It was around the same time last year that Ritesh fleetingly mentioned about the amazing co-working spaces that the Valley had and the lack of them in India. While everyone else in the Indian ecosystem was lamenting about the lack of proper Silicon Valley style hubs and creative spaces for entrepreneurs and creatives, debating about how we could recreate the Valley culture back here in India, Ritesh just went ahead and built it on his own.
About four months back, he frantically calls us to say that he’s found the dream location for his vision. It was around midnight when he took us down to Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi, where all roads converge. And there it was, the iconic Regal building, officially classified as a historic site by the Government of India. It was right then that we all could feel the goosebumps – this was the perfect place, the place that’ll house some of the most creative minds of the country and will fuel the future!
Earlier this week was it’s official launch – and everyone from the corporates to ministers to young starry eyed founders was there – to soak up on arguably the most amazing coworking space designed and built in India! And boy was it worth the wait and definitely lived up to it’s name – Innov8!
Right from choosing the location to the furniture, the design, the carpets, the work stations, the lighting, the messages and even the paint on the walls – everything echoes the labour of love behind it. From our calls being interrupted by vendors, construction noise forming a backdrop in each one of them, to being interrupted by queries of workers, we’ve seen it all. But in the end, we managed to gather together all those interesting tales hidden behind every nook and corner of the place, which will have grander stories to tell when some of India’s coolest minds move in to work at Innov8.
“The next big thing in asset building is to get great minds at work,” says Ritesh Malik, co-founder of the co-working space called Innov8. The co-working space is modelled after Ritesh’s close observation of many interesting co-working spaces during his stint in Boston. True to its name, the space has been built in a way to facilitate startups and founders to think out of the box and just be the right launch pad to foster free thinking, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.
But why would an angel investor (Ritesh is founder of Project Guerrilla) in over 25 startups suddenly decide to build a co-working space right in the heart of Delhi, in one of the most costliest rental places in the world?
The story right from the inception of Innov8 to its completion is a story of passion for startups, perseverance and grit.
It’s not a tale driven by money or greed, but driven by the love for the power of ideas and how they need to be encouraged by providing the right fertile ground. “During my stint in Boston, I chanced upon a lot of interesting co-working spaces. That is when the idea sprang forth, to build a place where we could get the best of minds together. Incubation centres attract a certain kind of talent only. And I really find this concept of taking equity for providing an office to startups ridiculous,” he added.
Back home, Ritesh used to brainstorm with his friends and family as to how could such a coworking space be built in India, built on the same lines as the ones in Silicon Valley, which has the highest number of co-working centres and accelerators in the world. He brainstormed and researched for almost 8-9 months before launching Innov8, fashioning it on the model of world class coworking spaces.
Location, Location, Location
As anyone setting up a business knows, the first and foremost important question to be answered is, “where would it be located?” Ritesh understands how difficult it is for them to find a suitable office location and thus he wanted to choose a location which is easily accessible. Connaught Place (CP), the heart of Delhi, was no wonder the perfect destination.
CP being centrally located, easily, accessible, having metro connectivity, and has almost 500 MNCs with their offices based in and around it. At such a location, attracting startups and mentors alike becomes easy, ideating and meeting people becomes a more enjoyable experience. After all, says Malik, growth hacking is dependent on the number of people you meet. However while choosing CP as a location was easy, the hard part was zeroing in on the right place.
Worldwide, CP is the fifth costliest place for office rentals. No wonder, Ritesh and his team consisting of Sumit Ranka, Vivek Mohan, and Hemanth Valsaraj, faced challenges finding just the right office which would fit their budgets. After a lot of reconnaissance, they found their ideal fit – an old restaurant called Standard, which was frequented by Englishmen in its hey days. Now, the building with a historical significance and commands an awesome view of the CP area, was in the possession of an IAS officer. After much negotiation, the gentleman agreed to rent out the place on a contract basis for the next couple of years.
Having taken the first step towards securing a place, the team was ready to completely transform the place to its current avatar. But that involved challenges from day one.
The Challenges & Transformation Process
The place being a historical one meant that nothing could be changed or altered without proper permissions. Post renting it, the Project Guerrilla team went about getting all the requisite NDMC clearances. The next thing that had to be done was to demolish the old structure and make a new one. This was because there was no steel in the structure as it was built about a 100 years back. So the team had to start from introducing steel cables in the structure to make it quake resistant, so that the cables could bear the load of it all. And that is easier said than done.
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First of all it required clearances from the architect. Secondly, CP being a no entry zone, no vehicle can stop in it unless it’s in a parking zone. This meant that no trucks would be allowed to stop during the construction, thereby complicating the process. Thus the team had to speed up construction and work as quickly as possible to reinforce the structure. Working 24/7 with 50 people in double shifts i.e. 25 people working for 12 hours, the team was able to completely introduce reinforcements in the building in 13-14 days. Once the structure was ready, began the work of fashioning it into a crib for idea generation or what we call the design process.
