Emerging Entrepreneurs

‘We provide entrepreneurs a trusting environment to fail safely and find the right idea’

| Updated on October 29, 2018 Published on October 29, 2018

ROEE ADLER, Senior V-P, Global Head, WeWork Labs

Joining the gaggle of start-up incubators and accelerators in the country earlier this month, WeWork Labs, launched by global co-working spaces provider WeWork, prides itself on taking a personalised approach to helping early-stage start-ups and entrepreneurs succeed. Roee Adler, Senior Vice-President and Global Head, WeWork Labs, said the company is excited about India because Indian entrepreneurs have the ability to come up with solutions that not only address domestic issues but can also solve global level challenges. Edited excerpts:

There has been a rush of start-up incubators and accelerators launched by entrepreneurs and multinational corporations over the past few years. How is WeWork Labs’ value proposition any different from these?

What we have established over the past few years at WeWork is a platform that allows us to build particular product lines, to focus on certain areas of value. We are seeing this big movement towards corporate innovation spaces and various models of start-up incubation and acceleration.

But these concepts are fairly new and in the process of being invented. As a product of the Israeli start-up ecosystem, and having been a part of five different start-ups before joining WeWork, I was able to see first hand a lot of different models of incubators and accelerators where corporates participated successfully and unsuccessfully.

WeWork Labs is WeWork’s arm to help early-stage entrepreneurs fulfil their destiny by leveraging corporations that are interested in re-inventing themselves. We can support India’s thriving start-up ecosystem by providing them with the space, educational resources, mentorships and connecting them with the rest of the world through our global network of 1,500 members in nine countries.

Can you spell out some specific differentiators?

We will establish space for start-ups that do not have a time limitation. Sometimes what start-ups need is a good way to be prepared and be accepted into an accelerator programme; we help them do that. Sometimes start-ups that just graduated from a high quality accelerator programme still require a support system; we provide that. Our approach would be to provide longevity of support and be there not only for the start-ups but the entrepreneurs behind them. What I mean by that is, the entrepreneurial journey sometimes goes through discovering that the idea you were building wasn’t the right idea, you need to find a better one.

We believe that unlocking the next level of innovation goes through providing opportunities to more people to engage in start-ups. And to do that, we have to provide a safe space to fail. Two of the five start-ups I was part of, were horrible failures. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to go through them, I could never have been a part of something that is successful later on. A trusting environment that nurtures entrepreneurs into finding the right idea they need to work on in an impartial way is important. This is partly why intentionally we do not invest in or take equity in these start-ups. The person helping start-ups within lab spaces is truly objective in their desire to help.

Do you compete with corporate incubators/accelerators?

Our approach is not to compete with the corporate incubators or accelerators but rather to find the right way to work with them, help them structure those innovation labs, especially across borders and also run it for them, to help them be more successful and focus on their main business. Building a corporate innovation programme is not something that is easy, neither is it easy for it to achieve the business objectives for which it was created. The same could be said for an incubator or an accelerator. We will find the different entities that are really contributing and partner with them and try to add our own value. WeWork Labs is interested in countries and cities where we feel confident that the start-up ecosystem is going to be anywhere between ten and hundred times larger than in the last 10 years.

How does India fit into your long-term vision for WeWork Labs?

One of the reasons why we are excited about India is that there are quite a few global challenges today being faced by multinational corporations, where we think Indian innovation is positioned to make a dent in an extreme way. For instance, many people are talking about urbanisation and the moving of people into large cities. While a lot of technology goes into making city living easy, we think villages deserve attention and innovation as well. India is such a vast country that solving such challenges here will create those solutions as prime targets that can then be scaled to other countries.

We recently partnered with Circulate Capital, an incubator network that attempts to alleviate the issue of plastics in the ocean. This is one of the most fascinating, horrible problems that are truly on a global scale because they impact every country without actually belonging to a particular country. This organisation has realised that Indian start-ups are well positioned into these areas because of how waste and recycling happens in India and some of the constructs that had to be invented here. This can be scaled and you can see the line between how leveraging such inventiveness that had been built here for one nuanced representation of recycling can actually make an impact in another nuanced representation of recycling.

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Published on October 29, 2018
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