Beyond co-working space

By Lin Zhiqin / The Edge Property | June 30, 2017 5:00 PM SGT
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The launch of UrWork at JTC LaunchPad @ one-north marks its first foray outside China. UrWork hopes it will be a springboard for Singapore businesses looking for opportunities in China and for companies there to go global.
Mainland Chinese co-working space provider UrWork has partnered Collective Campus, a start-up accelerator based in Australia and Singapore, to set up a 6,889 sq ft co-working space at JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, which was officially launched on June 23.
UrWork launched its first Singapore co-working space at JTC LaunchPad @ one-north on June 23
The new co-working space in Singapore offers 118 workstations, six meeting rooms and a multifunction hall. The space is already 40% taken up. The maiden co-working space in Singapore will bring the total number of co-working spaces in UrWork’s network to 66. It already has 65 in 18 cities across China.
UrWork at JTC LaunchPad @ one-north has 118 workstations, six meeting rooms and a multifunction hall
UrWork was founded in 2015 by its CEO, Mao Daqing, now a Singapore citizen. Mao had spent 14 years with CapitaLand in China, and was with Vanke, one of China’s biggest property groups, for six years prior to founding UrWork. Renowned venture capital firms that have invested in the firm include Sequoia Capital, Zhen Fund and Noah Wealth Management.
“The establishment of the Singapore co-working space, our first overseas, enables us to embrace the Singapore market,” says Mao. “Our objective in setting up an overseas co-working space is not just to provide space but to become a springboard — not just for Chinese companies to venture overseas, but also for Singapore entrepreneurs to know us, and through us, to enter the Chinese market.”
Mao: Our objective in setting up an overseas co-working space is not just to provide space but to become a springboard
On Jan 18, 2017, UrWork raised US$58 million ($80 million) in a series B funding round from Tianhong Asset Management, a mutual fund under Alibaba’s Ant Financial Services Group, and property developer Junfa Group. The funding round valued UrWork at about US$1.03 billion, making it China’s first unicorn in the co-working space.
Tripartite partnership
In December 2016, UrWork signed a memorandum of understanding with CapitaLand and International Enterprise Singapore to facilitate the entry of Singapore companies into China. The main thrust of the MOU is for UrWork to provide co-working spaces in CapitaLand’s properties in China and Singapore. IE Singapore’s role is to identify and link potential Singapore small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to these co-working spaces in China, where they will also enjoy preferential fees.
UrWork has opened co-working spaces in two of the 65 CapitaLand malls in China: one is a 44,132 sq ft space at CapitaMall Minzhongleyuan, Wuhan, which opened in February; and the other is a 13,993 sq ft space at CapitaMall Wangjing, Beijing, which opened in June. The two spaces can accommodate more than 600 workstations.
The advantage of having a co-working space within a shopping mall is that entrepreneurs can use it as a testbed for their innovations and subsequently sell their products in the malls.
The 44,132 sq ft UrWork at CapitaMall Minzhongleyuan, Wuhan, opened in February
Image source: UrWork
So far, around 50 companies from Singapore have expressed interest in collaborating with UrWork — either in taking up a spot at their co-working space or forming a link with the vibrant ecosystem in China, says Michelle Chow, group director, enterprise partnership group, IE Singapore. UrWork’s ecosystem is unique as it is not just focused on tech companies or unicorns. “They are looking at micro- companies and SMEs as well,” she adds.
Chow: UrWork’s ecosystem is unique as it is not just focused on tech companies or unicorns
According to Mao, UrWork’s co-working spaces incorporate the Internet of Things, and technology that offers a range of integrated services from HR, IT, accounting and marketing to facilitate the business expansion and growth of start-ups in China.
This means that mundane work such as business registration and tax matters can be outsourced to preselected vendors in UrWork’s network, adds Chow. And, it allows the SMEs or start-ups to focus on finding investors and partners to grow and develop their business.
A springboard for business
UrWork will facilitate Chinese companies looking to enter Singapore to establish a regional presence. Likewise, it will help Singapore SMEs entering China for the first time, looking to set up a base there.
This is not the first time Mao is helping Singaporean companies enter China. “I was in CapitaLand for 14 years. I was the first staff from CapitaLand to be sent to Beijing to set up the office there,” he recounts.
Mao’s connection with CapitaLand also led to the choice of location for UrWork’s first office in Singapore. Chin Phei Chen, managing director and regional GM of CapitaLand North China, had introduced JTC Launch- Pad @ one-north to Mao. “CapitaLand is not just about selling property,” says Chin. “We build, manage and provide space and solutions for businesses. We have to keep upgrading our skillsets to compete globally.”
Chin: Our idea is to grow the business community in China and Singapore
The collaboration between UrWork and CapitaLand could see more UrWork co-working spaces opening in CapitaLand properties. “Anywhere that we think there will be opportunity, we will work together,” adds Chin. “Our idea is to grow the business community in China and Singapore.”
One of the perks of working at an UrWork co-working space in China is getting to use ofo bikes for free. Ofo’s yellow bicycles are ubiquitous in Beijing, where the bicycle-sharing company was founded in 2014. The unicorn is backed by investors including Didi Chuxing, China’s ride-hailing giant, CITIC private equity, smartphone maker Xiaomi and Ant Financial. Ofo is also going to take up space at the UrWork co-working space in Singapore. The free use of bikes by members of UrWork in Singapore could be offered in future, says ofo regional manager Elin Ma.
The newly opened 13,993 sq ft UrWork at CapitaMall Wangjing, Beijing
Image source: UrWork
Market is big enough
According to Colliers’ Future of Workplace and Occupancy report released in June, there were 11,000 co-working locations around the world in 2016. The figure is expected to more than double to 26,000 by 2020.
“We are seeing more and more start-ups and SMEs pushing for greater productivity and innovative solutions. Demand for co-working spaces that deliver strong value proposition and quality integrated services is on the rise and we are well-placed to meet them,” says Mao.
UrWork has been called China’s answer to WeWork, a US co-working company headquartered in New York. WeWork raised about US$430 million in a financing round led by Beijing-based Legend Holdings and its private equity arm, Hony Capital, on March 10, 2016. The round of funding brought its valuation to US$16 billion.
WeWork is the largest co-working operator in the US and it has operations in close to 50 cities. There are already two WeWork spaces in Beijing, with a third to open soon. In Shanghai, there are four WeWork co-working spaces, with another two in the pipeline.
However, UrWork is set to grow bigger. In April, UrWork and New Space, another leading Chinese co-working provider, inked a strategic agreement which will see the two entities merge. However, they will maintain their separate brand identities, namely UrWork and New Space. The merged entity is now valued at US$1.3 billion, with close to 100 co-working locations in 24 cities across the world. It intends to grow the number of co-working spaces to 150 within the next three years, occupying over five million to six million sq ft of space.
UrWork is slated to launch in New York at end-July. “The market is still very big,” says UrWork’s Mao. “I’m not worried about WeWork.”
This article appeared in The Edge Property Pullout, Issue 786 (July 3, 2017) of The Edge Singapore.

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