Interestingly, the entire structure and design was completed in a mere 49 days!!
Ritesh says that most of the co-working spaces or incubation centres he saw in the country only focus on taking a space of 10,000 sq. ft., stacking it to its maximum capacity, and then charging people per seat. In contrast, in the centres in US, Brazil and some other startup friendly countries, the co-working spaces are characterized by huge open innovation areas. In such places, about 6,000 sq. ft. is the carpet area dedicated to startups while about 4,000 sq. ft. is the open innovation area. Innov8 is also fashioned in a similar way – out of the 8,000 sq. ft. space, about 5,000 sq. feet is the carpet area while 3,000 sq. ft. is an open innovation zone. And in a very refreshing and delightful way, the open innovation zone in Innov8 is on its terrace, affording a great view of Delhi!
The idea was not to fill up the space to its maximum capacity of 250 but rather get the 100 best minds to work together. Ritesh and his team looked at the designs of many co-working spaces before they finalized the plan for Innov8. They chose Nitin, a close friend who was also working with one of Project Guerrilla’s startup companies to design the place.
Right from the pine wood work to the lighting to furniture, no little detailing was spared. A lot of pine wood has been employed to fashion the interiors to give a modern and bold look to the place. The labourers involved belonged to the state of Bihar, and thus they have managed to make a perfect union of their Indian craftsmanship with modern detailing.
Furniture: Realising the importance of the ergonomically designed yet beautiful furniture, most of it has been imported from Malaysia and is a combination of modern furniture from Bristol and Herman Miller.
The chairs for the workstations have been bought from Herman Miller, ensuring the best minds have the best seats to work on. The chairs are expensive but are the best one could ask for.
Similarly, great precision and skill has been put in constructing the work stations. Each work station costed around INR30-35k with a lot of emphasis on comfort, efficiency, and utility.
Lighting: Bright lights have been employed in most of the area to impart the place a vibe of energy and spark. Coupled with dull walls, the work space has turned out to be an enthusiastic, inspiring space to ideate.
Utilities: Every care has been taken to incorporate the best of functional resources in the work space. So while the Wi-Fi lease line is from Cisco, for air conditioning, Mitsubishi’s industrial acs have been employed. Similarly, the carpets on the floors have been picked up from Moody’s carpets in China. Ritesh’s background in real estate enabled him to pick these expensive yet highly safe and easy to use carpets.
Cafe: A co-working space is incomplete without a snazzy café to feed the hungry souls of startup founders. Hence the place boasts of a well-designed café measuring about 1,200 sq. feet which operates on the pay as you go concept. The café will be open from 10 am to 10 pm. As per Malik, they haven’t yet cracked the F&B model but would be doing so in the first 1-1.5 months as the place gets operational. Meanwhile, in also houses a pop-corn machine, a 700 litre refrigerator from Samsung and a CCD express machine for the best micro roasted coffee.
Singularity Boxes: Another interesting space in Innov8 are the singularity boxes. The boxes consist of white boards to facilitate ideation and brainstorming.
Recreation Zones: Innov8 houses multiple recreation zones to allow entrepreneurs to shed stress & help them zero down their thoughts. These have been equipped with foosball and skateboards, among other recreational and sporty tools.
Besides these, the place is equipped with an Innovation Lab which has a music system, a 3D printer, three Ultra HD TVs in different corners, a Segway, virtual reality headsets, and drones among many other cool things.
The Membership Plans
The Open Innovation Zone
This is one of our favourite places to unwind and has been done up to literally foster playfulness and innovation, which go hand in hand. The area has a unique place called the Pebble Zone which is literally paved with only pebbles. Thrown in with that a trampoline, lots of greenery, mini golf and lots of other sporting equipment, an open amphitheatre, and solar lighting, you have an area bound to become a favourite hotbed for many new emerging ideas.
Each Walls Has A Story To Tell
Walls are an open canvas for an artist, and the stories etched on every wall of this space will inspire many more such stories from startup artists. One such wall imbibes in every startup’s moto – the world “Hustle” – hand stitched together with over 10,000 meters of thread!
Then there are others which are framed with inspiring quotes designed by freelancers, adding to the spirit of entrepreneurship and creativity.
One wall by the staircase has been decorated with frames of Forbes luminaries, accompanied by even more creative facts.
Here’s another one which salutes the creative spirit of an entrepreneur!
There are many other stories hidden in the nook and corner of this co-working space. Developed in a period of about two month at a cost of about $537K ( INR 3.5 Cr ), Innov8 has launched its application process for startups and has already received numerous applications for the same. As Ritesh rightly sums it up, “We have 100 seats in this space and we are not even thinking of breaking even or let alone make a profit, given the money we have pumped in this project. But what we are looking to have is the best of teams and the most fertile startup minds, people we can work with. This place is just for the passion we have for startups.”
One look at Innov8 and you will be sure that this place has been born out of passion and bred for passion.
If you’re around Delhi anytime, do drop by and take a peek at Innov8 at 69, Regal Building, at CP.