Till two decades ago, Gorakhpur was indisputably the crime capital of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, the BBC once gave it the moniker 'India's Chicago', for it had all the elements of a mafia-run city, from syndicated crime to gangland bosses. Of late, the city has gained prominence on the country's political map for another reason—it was the Lok Sabha constituency of the state's chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Something futuristic like a co-working space for startups in the same city, therefore, will be seen with both hope and scepticism. Hope, that the new-age economy and entrepreneurship are going beyond the metros and inspiring the youth in small towns. Sceptisicm, that it's a politically engineered move to generate goodwill at a time when startups have become integral to government propaganda.
But for Arunn Guptaa, founder of animation school AniClick Animation, the reason to open a co-working space was straightforward. Several freelancers and entrepreneurs, he says, were finding it difficult to get affordable workspaces on rent. To cater to them, Guptaa launched Startup Café, a 50-seater shared workspace, with an investment of Rs 30 lakh in August.
Guptaa holds a master’s degree in animation. But he is no greenhorn when it comes to the startup and consumer Internet space—he was previously a vendor on e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon, selling apparel, among other things.
Like any other shared workspace, Startup Café offers basic amenities such as electricity, Internet, printers and meeting rooms with video-conferencing facility. It offers three pricing packages: Rs 199 per hour, Rs 499 per day and Rs 4,999 per month.
Change is in the air
“Gorakhpur is a small city but it's rapidly changing. It's more of business city, rather than service-focussed. More than 50% of the population is online and the number is increasing day by day. Due to good Internet connectivity, the youth are focussing on their own startups than opt for jobs,” Guptaa explains.
He claims the co-working space has seven clients, and the team is screening 25 other requests. Existing clients include a group of students developing an ed-tech mobile app and website, a freelance social activist and author, and a local news outfit that primarily publishes local developments on a Facebook page.
“We are confident about reaching 100% occupancy soon. First, the office is at a prime location and it has all the required amenities. Second, we haven’t done any marketing or advertising so far. We are planning to start a marketing campaign soon and it wouldn’t be a challenge to acquire enough clients,” Guptaa says confidently.
He is also setting up a co-working space in Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The facility is expected to be launched sometime this month.
“We decided on Varanasi because we don’t have any competition there. Other big cities like Noida and Ghaziabad already have co-working spaces,” Guptaa says. He also plans to launch such centres in Lucknow and Allahabad.
While Startup Café is unarguably the first shared workspace to come up in the politically-sensitive region of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the co-working culture is spreading wings throughout the country. Besides metros, shared workspaces are popping up in smaller towns such as Mangalore, Trivandrum, Ahmedabad, Bhubaneswar, Pune and Jaipur.
Several co-working space startups have emerged in India in recent years. 91springboard, Innov8, CoLife, InstaOffice, The Office Pass, Creator's Gurukul and Awfis are some of the prominent ones.
Many of these co-working startups have also attracted significant venture capital investments.
In September, Delhi-based 91springboard raised funds from Sandway Investment Ltd, Pearl Brook Holdings, AMA Holdings, Silo Holdings and Al Nour. It has so far over $20 million.
The same month, cricketer Yuvraj Singh-backed Creator’s Gurukul raised an undisclosed amount of funding from a clutch of investors.
In June, co-working startup BHIVE raised $1.2 million in fresh funding led by existing investor Blume Ventures.
Other co-working startups that have elicited investor interest include Delhi-based Awfis, which raised $20 million in a Series B round from Sequoia Capital in April. In the same month, The Office Pass, launched by Makaan co-founder Aditya Verma, raised seed investment from a group of individual investors.
In February, Innov8 raised angel funding from Venture Catalysts and individual investors including Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma and Google’s Rajan Anandan, through the LetsVenture platform.
In January, Gurgaon-based InstaOffice raised pre-Series A funding led by online venture capital platform Globevestor and other angel investors including Toppr’s Zishaan Hayath.