Wales’ largest coworking space takes its community online 

Pierhead and Millenium Centre buildings Cardiff Bay

Wales’ largest coworking space, the Welsh Innovation Centre for Enterprise (ICE) has launched a new platform that will take its community online, as the business pivots during lockdown.

With businesses having to operate in a limited capacity during the COVID-19 Pandemic and a further local lockdown, there was a strong demand from the community to maintain business support and the collaborative ethos of ICE, despite restrictions.

Businesses at ICE have, on average, a 77% survival rate for three years or more, which is higher than the UK average of 61%. CEO of Welsh ICE, Jamie McGowan attributes this to the support structure of its community.

Jamie said: “The bricks and mortar aspect of ICE has always been important, but at the end of the day it is the people that form the community that make ICE what it is. 74% of members at ICE have developed formal agreements with each other, and that’s something that has continued into lockdown, even though they are not physically able to engage with one another.

“It sounds sentimental, but ICE really isn’t just a place to work. It is an ethos, it’s a live network of people working together, collaborating, and growing their businesses with the support of a collective experience of more than 700 people. That isn’t limited to being within 2 meters of each other anymore. It can happen anywhere there is the facility to do so, and that’s what gives us, a virtual working space that spans the country, not just Caerphilly.”

The platform gives members access to a library of workshops, document templates, service discounts and events, and perhaps most importantly, the ICE community itself.

The virtual model is exemplified by Emma Easter, an active member of the community who joined ICE with an idea, and now has a thriving business, despite having not set foot through its doors.

Emma, the owner of children’s clothing business Easterkins joined Welsh ICE through its 5 to 9 Club, which supports individuals through weekly after-hours workshops helping them shape and grow their business idea without taking the risk of giving up full-time employment.

Emma said: “ICE has been an absolute lifeline during the lockdown. Being able to continue to develop my skills and also communicate with other business owners has been amazing. My business isn’t really suitable for coworking with noisy sewing machines, thread and fabric everywhere. However, the need to feel like part of a community remains important to me.

“I see the ICE Online Community being a lifeline for much longer than the pandemic, as I live a fair drive away from the ICE Campus so it’s not viable for me to go to the campus after work for events.

“I’ve always felt like part of the community at ICE even though I’m not a member of the coworking space. That to me makes the ICE Community as a whole something special and I would say that having this virtual workspace will only make it even more inclusive and diverse than it already is.”

Welsh ICE is one of five regional enterprise hubs across Wales, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The hubs will see over £4m invested to provide supportive spaces and mentoring for new and growing businesses, with the ICE Campus supporting the South East Wales Valleys region.