China property

From renting out tables in co-working spaces, UR Work aims to become a networking platform

Company signs long-term leases with office owners to remain asset-light

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2016, 2:33pm

The Chinese government’s call for “massive entrepreneurship” has developers smelling business opportunities.

A new business to “rent tables” to young and budget-conscious entrepreneurs has sprung up on mainland, but its management says its ambitions go far beyond that.

In December, UR Work opened a 4,000 square metre, 500-seat “worker space” – 80 per cent of which was pre-leased – in the Shanghai Caohejing Hi-Tech Park. It was its third “worker space” in Shanghai.

UR Work was founded in April last year by Mao Daqing, who made headlines in 2014 with he cautioned about the risk of a bubble risk in the mainland property market when he was vice-chairman of China’s largest developer, Vanke. He left Vanke last year.

“UR Work has expanded at an unexpected speed, opening 11 spaces and signing more than 30 projects with 15 cities in less than one year,” Brian Liu, the company’s chief financial officer, said.

“This is a brand new business. We offer co-working spaces to small and micro enterprises. You may see three companies working on one long table.”

UR Work redecorates the offices with vivid designs to provide a comfortable and borderless working environment for young people.

Premier Li Keqiang promoted “mass entrepreneurship and innovation” for the first time at the World Economic Forum’s summer gathering in Tianjin in 2014. Since then Beijing has repeatedly urged support for entrepreneurship and many examples such as national incubators, venture capital funds and social enterprises have been established.

Rather than holding properties, UR Work signs long-term leases of 10 to 15 years with office owners to remain asset-light. It has also launched a more flexible product allowing anyone to book a meeting room by the hour through its website and pay online.

Liu said its rental receipts so far could cover its rental costs.

UR Work raised 40 million yuan in angel funding and completed more than 200 million yuan of series A funding in September.

In its flagship project in Beijing’s Central Business District, a 8,000 square metre space has attracted 98 companies.

But this is only the first step in UR Work’s ambitions.

“Table renting is just an entry point but we don’t want to rely on rental. What we want is to become a platform to link people,” Liu said, “If we can sell them tables, why not other things?”

From holding demo days, to business lectures, providing financing and promotion and even personal express delivery, Liu said everything was possible and there would be many sources of income.

The ultimate goal of serving as a networking platform is how Liu expects UR Work to differentiate itself from other incubators amid increasing competition.

There are more than 1,600 incubators in China, according to data provider The Zero2IPO Research Centre.

UR Work has started a business college and signed more than 300 lecturers, including industry leaders such as Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing and Vanke founder Wang Shi.

It has also signed up more than 20 leading private equity firms to join its demo day to meet start-ups.

Liu said membership was the key to its business, and after opening more than 30 spaces – something likely to be achieve in the first half of this year – it would slow down and focus on building up its online community.

Analysts said the business model would make success hard to achieve.

“You need to hatch one or two successful start-ups, then you can make money from them,” said William Chou, managing partner of Deloitte Growth Enterprise Market & Services. “But entrepreneurship is a very difficult process, only 1 per cent can succeed.”

Chou added that most entrepreneurship spaces in China were still at the social gathering or capital game stage and ignored the technical/hardware support needed by entrepreneurs.