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How to foster collaborative spaces in rural areas

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Collaborative spaces: what and why?

In recent years, new social environments—such as hacker spaces, maker spaces, Living Labs, FabLabs, shared living spaces, coliving, and coworking spaces—have been emerging in knowledge cities around the world. Those social environments, which cluster knowledge and creative workers, are deliberately being created to facilitate networking and exchange of knowledge through face-to-face interactions. In knowledge cities and the knowledge economy, which emphasise the role of information, technology and learning for economic performance, knowledge workers are the drivers of productivity and economic growth (OECD, 1996).

Policymakers are designing urban strategies, such as innovation or creative districts, to accelerate the innovation process in urban areas through the clustering knowledge and creative workers. The creation of an innovation district is a place-based urban development strategy that aims to regenerate an under-performing downtown neighbourhood into a desirable location for innovative and creative companies and workers. (Morisson, 2018). 

Interreg Europe has provided a framework to exchange on different ways such strategies are designed and implemented in urban areas across Europe. A good example is the project  CREADIS3, Smart Specialisation Creative Districts, which aims to support the development of better cultural and creative industries (CCI) policies in territories to generate innovation and economic development in European regions.

The Belgian Wallonia European Creative District, the Spanish BEAZ: Bizkaia Creativa strategy, or the Italian INCREDIBOL! are only a few examples of programmes that offer financial support, services, and spaces (coworking spaces, incubators, third places) to stimulate cultural and creative industries in an urban setting. Another Interreg Europe project, URBAN M, Urban Manufacturing - Stimulating Innovation Through Collaborative Maker Spaces, also focuses on the creation of collaborative maker spaces in cities. 

Collaborative spaces: an urban prerogative? 

The development of such strategies has proven effective in many urban areas, which are often seen as the sole geographical entities that are driving the emergence of knowledge-based activities. This assumption on the role of urban areas as drivers of innovation leads to the following question: are collaborative spaces adapted for stimulating a knowledge-based economy in rural and in peri-urban areas? 

The good practice Coworking Entrepreneurship Centre and Incubator - KIKŠTARTER, helps answer this question. KIKŠTARTER was identified in the Interreg Europe Project P-IRIS, which aims to devise policies to improve rural areas’ innovation systems by professionalising networking activities and use of innovation tools.

According to Arnault Morisson, the thematic expert in Research and Innovation at the Policy Learning Platform, 'KIKŠTARTER offers an excellent example of the way rural and peri-urban towns can participate in the knowledge economy through the creation of spaces to promote entrepreneurship.' Indeed, the KIKŠTARTER approach was already transferred through a lean methodology to other areas in Slovenia and abroad.

Collaborative spaces in rural and peri-urban areas: A path to do it. 

KIKŠTARTER is located in the town of Kamnik, Slovenia. The town, which is in a rural setting 35 minutes from the capital city, Ljubljana, has a total population of 13,768 people.

The co-working space, incubator and accelerator known as KIKŠTARTER was developed under the umbrella of the Youth Centre Kotlovnica (YCK). Aware of the potential and needs of the youth population in Kamnik, the YCK experimented with a project to transform the town from a peripheral area into an environment with many opportunities in the knowledge economy. The vision was not only to encourage and motivate young people but also to give them confidence in their future.

KIKŠTARTER was launched in January 2014. In the early stages of the initiative, a strong collaborative spirit among local actors allowed them to acquire and retrofit the abandoned building located in a run-down industrial area. Under the leadership of the Youth Centre Kotlovnica, the local business (Iskra Mehanizmi, d. o. o.) supported the initiative in renting the building at a fair cost, the local authorities gave support and contributed financially, volunteers and future KIKŠTARTER's members participated in the building renovation.

KIKŠTARTER's main philosophy is to build a strong, inclusive, and impactful community. Networking and collaboration was critical to the success of KIKŠTARTER. Indeed, the initiative created links with local entrepreneurs and received support from local businesses to develop its activities. In 2015, the Kamnik Entrepreneurship Club was established to connect companies in the Kamnik municipality and stimulate the creation of start-ups. The club has 60 members who are from the private sector. The Kamnik Entrepreneurship Club actively participates in the development of KIKŠTARTER to diffuse entrepreneurial ideas and acquire knowledge on local initiatives.

KIKŠTARTER offers individuals with entrepreneurial ideas, the tools to develop and manage their own entrepreneurial paths through workshops, lectures, consultations, educational courses… KIKŠTARTER offers a 680 m2 workspace with 8 tables in a co-working space, 13 individual offices, one conference room, one (computer) laboratory, a woodworking workshop, a reading corner with professional literature, 1 meeting room, a space for socialising, a lecturing space, and a garden with an outdoor co-working space.

KIKŠTARTER currently hosts 15 start-ups in the building and provides support to 37 entrepreneurial initiatives outside the building through mentoring activities, motivational activities, networking, providing spaces... Additionally, KIKŠTARTER organises events to diffuse an innovation culture to Kamnik’s residents through showcasing the numerous success stories that  include companies that expanded their business across Slovenia and abroad. KIKŠTARTER also works with local primary and secondary school students to diffuse an entrepreneurial culture and to develop skills related to convert ideas into tangible products through prototyping. 



Photos: on the left – Guests from a lecture ‘Electrical future’ hosted in May 2019; on the right – A team in action from ‘Startup challenge 2018’ hosted in fall 2018. Source: KIKŠTARTER

When planning such spaces and strategies in rural and peri-urban areas, practitioners and policymakers should consider the following three points: 

  • The creation of a space like KIKŠTARTER to promote entrepreneurship is more relevant for towns with 10,000 to 30,000 inhabitants that do not already possess such innovation infrastructure.
  • As illustrated by KIKŠTARTER, leadership and quadruple helix arrangements are a good way to rally local actors around a common vision for the town.
  • Spaces like this could include, spaces for fabrication, 3-D workshops, FabLabs, and Makerspace, as lower rents in rural and peri-urban towns can offer a competitive advantage for setting such relatively large fabrication spaces for entrepreneurs.

Further readings: 

European Union