The Creative Factory provides affordable working spaces for young, starting businesses that are active in the creative industries (e.g. architecture, consultancy, design, entertainment, music, media). Entrepreneurs are encouraged to collaborate in shared office spaces. The Creative Factory seeks to attract locally based companies (e.g. universities, banks, housing associations, consultancy and real estate offices; hereafter referred to as ‘partners’) to support the entrepreneurs financially and professionally. The Creative Factory aims to bring together the start-ups and involve successful companies to enable the start-ups to grow. As it is located in a low-income district in Rotterdam South, it particularly seeks to encourage local residents to start a creative business as part of the Creative Factory.
The Creative Factory is located in a former granary that is located in the deprived area of Rotterdam South and that is owned by the City and was renovated by the City for its current purpose. It was founded in 2008 by the young entrepreneur Leo van Loon in consultation with the City, who wanted to regenerate Rotterdam South. It currently houses 40 businesses that rent office spaces from the City. On average, businesses pay € 120 per month for a flexible office space (a desk) and € 250 per month for a permanent office space of 20 square meters. These prices include service costs (professional coaching and matchmaking by partners, electricity, heating, internet, maintenance, meeting rooms, reception and security). The relatively low prices are made possible by the low building rent asked by the City.
The Creative Factory houses entrepreneurs, interns and students who work in the creative sector and are mostly aged between 20 and 40 years old. According to an interviewed manager, participants have a “metropolitan mindset”: they want to learn, enjoy working in a diverse and dynamic environment, and are willing to collaborate and share “both their adhesive tape [materials] and knowledge” with others. The Creative Factory aims to house the businesses for about 3 years, after which their success should allow them to move on. In practice, some businesses stay longer. Businesses vary in entrepreneurial experience of employees (0 to 15 years) and size (1 to 10 employees). Most participants reside in Rotterdam, but not in the South where the Creative Factory is located. Existing businesses have a say in the establishment of new ones. A community manager is appointed to attract, select and manage (exchanges between) the companies in the Creative Factory. She is responsible for internal and external communications, the composition of the work units and the connection of the Creative Factory with residents and entrepreneurs in Rotterdam South.
The Creative Factory achieves its goal to support starting entrepreneurs in the creative industries in Rotterdam in the following ways. First, the affordable office spaces and services of the Creative Factory lower the financial barriers for entrepreneurs to start a creative business. Second, the Creative Factory encourages social ties among starting entrepreneurs. It does so by housing diverse creative businesses in co-working spaces and by encouraging them to interact regularly and support one another. The initiative also wants to bring entrepreneurs in contact with experienced professionals from local companies. However, an interviewed manager explains that this has not succeeded in a structural way in recent years. The Community Manager plays a key role in facilitating entrepreneurs with useful connections. She regularly organises meetings to attract new entrepreneurs and helps participants with connections through her extensive social network. Third, through these exchanges the entrepreneurs improve their skills and competences and gain new knowledge and inspiration.
The Community Manager seeks to achieve the Creative Factory second main goal, attracting local start-ups, by informing residents, entrepreneurs and other initiatives in Rotterdam South about the Creative Factory, she says. She also organises activities for these groups to become acquainted with the Creative Factory (e.g. drinks, open days, interactive activities). Nevertheless, the Creative Factory only succeeds to achieve this goal modestly as the majority of its entrepreneurs and customers still live outside Rotterdam South (Nijkamp, 2011).
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The Creative Factory was found to address diversity in two ways. First, it brings together entrepreneurs in a diversity of business sectors, with diverse work experiences, personal and professional competences and social networks as a strategy to increase their economic success. An interviewed manager explains:
“For instance, I have two people at the 7th floor who […] hire office space together. He is a web-developer and she is a graphic designer. They share a desk but both have their own business. When she gets an assignment she will ask him ‘could you build my website?’, and [vice versa] he will then for instance ask her whether she can make a graphic design”.
According to this manager, the Creative Factory explicitly carries out these diversities as its core quality. Second, the Creative Factory contributes to the diversification of businesses in Rotterdam South: it brings creative industries to the area, with workers with high cultural and social capitals (Bongers and Visser, 2011).
Main factors influencing success and failure
The following factors contribute to the popularity and successes of the Creative Factory. First, learning through interaction within an organisation that houses professional diversity, allows entrepreneurs to grow in a fast and relatively inexpensive way. It also allows the Creative Factory to provide customised services and guidance for the entrepreneurs (Bongers and Visser, 2011). Second, the Community Manager plays a key role in the success of the Creative Factory. She acts as a neutral coordinator, treats all businesses as equals and encourages informal and professional interactions through her social network. Additionally, the Community Manager is vital for the internal cohesion of the Creative Factory. Third, the City supports the Creative Factory by renovating and leasing the building at low cost. Finally, by offering low-cost, all-inclusive services the Creative Factory is able to attract its target group.
The Creative Factory faces several problems. First, it currently aims but does not accomplish to involve local companies and organisations to support entrepreneurs, even though it was supported (both financially and professionally) by three universities, two banks, a housing association and a consultancy and real estate office, in the first years of its existence. According to an interviewed manager, this is because numerous local initiatives in Rotterdam South such as the Creative Factory compete for public and private financial support. The partners have chosen to support other promising local initiatives. Also, she argues that the Creative Factory did not put enough effort in preserving the partnerships. Second, as the initiative targets a vulnerable socio-economic group, it is sensitive to vacancies. The initiative presently houses 40 but aims to house over 70 businesses. A higher number of businesses generates more diversity and hence provides better opportunities for successful encounters. With many vacancies, the Community Manager is currently allowing businesses that do not fulfil all criteria of the target group. This sometimes undermines the goals of the initiative, she argues. Third, although the diversity of the Creative Factory enables economic success, it sometimes causes tensions as well. An interviewed manager explains that conflicts sometimes emerge both within and between units over the use of space (e.g. noise; different office hours). Finally, the Creative Factory does not manage to involve residents of Rotterdam South in its economic success. As the majority of local residents have intermediate vocational training, the sociologist Nijkamp (2011) argues that the initiative should become more accessible to low(er)-educated workers. According to an interviewed manager, the isolated location of the building prevents interaction with the surrounding areas as well. She argues that a public space (e.g a café) where both locals and the Creative Factory can meet outside the building might serve as a solution.
The concept of the Creative Factory is promising: diverse young start-ups in the creative industries share office spaces, exchange skills and knowledge, share their social networks and are supported financially and professionally by successful companies in Rotterdam. Nevertheless, much can be improved. For the continued existence of the Creative Factory, it is important that it better maintains existing and develops new (financial) partnerships. A diverse financial basis allows the initiative to better achieve its goals. It also makes the initiative less vulnerable to (municipal) budget cuts. By making the Creative Factory more accessible for local, low-educated entrepreneurs, it could tackle the problem of high vacancy rates as well.
Website & Image: Creative Factory