Co-working giant WeWork helps offbeat start-ups grow business in India

Start-ups that make superfoods like plant-based nutritional powder, organic products and herbal tonics are some of the unconventional ventures that SoftBank-backed co-working giant WeWork is nurturing at its labs in India. New York-based WeWork, which was last valued at $47 billion, had unveiled its Labs initiative in India last October, starting from Gurugram. 

The company said its programme is different compared to what is being offered by firms like Google, Microsoft and Cisco. “We have firms that a venture capit­alist may not look at because it may not appear to be scalable, like a tech comp­any,” said Prabhdeep Singh, global head of operations at WeWork Labs.

Coupled with WeWork’s global community of over 400,000 members, WeWork Labs will serve as a hub for early-stage start-ups and provide members access to investment, educational resources and space.
“Being an entrepreneur is hard. It helps being surrounded by like-minded founders,” said Ritu Malik, founder of StoneMetalScissors, which makes luxury fashion jewellery. The firm, which joined the lab last year, got an opportunity to showcase and gain feedback that helped in sales. “That itself is such a huge value addition.”

Since joining WeWork Labs, Urbana Superfoods has been able to launch its first product in the market which is a plant-based nutritional powder Kale. The lab's community provided help to the firm, from bouncing off new ideas to getting feedback on prototypes, and also sharing insights from their own experiences. “Also, interactions with industry veterans, venture capitalists and mentors wouldn’t have been possible for a start-up without the amazing network and connections of the labs community,” said Sid Verma, co-founder of Urbana Superfoods.

WeWork Labs, which was launched globally in early 2018, has a presence in the US, China, Korea, Brazil and Israel. 

For Devang, which makes organic foods, herbal supplements and natural lifestyle products, WeWork Labs has opened doors to partners and investors. Teyjas Geeta Chaudhry, founder and chief executive of Devang, said as a consumer-focused brand, having the ability to constantly test new product developments with members of the community makes it possible for the firm to get feedback, and adapt in an agile way. “This would be much more difficult to do without Labs,” said Chaudhry. “I also found contacts to lawyers and agencies to work with just from conversations with fellow entrepreneurs.”

 
Headquartered in New Delhi, Devang has a team that spent over a decade working with scientists to develop natural products. The firm is collaborating with farmers and chefs to develop innovative and wholesome menus using organic ingredients based on Ayurvedic sciences. It sells products such as oats and almond biscuits, and herbal powders. 

“We want to really empower all kinds of companies as much as we want to do tech,” said Aniket Dey, manager, WeWork Labs.

Before joining WeWork, Singh worked at Uber and helped it to grow its food delivery business Uber Eats. He is now expecting to establish 10 Labs in the country by the end of 2019. WeWork is also tapping an opportunity of helping large organisations, including Fortune 500 firms, to engage with the start-up ecosystem through facilities like innovation spaces or accelerators. It is creating such spaces inside the campuses of these firms or inside its own buildings.

WeWork is also creating industry-specific labs, which includes traditional sectors. It recently unveiled a new initiative focused on food and agriculture start-ups — WeWork Food Labs. In Brazil, it has set up a mining hub in collaboration with the mining industry including start-ups and suppliers.