What is it?
Grand Central is a co-working space, where clients share the working environment. It is attractive to entrepreneurs, work-at-home professionals, start-ups, independent contractors, people who travel frequently, or people interested in the synergy that can happen when working alongside one another. Co-working provides a fully equipped and professional environment without the overheads or commitments. The internet, utilities, desks, meeting spaces and kitchen, plus free tea and coffee, are all provided. Serviced offices are an extension of co-working offering a private, secure office along with all the benefits of shared services. Companies can expand or downsize as needed, within the same building.
How was it funded?
The feasibility and development work plus the refurbishment and fit-out of the building was funded privately. This gave us the flexibility to invest in the infrastructure and back-end systems to automate the administration and give our members the benefit of online sign-up, bookings, invoicing and payments. We also had the leeway to adapt the spaces in the building as we grew into it.
What type of clients mainly use your service?
We have a wide range of professions. We have freelancers, remote workers and sole traders, plus a number of companies. Members include the Valletta Office of the Embassy of Hungary in Rome, Briffa Legal, Distinction Law, B21 Block, Senior Product Leadership Group (SPLSG) and Kanallan. We also have companies who use our boardroom for off-site meetings, as an overflow space or as their base when in Malta. Our function room has been used by companies such as Facebook, LibroLogic and Digital Health 2.0 Malta.
Iain Harvey, founder of Grand Central
More people seem to prefer working as freelancers today. Do you think this will rise the demand of co-working spaces?
Yes, absolutely. People are catching onto the flexibility, affordabilitly and buzz of co-working. Also the model fits into today’s lifestyle where people expect to buy a service just for the time they need it, without any complexity or bureaucracy. The recent Deskmag annual survey has reported strong growth in co-working from 500,000 members in 2012 to a projected 5 million by 2020. One of the largest global operators, WeWork, opened in 2010 and now has 178 venues hosting 20,000 corporate and 15,000 individual members.
"What makes Malta and Valletta so special for doing business isn’t just the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, ease of access to local decision-makers or level of technology available. It’s also what’s on-hand once you’re out of the office; whether you enjoy scuba diving, eating out, theatre, live music or almost anything else, it’s all just minutes away. Some of the Grand Central members have pretty intense jobs, tight deadlines or demanding clients so at the office we have a masseur visiting regularly, and we look for any excuse to throw a rooftop party."
Iain Harvey, founder of Grand Central
What are the advantages of using a co-working space instead of traditional offices?
For start-ups, co-working removes the financial hurdle and provides maximum flexibility as the business develops. According to Oded Israeli, VP at Mindspace, established companies can save 20-40% in costs compared to a regular office. This is especially true when a company expands into a new market and wants to do so quickly. By locating teams within co-working spaces, companies avoid set-up costs and overheads as everything is included. Innovation is not the only reason corporates are attracted to co-working; basic business principles are also driving this trend as they can benefit from exposure to other businesses.
What are your plans for the future?
Fortunately, we have enthusiastic investors, so we’re already looking for new venues around the island. With our commitment to flexibility, it would enable individuals and companies to base themselves in the most convenient venue for them, even splitting staff across sites, whilst also having access to the others. So on a daily basis you can decide whichever venue suits your own, your colleagues or your clients’ needs. The Brew Spaces, Grand Central’s London partner, has recently been acquired by rent24 who are investing £500 million and opening 45 new co-working venues in the UK; there’s plenty of growth to go!
I was quite surprised by the lack of co-working and drop-in spaces available a few years ago; especially given the expanding business market and drive to promote entrepreneurship. Malta has the highest proportion of microbusiness’ in the EU, and it is obviously appealing to foreigners because of the business climate, not to mention its literal one! More recently, with Brexit impending, many UK companies are looking for an English-speaking EU base, something that Malta is ideally positioned to offer.
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