Clare Loewenthal looks into how NAB’s The Village is leading the charge in collaborative workspaces in Melbourne.
When was the last time you dropped by your bank to collaborate with like-minded entrepreneurs, attend a yoga class or find encouragement to “imagine more”? That’s just a part of what happens at NAB’s innovative Melbourne co-working space, The Village.
Host Tim Mahlberg says The Village is a bold, courageous experiment for NAB. “We didn’t want to be too prescriptive,” Tim explains. “We opened the doors and said, we have customers but how do we build members, how do we build an identity, what is The Village experience?”
In just one year, Tim, co-host Jen Klop and a group of people who are more like ambassadors than members, have created a vibrant community that works together and plays together.
When NAB committed to consolidating several Melbourne properties into a new building at 700 Bourke Street, it saw the move as an opportunity to provide 6,000 employees with a flexible, activity-based workspace. It was also an opportunity to draw customers into a very different type of environment.
“Typically if you go into a corporate space, the first thing you encounter is a security table, and not much else,” says Tim. “We have intentionally located security on a higher level and the first thing you see when you enter the building is a café that is open to the public, a state of the art branch that utilises new technology and The Arena, which holds events for members and the community.”
There was one remaining space on the concourse level that was initially to be used for a bistro, but the bank began thinking about ways to use the space to draw customers in and to add value.
“When we talked to customers and employees, someone flagged the idea of a co-working space and the concept of The Village was born,” explains Tim. “This was seen as a place for our customers to visit and bring their customers in. Members would be able work, host events, to learn from each and from the specialists at NAB.”
The bank already had a relationship with a local coworking space and together they developed the concept further, along with business banking clients. The customers wanted a space that was accessible, diverse, secure, collaborative and neutral – this had to be a place they could come and live in, not a place for the bank to push products.
The Village may seems like a huge departure from the bank’s core business, but Tim says the space is the embodiment of NAB’s enduring purpose – to do the right thing, help its customers and community and to realise potential.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
The Village was officially opened in February 2014. It is a 500m2 professional yet relaxed environment, designed by global design and consulting firm Woods Bagot.
Members have access to free Wi-Fi and state-of-the-art technology across eight contemporary workspaces. There are drop-in desks, meeting rooms and casual catch-up areas around The Square and The Garden.
Up to 10 networking and learning events take place every week, mostly hosted by the community. Diversity is one of The Village’s core values and the space invites people from all walks of life.
“We have everyone from start-ups run by 17 and 18 years olds, right through to seniorpreneurs,” says Tim. “We have people from all over the world, and 45 per cent of members are women, which is high for a co-working space.”
- Work remotely from their own laptop, tablet or personal device and are highly mobile.
- Want to develop their business through networking and collaboration.
- Are open and flexible to new ideas, opportunities and initiatives.
- May not have a strong presence in Melbourne’s CBD.
- Would like an office or meeting space away from their main office.
There are currently 1,200 members from over 1,000 organisations (a business banking client can have up to 10 memberships) and there is no sign of membership growth slowing. “People are drawn here by the energy, the environment and the invitation to imagine more,” Tim explains.
A VILLAGE OR A CITY?
Although the 12-month trial for The Village was due for completion in December 2014, the space was so successful that the pilot finished three months early.
“Our members are the most passionate, inspiring people I have ever met,” say Tim. “Small business owners and people who work for not-for-profits do what they love and they want to make an impact, so we draw on that incredible energy.
“We offer them a space to have a conversation and to share what they love. By doing that, you are inspiring and supporting the community. As an outcome, friendships or partnerships are formed, opportunities to collaborate on new projects or new businesses emerge, and members do business together.”
“Every person who is a member of The Village is a leader in their own way and our role includes leadership development, coaching and self-empowerment.” observes Tim. “That is something I never expected to happen, but it definitely has. It has been such an amazing journey, and I just want more people to experience it. What does a village with 10,000 members around Australia look like, or 100,000?”
Tim might not have to wait too long for a bigger Village. Plans are already underway for additional sites in regional Victoria and interstate.
INSIDE THE VILLAGE
When Lindsey Brown decided to start her own business, other sole traders told her that isolation was their biggest challenge. So she decided the solution was to become a member of The Village.
“Being a NAB Village member has helped my business enormously by providing an instant network of likeminded business people that share insights, experiences, contacts and opportunities,” she says. “It seems that every Community Coffee I attend sparks at least two or three referrals. The atmosphere is so much about sharing, and the amazing hosts, Tim and Jen, have been able to foster an environment where people look to give first and receive later.”
Lindsey says she has benefitted from thousands of dollars in free advice and support from other members, just because they cared enough to reach out and help.
“Activities like improving my social media presence, building my product offering, designing and delivering a great pitch, have all benefited my business enormously off the sheer interest and generosity of other members,” says Lindsey. “Likewise, I have connected and referred numerous members to people in my network and towards business opportunities.”
Establishing relationships with other members has built relationships outside of Lindsey’s normal sector and introduced her to new ideas and approaches.
“NAB Village members are a key part of my business network. They are the people I call when things go well, and whom I look to for support when I am facing challenges. Because we are all in a similar situation, they have a great understanding of what I’m going through and can offer lots of empathy and support,” she says.
For more on NAB's The Village visit nabvillage.com.au.
This feature was originally published in the February 2015 print issue of My Business. To read more in-depth features for SME business owners immediately upon publication, subscribe to My Business magazine now.