The world's cities are constantly reinventing themselves. As 19th and 20th-Century manufacturing moves away from city centres, the premises it once inhabited have the potential to become home to 21st-Century high-tech start-ups. They are looking for real estate that's not only functional, but also well located close to the heart of the city, and full of character. Post-industrial buildings, if sensitively and intelligently refurbished, can form prestigious locations for new, growing businesses seeking headquarters with character. How can cities revitalise themselves by turning heritage buildings into hubs of IT activity? This event offered members the chance to witness one such project, and at the same time to discuss the future of cities, based on the needs of tomorrow's tenants and employees from Generation Y.
Deputy mayor of Warsaw, Michał Olszewski, presented an overview of the city's strategy for development. It centres on the idea of keeping the young in town. “No out-of-town campuses for Warsaw's universities, no 1960s-style technology parks built on the city's edge” he said. “Start-ups need to recruit and retain the best talent – young people who want to work and spend time in the centre of a thriving city,” For them, he said, post-industrial spaces full of character and in good locations are preferable to sterile buildings in a distant business park.”
The future, he said, will be around notions such as co-creation, open innovation, shared ideas and experience; what will be needed are spaces that create an environment that fosters such symbiosis. By mixing startups spaces with retail and corporates, start-ups can test their innovative products on real consumers and clients, and bring them to market quicker as a result. The places for such start-ups to operate are Warsaw districts such as Praga, Wola and Ochota, that still have plenty of post-industrial brick buildings available for revitalisation. Mr Olszewski called this the szlak czerwonej cegły (red-brick way).
Anna Kwiatkowska, Landlord representation manager at Cushman & Wakefield provided an overview of the ArtN project [click here for link to presentation]. Ms. Kwiatkowska stressed the first-class public transport links – tram, suburban train, metro, cycle paths. She also mentioned the historic touch of the place and the innovative retail concept with 7 thematic zones ranging from slow retail to high tech. Mikołaj Niemczycki, Junior negotiator at Cushman & Wakefield presented the ArtN project as a response to the co-creation movement, offering dedicated coworking and private office space for startups, regular networking events for all tenants in the building, pop-up shops and a tech demo zone for startups to get feedback on their products. He called this type of building ‘TECHfriendly’ - a new wave of buildings that will one day become a standard in the office market like eco-friendly buildings have become in the past.
Anna Walkowska from Startup Grind and WAW.ac talked about the need for high-quality premises for this type of business. She defined start-ups as new businesses working on an immature business solution that needs to test its business model until it gains a path to sustainable growth. The key thing is doing it first, experimenting in business. Ms Walkowska stressed that business accelerators and incubators only worked if there was a critical mass of firms in close proximity to one another, and they had the opportunity to constantly exchange ideas and experiences. Developments such as the ArtN project would create the right conditions for a start-up ecosystem.
After a Q&A session with panel, there was time for a look-and-feel walk-through on the development site with Artur Setniewski the CEO of the Open Museum of the Former Norblin Factory Foundation, who explained the history of the factory and how it will be developed, to retain as much of its character as possible while becoming a thoroughly modern retail and commercial complex.