The UK events sector is worth about £40 billion a year, but it is still a remarkably traditional 'offline' industry based on relationships between individuals.

That's something one startup is slowly starting to change. Hire Space, an online marketplace for venues, was launched three years ago by two friends: Edward Poland and Will Swannell.

hire space
Hire Space cofounders Edward Poland (left) and Will Swannell (right)

Neither had any experience in events or venues. Swannell was a secondary school teacher and Poland worked for an MP.

The idea came to Swannell when he realised how many schools sit empty after hours. The startup was originally conceived as a way to help underused public sector buildings, struggling with austerity, to bring in another revenue stream, Poland tells Techworld.

It has since become far wider in scope, with 5,000 venues across the UK listed and another 100 added every month. The site hosts an eclectic mix of spaces from the London Eye and the Olympic Velodrome to Hampton Court Palace and Shakespeare's Globe.

The startup employs 40 staff and the majority of its users work in the professional events business organising conferences, parties, weddings and meetings, according to Poland.

"We have an incredible team. They could run the business. And they free me up to have the luxury of thinking about big strategic questions," he says. 

"We wanted it to be a transactional platform letting people book a venue in a few clicks. We wanted it to be website first," he explains.

The company has now raised £2.5 million in total, including £500,000 from crowdfunding platform Crowdcube and early angel investment from Karen Hanton, founder of restaurant booker TopTable. Hire Space is free for users but takes commission from venues (apart from public sector spaces, which are allowed to list for free).  

Poland hopes Hire Space's data might help provide insights into the events industry. "Last year we had about 25,000 enquiries and 4.5 million page views on the site. That's great insight, so we will release a report based on the data," he says.

"We are very new to this sector. Our competitors' main reaction has been to be baffled, confused or fearful," Poland adds.

The company's relative youth is no bar to ambition however. Looking ahead, Poland says he is considering expanding overseas and growing the range of services offered.

"There is enormous potential for Hire Space. We get people at the start of the event planning cycle. We could even become a full events marketplace. We're in a position where we are thinking about what's next," he says.