About a kilometre south of the Monivong Bridge along National Road 2, an old garment factory has been renovated and transformed into Cambodia’s newest and most ambitious co-working space.
“In early 2017, we were given access to this old factory and asked to make something entirely new,” said Corbett Hix, who manages the 17-building compound known as the Factory.
“The idea was to create not only a co-working space, but an entire community to facilitate collaborative interactions on a larger scale,” he said.
At night, the Factory is a dark, cavernous space. Giant fans whir overhead and lights fail to reach the building’s corners. During the day, the space transforms into a bright, colourfully painted office, with even the narrow alleyways running between the compound’s buildings decorated with murals.
The Factory sits on 3.4 hectares of land, making it much larger than the country’s other co-working spaces. But the new project hopes to be more than just a traditional co-working space, with a uniqueness that Hix said would be the key to drawing in clients.
In addition to the co-working space, the compound will also include traditional office space, an artistic hub, a trampoline gym and a dizzying array of food and entertainment options. A skate park has already been set up, and Hix has plans to establish a free-to-use architecture and arts library in the future.
Although the Factory won’t officially launch until Saturday, they’ve already rented 74 percent of the available traditional office space. Co-working space rentals have not yet taken off, with more than 90 percent still available, but Hix said the company expected to see a surge in interest after the official launch.
“The plan is to make the money back, with a 10 to 20 percent profit, within the next five years,” he said.
Five years is an important time frame, because the project may not exist after that deadline. The investors behind the Factory, which include Cambodian entrepreneur Kean Kim Leang, have said they plan to convert the space into condominiums in 2023.
“We have five years, and we have to make this project work,” Hix said, adding he hoped the Factory would be able to last longer than currently planned.
“At the end of one year of operation, we’ll see where we’re at, and I’m expecting them to give the thumbs up or down about whether they want to consider keeping the Factory whole or in part in some way.”
The space has its work cut out for it in attracting co-working customers. The last two years have seen a sharp rise in the number of co-working spaces operating in Phnom Penh, many of them with more central locations.
When the Factory’s co-working space was initially floated as an idea at the start of last year, there were only two established co-working spaces – Impact Hub and Emerald Hub – operating in the capital, he said.
Emerald Hub was created by Cambodian founders to give local entrepreneurs a space to collaborate, and now has two locations in Phnom Penh. It offers affordable membership plans catering to Cambodian youths and college students.
As an international brand, Impact Hub was established in 2014 as an expatriate-run social enterprise. The company has higher rates than Emerald Hub and attracts a mostly foreign clientele, according to Olivia Hough, the space’s managing director.
“Co-working can be considered a fairly new concept in Cambodia, along with freelancing and more independent jobs,” said Hough. “We are beginning to see some growth in these job sectors [in Cambodia] though, and no doubt as they grow, the demand for co-working will too.”
Since the start of last year, more co-working spaces have grown into established outlets. Trybe markets itself as vibrant space and the home of one of the country’s only available 3D printers, while the Desk, Common Phnom Penh and Bali-based Outpost have also set up shop in the capital.
Last month, Vietnamese co-working space Toong announced it planned to enter Phnom Penh by the end of the year, which would further saturate the crowded market.
Hix is tying his hopes to the Factory’s unique attractions, hoping they will make the space a one-stop shop for young Cambodians seeking a community in addition to their working space.
“We want to differentiate ourselves,” he said. “If I can pull off the art space, get the canteen running, get the bar running too and create this music space, people are going to want to be here.”