises that work with WeWork globally are General Motors, Dell, Spotify, KPMG, Pinterest and SalesForce.

Collaboration in India is yet to gain momentum in co-work spaces because the concept of a corporate sitting alongside a startup is new. But companies like Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, Reliance Industries and Future Group need to set up their own centres of excellence to invite young companies to collaborate for the future. The time for that is now.

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