Are Atlantic Canadian Offices Ready for a Boom in Entrepreneurship?

Posted by Brandon Copeland

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For two days this past week, entrepreneurs and investors from across Atlantic Canada convened on downtown St. John’s to talk about the growth of the startup culture in our region. Over 300 attendees, including ecosystem support groups, government, and service providers joined the conference to discuss what exciting businesses are growing in Atlantic Canada, and how we as an ecosystem can support them. The Invest Atlantic Conference held its first ever event in Newfoundland, and organizers exclaimed that the show was a resounding success.

Personally, I was drawn to discussions about building the entrepreneurial ecosystem more so than sessions on how to find funding or how to talk to investors. The former is simply more interesting and more relevant to the growth of Urban East, but also has indirect overflow into the real estate industry. As small businesses grow, and as more companies receive funding, the nature of real estate demands change.

Entrepreneurship is “cool”. Trends across North America indicate that young people are drawn to the perceived glamour of starting a business. Whether this perception is right or wrong is a discussion for another article, but the trend can’t be ignored. Memorial University of Newfoundland opened its Centre for Entrepreneurship this year. Along with the centre came Entrepreneurial Workterms  providing students the opportunity to pursue an idea throughout their studies with guidance from the centre. Leasing agents, real estate developers, and commercial property owners must all begin thinking about how the rise of young entrepreneurs in the province will impact how they do business. Municipal governments must also take note, and it was certainly a positive to see the City of St. John’s represented at the conference.    

Trends in the rise of coworking space are being acknowledged in response to changes in how people wish to work. Partnerships between developers and coworking operators represent new ways to make space profitable. Vikas Lakhani, founder of InstaOffice in India, is quoted in a recent Colliers Report talking about changes in the traditional corporate office space model.

“We see a fundamental shift in the demand for commercial real estate, and we expect coworking and serviced offices to become a meaningful part of the office-leading segment soon. 55% desks in any corporate office are vacant at any point. Consequently, we see distributed and flexible offices as an integral part of the workplace strategy of both early stage and mature corporations.”

Aside from coworking, other changes are being seen in the world of commercial real estate that need to be considered. Forget suburban office parks, new businesses across North America regularly demonstrate a preference for office locations in interesting urban areas. Culture and amenities help companies attract and retain talent. Additionally, proximity to other entrepreneurs is a bonus, and supports collaboration in the startup ecosystem. Open-concept space and unique architectural and design features allow businesses to uniquely define themselves with the space they occupy. The nature of new businesses (and the potential for growth) also screams for the requirement of flexible lease terms. Brokers in more developed entrepreneurial ecosystems have seen success when leasing with expansion in mind – a 10,000 square foot space divided up to provide options for many different startups can also create expansion opportunity as tenants shift. The key is acknowledging that clients may be scaling up or down quickly.

St. John’s as a city, and Atlantic Canada as a region, is still a very young area when it comes to startup and entrepreneurship “culture”. Lets not kid ourselves either – our population will not allow us to ever have the critical mass that more defined startup regions like Silicon Valley or Boston have seen. Still, there is a population here that is passionate about building and growing businesses. I’m happy to be learning more about this world through Urban East’s involvement in the Common Ground Expansion Project, but the opportunity to develop great physical spaces for these emerging companies doesn’t lie in the hands of any singular group or organization. There is plenty for brokers, developers, and municipal bodies to do to build the physical infrastructure we need to really support the young emerging companies that will stimulate our economy in the future.