Co-Working Spaces in Demand as Alternative to Rising Rent

When Duong Kim Hak and his business partner decided to expand their online bookstore to a brick-and-mortar location, the entrepreneurs went for a non-traditional store site that’s growing in popularity abroad and in Phnom Penh: a co-working space.

“It would be at least 30 percent more expensive to rent an individual house to run our business, and we would not make much profits at the end,” he said.

Through their bookstore at workspace Emerald Hub, Mr. Kim Hak has joined dozens of entrepreneurs who are warding off Cambodia’s rising rents by sharing office spaces.

When comparing the space, location and other costs associated with parking, security and utilities, Mr. Kim Hak concluded that using a co-working space would allow them to sell books while cutting some of the costs of running a business.

The concept of co-working space is more popular with foreigners than Cambodians, said Be Chantra, a founder of Emerald Hub. The original intention of co-working space is to create an incubator environment for startups, offering mentorship and networking opportunities. But market demand and rising rent prices have made it more common in the past two to three years to trim costs by sharing office space.

Through Emerald Hub’s program, customers can buy day or weekly passes for $7 or $40 respectively, or a membership for an individual or team desk, allowing them access to either the company’s location in Boeng Keng Kang III commune or on Phnom Penh International University’s campus, with a third location set to open soon.

Customers can use the workspace for as long as they want, choosing to rent private rooms and desks or a shared space. The popularity of shared space has pushed Outpost, an established co-working space company based in Bali, to open a space in Phnom Penh for six months to evaluate Cambodia’s market, said Outpost co-founder Bryan Stewart.

“We thought it gave us a great opportunity to offer our members easy access to Cambodia,” he said. “By running as a limited time popup, it also gives Outpost time to learn more about the dynamic entrepreneurial scene in Phnom Penh and collaborate with startups and local business.”

James Whitehead, director of content of real-estate online portal realestate.com.kh, said a private office space can go for between $8 and $20 per square meter, depending on the property’s grade. Mr. Whitehead said his company had seen significant demand in the market for co-working space both from local and foreign startups looking to launch their businesses before they are ready to occupy an official building.

“Co-working spaces also offer an affordable option for local start-ups with limited capital and internationals looking to test their business model in Cambodia, without signing a full-scale office lease,” he said.

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