The HUB: Connect & Dream

In Vienna: where entrepreneurs find support and space for new projects

Top Stories | Sophia Chung | October 2012

The work spaces are inclusive, but not cluttered, leaving room for ­inspiration and improvisation in start-ups (Photo: The HUB)

Above the kitchen, scrawled in bold cursive script are the words, "To the ones who have the courage to dream, believe and act." Nearby, on rounded worktables stationed through the remodelled loft, handmade signs encourage people to smile and give hugs.

The 200+ members of the HUB Vienna have no shortage of optimism and faith in the goodness of others and their desires to improve the world. As stated on the group’s website, the HUB believes that "there is an acute lack of collaboration and support structures to help make [good ideas] happen. The HUB was founded to address this need."

The HUB serves three main purposes: It provides a versatile workspace for members; it is a forum for people with an entrepreneurial spirit and it hosts events, connecting businesses and trending ideas with interested individuals. As member Andrea Kall says, "[The HUB] is the place in the area of sustainability and social business in Austria with quite a lot of different, interesting and motivated people."

Officially opened to the public in 2010, the HUB is part of a rising demand in Vienna for places to collaborate. After the Schraubenfabrik – or Screw Factory – opened 10 years ago, other companies such as Hutfabrik, Rochuspark, Yurp, and Smartspaces have pushed the boundaries of alternative working spaces. HUB co-founder and entrepreneur Matthias Reisinger defines the HUB as "a co-working space that creates spaces for organisations as well as individuals."

The HUB Vienna is located in Vienna’s 7th District, near Mariahilferstraße, though it is part of a global network, with 30 HUBs and over 4,000 members spanning five continents, with hundreds more planned. Since its first London location opened in 2005, the HUB network now connects and gives coherence to the local community centres. For members who travel, a HUB membership gives them access to centres around the world.


Creative Walk Workshops

I stopped in at the HUB this past August, to join in on one of their Creative Walk Workshops, a new initiative leading participants through different Viennese neighbourhoods and stopping in locations where HUB members work and create. As members and guests introduced themselves – attendees represented more than ten countries from three continents – it was clear the HUB was realising its goals. We listened to a lecture by Cezar Neaga, founder of SchreberMeister, about vertical up-cycled gardens, wrote stories with scriptwriter Arno Krimmer, and tried improv theatre with actor Rainer Zoglauer. Everyone was equipped with chalk, stencils, stickers, and other media to leave traces of their exploration, which they describe as "interacting with the city’s architecture" – although one suspects that building owners might not agree.

In their own words, HUB Vienna’s organisers seek to be an "innovation lab, a business incubator, an atelier or a lounge." Indeed, the cheery space transforms fluidly to fit the needs of the community. Crooked chandeliers affixed to the ceiling at a near 45-degree slant, a bit of Alice in Wonderland whimsy. In a similar vein, a wooden board has been transformed into a swing, hanging from the white rafters above. Near the entrance, a rectangular bulletin board crowded with pinned notecards greets visitors, proudly boasting of each member and their backgrounds.

A cosy kitchen encourages conversations over coffee and tea. Cushioned window seats and fold-up tables provide a comfortable space for impromptu discussions. For those who need more privacy, small booths are available for Skype and phone calls. When the HUB hosts talks, or movies are screened, the tables are moved aside, leaving an open space suitable for large groups. A tiered area made of wooden steps allows audience members to interact with each other without obscuring the view of the speaker. Members can also rent private rooms for formal business meetings.

For SchreberMeister’s Cezar Neaga, the HUB space provided a practical solution to the challenges of starting a new business. "There couldn't have been a better place to start," Neaga says. "We assembled the team from the members; we prototyped on its windows; we grew from just an idea together."


Engaging off line 

HUB programming is as diverse as its members. From the serious to the silly, the HUB hosts events to encourage people to engage with each other offline. For example, every Tuesday at 13:00, the popular Sexy Salad event asks people to each bring one salad ingredient to share. The HUB blog describes the event as a metaphor that represents "what is supposed to happen at the HUB", as people work together to create something that could not be created in the same way individually. This theme is explored in Pimp My Venture as well. In this event, members introduce their concept for a project and ask HUB members from different backgrounds and skill sets to help turn the concept into a practical reality. Nina Jamal and Robert Klump, founders of Bike It On, an environmental group which generates electricity from bicycle riding, said the 90-minute session helped produce two charts full of new ideas and concrete ways to improve their old concept.

In a series of open forums, the HUB also hopes to promote and educate others about the unique experiences of its members. When Julia Perner returned to Vienna after working and living in Afghanistan, she gave a talk about the projects of the NGO Skateistan which promotes sports and education in Kabul. Similarly, after travelling in rural Colombia for eight months, Elisabeth Rohrmoser presented a lecture about working as a human rights guide in a region still marked by the presence of paramilitary and guerrilla troops.

Above all, the HUB people are optimistic about the possibilities for positive change, about the ways a physical place can motivate people to work together to create solutions.

"What I most love about HUB," Nefeli Di told me, "is entering on a damn cloudy and gray Vienna-winter day and feeling like it’s spring! Everything here is blooming and shining all over: from the smiles to the walls, the Post-its to the projects."

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