Global Observer

Hub Melbourne: an ecosystem of innovation

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MELBOURNE -- Part of a global network of coworking spaces, a thriving outpost in Australia is driving innovation through diversity.

MELBOURNE -- Desks are stationed in clusters across the large open-plan office. At one, a banker is sitting next to a social entrepreneur, and in another configuration, a computer programmer shares a desk with a member of the International Detention Coalition, a global network supporting migrants. The atmosphere is charged with the low hum of productivity.

This is the site of innovation and the headquarters of Hub Melbourne -- one of the city's largest coworking spaces -- a working home for employees of government organizations, large corporations, financial institutions, universities, small business owners, freelancers, entrepreneurs and non-profit entities.

“Hub is not just about connecting people within a sector or discipline, but really connecting to a bigger picture. We’re trying to build an eco-system, hence the diversity is important," Ehon Chan, a Hub representative, says. "People join Hub because they are interested in collaborating with people, to solve their business, social or environmental problems."

Though Melbourne has its fair share of coworking communities, Chan, a "community catalyst" -- a position that focuses on identifying opportunities for leveraging community partnerships, and developing new ways to enhance the membership experience -- says that the Hub community is the most diverse not just in terms of industries but also age and gender.

Chan explains that the Melbourne Hub members benefit from being part of this melting pot of diversity and expertise. He offers the success story of Martin Carlin, who joined Melbourne Hub in May 2011 when he was studying a Masters of Sustainable Energy at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, participating in their social enterprise program.

At Hub, Carlin was connected to lawyers, graphic designers, web designers and all the various people needed for setting up a business. A year later, Carlin is CEO of WattElse Solar, a solar power systems company which makes an annual turnover of AUD$3.2m (USD$3.3m) and has a team of six employees.

"I walked into Hub with my laptop and an idea," Carlin says of his experience in the coworking space, "Hub's a positive environment and when matched with a bit of individual passion and drive, makes getting a business to revenue ridiculously easier than it should really be."

Melbourne Hub, along with the recently launched Sydney Hub and Adelaide Hub, are part of a global network of 36 Hubs, located across five continents. Currently Australia has the highest growth of coworking spaces per capita of any country.

Although San Francisco's Hub Bay Area, with almost 1,000 members, holds the title of the biggest community, Melbourne Hub is the fastest-growing outpost in the world. Since launching in March 2011, Hub Melbourne's has grown from 140 to 700 members.

Last year in a global gathering of Hubs, Melbourne was voted as the "most representative of the Hub culture," earning the reputation as one of the most progressive Hubs in the world. "Most of the systems, initiatives and ideas adopted by the Hub network have come from Melbourne," Chan explains.

Apart from the host system, where new members are paired with experienced "Hubbers," Melbourne has implemented a number of roles and responsibilities which have been adopted across the Hub network, such as his community catalyst role.

The Melbourne team has pioneered and introduced a virtual network or collaboration space powered by the private social network site Yammer which was developed as a model for the rest of the Hubs.

Melbourne Hub has also created "Hubbathons" -- 100-day sprints of personal targets, actions and projects to achieve a common team and community goal every 100 or so days -- which has been implemented in a few Hubs around the world.

While the Melbourne Hub community continues to lead the way for coworking spaces, its core members are contemplating its future.

"How do you evolve what's currently working at Hub and bring these nurturing environments into other areas or places where innovation and impact is needed?" Chan asks. "And what business models or businesses will evolve as we see deeper and broader cross-sectoral, disciplinary and generational collaboration? That's the next step in our thinking."

Photos: (from top) Melbourne Hub coworking space; Melbourne Hub member survey infographic; WattElse Solar CEO Martin Carlin; and community catalyst Ehon Chan. All courtesy of Hub Melbourne.

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Lieu Thi Pham

Correspondent (Melbourne)

Lieu Thi Pham is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has contributed to The Age, Associated Newspapers, Melbourne University Magazine, the Big Issue, Dazed and Confused, Indesign Group, Time Out, SOMA and Niche Media. She holds degrees from the University of Melbourne and RMIT University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure