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Co-working space offers more room to fuel innovation

People work at a co-working space in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tompoung commune last year.
People work at a co-working space in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Tompoung commune last year. Kimberley McCosker

Co-working space offers more room to fuel innovation

Consistent with the trend that has seen the international co-working market grow exponentially over the last decade, at least six new co-working spaces have emerged in Phnom Penh since Hackerspace, now known as coLAB, brought the concept to the capital in 2010. The latest, CommON, opened its doors last week in the capital’s Tonle Bassac commune and already has four out of its five private office spaces booked for long-term use.

Myunghee Cho, representative of Openhands, the Korean NGO that co-founded CommON, said the need to share ideas and collaborate has become exceptionally important for entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovators.

Co-working spaces allow groups of like-minded people to come together to work. The collaborative office spaces, which combine the elements of a serviced office, business centre and bustling cafe, provide tenants with office infrastructure for a daily or monthly fee – often with flexible operating hours and a creativity-inspiring atmosphere.

“There are many needs when [people] have their own business, so they need to meet each other and share their ideas and information so that they can grow together,” Cho said. “That is the market’s need and there are many quirky places just like this because it’s in fashion globally.”

CommON has partnered with local co-working space SmallWorld to provide a formal inner-city alternative to SmallWorld’s lax homey feel, as well as a space for Cambodian and Korean start-ups to collaborate.

Rithy Thul, co-founder of Smallworld and CommON, said that while co-working spaces in Cambodia have proven popular with expats, Cambodians have generally not been receptive to the concept.

“I was trying to send Cambodian friends to join [co-working space] coLAB and they never went,” he said. “I don’t really know why, but most of the time they feel a little bit intimidated because there are a lot of expats there and Cambodians aren’t really comfortable with that.”

One notable exception, according to Thul, is Smallworld, where “99 per cent” of the clientele is Cambodian.

Thul hopes that introducing his SmallWorld clientele to CommON will encourage young Cambodians to gravitate towards more formal working environments.

“The co-working space could play a big role in terms of bringing fresh new innovations, moving from just ideas to action,” he explained. “Most people are held back by their own small mindset. They don’t see collaboration as open, they only believe in collaboration with business partners.”

SmallWorld introduced the co-working space concept to innovator Sarath Uch four years ago. He has since moved on to Impact Hub, which he claims provides a more formal and sophisticated workspace environment.

Uch co-founded pengpos.com, a grocery delivery service, at Impact Hub and said the collaborative space has allowed him to connect with people from around the world.

“[At Impact Hub] we can meet a new community of people from different parts of the world and we can connect outside of the country rather than inside,” he said.

“This place supports start-ups by providing connections. They push us to other investors, they push us to other teams, and they mentor us on financial protections, much different than SmallWorld.”

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