RocketSpace, the San Francisco campus for scale up technology companies, has opened its first space outside of the USA, in central London. Techworld got to visit the campus before 1,500 tech workers descend on the space to find out how it is different from all the other startup factories.
The UK business will be run by Priya Guha, the former British Consul-General in San Francisco. Guha's job title - Ecosystem General Manager - reflects what RocketSpace is trying to achieve in the UK. "What we think we bring to the table is not the physical space but building the ecosystem relationships, as that is what we think will make the companies succeed," she says.
In terms of measuring the success of this Guha says it doesn't come down to "making money or having a thriving physical environment. It is the effect on the broader UK technology ecosystem."
In terms of quantifying that impact, RocketSpace wants to keep producing companies bearing the classic markers of success in Silicon Valley: "It could be more unicorns; IPOs or acquisitions...if we aren't doing that I would have failed in my job", Guha added.
RocketSpace has an unprecedented track record, which could be down to the way it selects more established companies to use its space. RocketSpace has seen 18 unicorns - companies valued at over $1 billion - including Uber, Blippar and Spotify, pass through its campus. The company claims that 90 percent of the thousand or so companies it has housed in the Bay Area are still in existence. Guha calls this “an incredible statistic for the world of startups”.
While a couple of these startups may not have the cache they once did (Uber is facing internal turmoil amidst a sexual harassment scandal and Blippar has closed its San Francisco office in a bid to cut costs), Guha believes being able to tap into the "RocketSpace alumni network, if that's what you want to call it, is incredibly powerful" when it comes to learning about the risks of scaling from these companies.
RocketSpace London: the space, membership pricing and amenities
The campus is located in the Royal Bank of Scotland's old cash-counting facility in Angel, Islington. Natwest partnered with RocketSpace to help it enter the UK market.
RocketSpace uses the old bank vault as a members area, complete with obligatory pool table, and the old loading bays have been converted into a high-ceilinged cafe and events space. The aesthetic is something between the classic warehouse-chic of tech offices and a private members club. The facility is run as an office-as-a-service, meaning flexible access and on-demand amenities. There is the obligatory super-fast internet and regular roundtables and workshops.
To see pictures of the space scroll down to the slideshow at the bottom of this article.
The rough criteria for a RocketSpace member company is seed to Series C funded, a minimum viable product and a proven market. This is reflected in the membership prices, which start at £375 per person, per month for a 'surf' desk, £470 for a dedicated desk and £750-860 per desk in a dedicated office suite.
This is comparable with co-working space WeWork, where a dedicated desk at its Old Street location is £400 per month and 50 seats is £18,240.
Building RocketSpace ecosystems
RocketSpace is expanding aggressively under the leadership of Scottish founder and CEO Duncan Logan, opening new campuses in Australia, Canada and China, with the aim of becoming a global ecosystem. As Guha put it: "As we enter new markets globally we build up that instant local expertise because you bring on a team locally that has that experience and ability to navigate the local ecosystem and support internationally.
"So within a short space of time RocketSpace will be unique globally in having a network of experts across the world who can plug into each main tech ecosystem, which is a terrific asset if you are trying to grow your company globally."
Guha says she doesn't want RocketSpace to come into London as "the brash American company. We always wanted to be humble and I think that is important in an ecosystem as developed as London already is".
Instead she wants RocketSpace to be "a microcosm of the startup scene in the UK" and this means not bunching around a specific vertical. She said: "What has been nice is that in terms of the applicants we have had so far we are really seeing that type of diversity, with cyber security, fintech and AI.
"What is exciting in that for me is the opportunities then for cross vertical collaboration, which creates a much more interesting ecosystem and I am a strong believer that the most exciting things that are going to come down the road in decades ahead will be the product of those cross vertical collaborations."
Guha is keen to bring together RocketSpace members with later stage funding and the right corporate partners. "I find there are a lot of incredibly superficial conversations happening around corporate startup partnerships," she said. "Essentially putting people in a room and expecting things to happen."
"In my view that is doomed to failure as they speak different languages and you need a willingness from both sides to identify how to work with each other's processes and systems, and also a shared objective and goal from that conversation, which you need from the beginning."