Myanmar's First Coworking Space: Project HUB Yangon
Allison Morris and Pete Silvester moved to Myanmar to “shake-up the startup scene”. Together they founded Project Hub Yangon, and officially opened Yangon’s premier coworking space in July of 2013. Since then, Morris and Silvester have worked with everyone from freelancers and entrepreneurs, to start-up teams and non-profits. Following the basic coworking model, Project Hub Yangon is an affordable and flexible workspace that has a strong community base offering support and events.
In addition to the basic coworking space, Project Hub Yangon offers incubation services to entrepreneurs in Myanmar, which usually take place within a 5 to 6 month period. Selected local entrepreneurs have the chance to receive an office space, mentorship, workshops, and connections to funding.
Dekmag spoke with Morris about her experience opening Project Hub Yangon and their plans for the future.
DM: So, why did you choose to open a coworking space instead of a traditional office?
Allison Morris: We wanted to open a co-working space because of two reasons. One, office rental prices in Yangon are incredibly high at the moment and finding a decent office space is a huge barrier for many entrepreneurs in Yangon. Also, in Yangon to rent a property you typically need to pay the entire first year of rent up front - in cash! Two, our mission is to develop the start-up community of Yangon. We find the co-working space is a great way to bring the community of entrepreneurs and start-up enthusiasts together.
DM:Is Project HUB Yangon the very first official coworking space in Myanmar?
AM: Project Hub is the first co-working space in Myanmar. By the time we opened up, there were a few other boutique serviced offices that also offered 'hot desking', but definitely no other spaces that were offering the cheap, flexible and communal atmosphere feel that coworking offers. The concept of coworking is still very new in Yangon.
DM: As the movement is still so new, how did you educate people on the benefits of coworking, and also promote the space?
AM: When our team came to Yangon in 2012, we spent the initial 6-months working full-time to educate our customers about the benefits of coworking by running events around the city. By the time we opened, we already had a strong community of followers. Today, our space is mainly promoted by word of mouth, which works for us!
DM: How did people react to coworking at first, and once they got taste for it, how did their reactions change?
AM: Most of our members are very comfortable with coworking. They like that there is a place to go that's not a cafe, that's professional but funky and a place where they can interact with others. For local start-ups, they are still a bit hesitant about coworking.
DM: Since the 2011 transition, to a more transparent and responsible government, investors and individuals now have their eye on investing in property and even starting businesses in Myanmar. Yet, these major changes have also led to corruption and locals loosing the rights to their property, etc…Do you think coworking could be a step in the right direction for responsible business owners?
AM: To be honest, not really. I think it is up to each business owner (especially foreigners investing in Myanmar) to ensure that whatever activity they do, they are adhering to responsible business practices. I don't think this means that each property in Yangon should be a co-working space, but it would be great to see more creative spaces around the city that are open to the public.
DM: In what smaller ways is coworking a positive influence?
AM: Our coworking space tries to support our members by providing them with contacts in Myanmar and by promoting their efforts via social media. I believe that we are enabling others in Yangon to do their work more efficiently, and their work in turn has had a positive influence in Myanmar.