3 Words “Disrupted” & Stripped Of Their Value
We live in exciting times. Rapidly and ever-changing media, concepts, technology and people. It’s exciting but it’s also confusing and we can (and do) easily fall into honey traps of empty and meaningless buzzwords.
Yesterday I saw an ad for a new co-working space, an entire (admittedly) beautiful building in a city that houses a large industrial park, but that is far from the aura of “innovation” and “startups”. What caught my eye though, was the logo and name of the advertiser. The building is another development of an organization that already has such a space in another small town in the periphery of Israel. Why is that important? Because when the first building was built and opened, the entire concept, at least when it came to marketing, was that it is a new community, an ecosystem of startups and innovation, promoting entrepreneurship in that area, which was lacking in that department.
By all means, these were marketing messages of noble values, of true desire to do good and change something that was “wrong” until that point.
The place houses entrepreneurs and startup companies, meetups and workshops, lectures and courses — all the hallmarks of a thriving community. It was, until now, one of a kind. Or so they wanted people to think.
Now they’re expanding and really — good for them! But it really is clear that this is nothing more than real estate. It’s just a building and the profit to be made is by getting people to pay for their workstation in the open space or for their office, for the lectures and meetups and workshops.
There is no real “community” because renting an office there is no different than renting it with Regus or any other office building. You can work from home and come to free meetups to network and gain more value while spending less money on your workspace. The promise of an “ecosystem” is an empty buzzword because you’re not really part of the “X” community if you’re renting an office in a city that’s miles and miles away from their other “community” (read: building).
They’re not really promoting entrepreneurship when their business model is based on renting office space. When their buildings house agencies that provide services and compete with each other alongside a startup or two and students who just need a place outside the dorms to work on their thesis — these are mostly not entrepreneurs. These are random people working on random and very different projects and the only thing that connects them is their office address. This is not an “ecosystem” this is a real estate business.
There is merit and value in real estate business. But when it uses words like “entrepreneurship”, “innovation”, “ecosystem” to market a false idea it becomes a problem. It becomes a problem because it strips these words of their true value and meaning, it confuses people and it makes it harder for those who really seek that added value in terms of mentorship, funding, tools and who really need help building a true startup to separate wheat from chaff and select the home that can really give them that…and not just a neatly designed space.
When everyone — real estate entrepreneurs, venture capitals, accelerators, consultants and mentors all use these same three words to describe what they provide (Promote Entrepreneurship, Innovation and create a Community or Ecosystem) — how can you tell which one will really do this for you, and which one just wants your money?
A culture that promotes “disruption” and “innovation” in terms of being different, is one that can never create a community or ecosystem because it fosters segregation and separation. It leaves no place (expect the empty walls rented or sold to the highest bidder) for real and meaningful connection and sharing of knowledge.
I’ve seen this trend in Israel, in the USA, and in Europe. Smart real estate sharks with money see the huge potential in tapping the entrepreneurial hype and making tons of money )again — good for them!!!) by spinning an old idea with new storytelling. But then they become mentors and gurus for startups, they are interviewed alongside investors (who actually risk their money believing in these entrepreneurs) and invited to judge technology (which they often have no clue about) in startup competitions.
In my line of work I tried, more than once, to connect such organizations and create joint events to benefit mutual clients (or tenants….). Every time I tried I faced rejection and it was always based on competition. I have been told, right to my face, that “we can’t cooperate with X. They’re competitors”. Really?? And here was little ol’ me thinking you’re both “promoting entrepreneurship, innovation and creating an ecosystem”.
I believe we should stop for a moment and consider what all this hype around real estate is really doing to entrepreneurship. It’s not promoting or driving it forward. It’s actually holding it back and obscuring the real organizations and people that try to keep these values alive.