We were reading an interesting web article about the internet giant AOL and how they had made available, at no charge, the 225,00 square feet of office space they own in Palo Alto – aimed at cultivating entrepreneurs, business start ups and technical ideas.
It started us thinking as to why the model is not more prevalent in the UK.
We hear much about the surge in social enterprise and the third sector taking up contracts to deliver innovative new services. The author of this article has recently been working with a company in the North of England to generate a new business, the aim of which is to train and employ as many young people as possible as the business rolls out.
The experience with the local authority in driving forward the enterprise has not been free wheeling or innovative, to say the least.
After people, the cost of premises and space to think, deliver and store everything from servers to the coffee machine occupies a huge part of the budgetary planning.
Getting the premises, and securing access and delivery in them would have no doubt crippled the nascent business had the young people involved been ‘going it alone’.
Our solution was to find an innovative proprosal, driven by our ethical business model, but supplied by the private sector too. (An idea with currency, but not necessarily the right one?)
We would argue for enterprise start ups the cost of premises from local authority landlords should bear no cost.
Why? How can this be sustainable? Well, encouraging ideas and energy into a community, as in the AOL model, serves to reinvigorate a local economy. It provides cash flow to local, already established businesses.
For the local authority it could see an enabling of redundant public assets, which could be empty at present, to encourage the economic base dramatically – making living, energetic buildings and spaces out of often moribund brick edifices.
In my home town there are a number of empty civic buildings which shadow their access roads, offering echoing corridors, but which do not directly invest in the next generation of rate payers, tax contributors and future employers.
Come on elected members, break out of cost restraint mindsets, ease up a little on portfolio risk in the estates department – and truly create an innovation led, enterprise driven local economic framework.
Don’t be an owner of capital, be the owner of an ideas development factory. The young people in your area would love you for it.
Article: Tim Smith – Partner at SmithMartin LLP
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