In the 12 months since WeWork Labs opened its first location in New York, the program for startup founders has opened 37 locations in 22 cities around the world. Some are in New York, London, and other well-known tech hubs. But many are in countries like Brazil, Poland, and Thailand—places that might not seem like the most obvious location for a program focused on early stage startups. According to WeWork Labs global head Roee Adler, that’s the point.
“There’s a reason we’re opening WeWork Labs in so many places outside of the U.S.,” says Adler, who has been at WeWork for close to six years. “Although the startup ecosystems are different in every country, we can give entrepreneurs the opportunity, with very little risk, to give their idea a shot.”
A year ago, Adler announced that the program—a new version of a program originally started in 2010—had opened its first location in New York’s WeWork 205 Hudson St. The mission was to provide early stage startups with the space, educational resources, and global community they needed to succeed.
We Company co-founder Miguel McKelvey answers questions from WeWork Labs global head Roee Adler.
Since then, WeWork Labs has helped hundreds of founders conduct user testing, connect with customers, and move into their own offices at WeWork. These startups have raised over a combined $52 million in funding.
We Company co-founder Miguel McKelvey says WeWork Labs is accomplishing many of the things that he and Adam Neumann intended when they started WeWork in 2010. At that point, WeWork was providing space for many startups.
“In some ways, WeWork Labs is a fulfillment of the reason me and Adam started on this adventure,” says McKelvey. “It’s an incredible thing to see it spread so fast.”
One of the people that WeWork Labs has helped is Adriana Vazquez, who won the program’s first pitch competition. After taking home the $150,000 prize on Jan. 24, she joked that she was afraid to go to sleep.
“I didn’t want to wake up and find out it wasn’t real,” says Vazquez, co-founder of a company making products for new mothers called Lilu. “But it was real, and it was an amazing experience.”
Adriana Vazquez, co-founder of Lilu, wins the WeWork Labs pitch contest.
The WeWork Labs pitch night was one example of the kind of programming designed to help founders find their footing.
“An event like this has a ripple effect,” says Vazquez. “When people see WeWork recognizing a startup company like Lilu, it tells them that this is a company worth investing in.”
As the program has expanded to more cities, the scope of WeWork Labs has changed as well. One of the things Adler is proudest of is the creation of Innovations Labs, which pairs startup founders eager to test out their ideas with established corporations looking for creative ways to solve problems.
“We are creating connections between corporations looking to innovate and early stage startups looking to grow and better establish their business,” says Adler. “We are the only natural nexus that brings together people from the smallest and largest companies to bump shoulders at the coffee machine.”
So far there are a handful Innovations Labs, including a partnership with human-relations company Mercer to create an incubator program focused on recent advances in the field and another with the pharmaceutical company Novartis that will focus on digital health.
And in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, WeWork Labs recently launched an Innovation Lab dedicated to the mining industry that will “bring together startups and large corporations from the region to address key challenges facing the industry,” says Adler. It’s one of many industry-based programs he sees starting in the next year.
“No one is able to bring companies together in the same way,” says Adler. “It’s exciting to see it happen.”
Part of the reason that WeWork Labs is so successful is that many of its employees are entrepreneurs in their own right. Take Adler: In 2010, he and his co-founders at a startup called Soluto won the first TechCrunch Disrupt pitch competition. The online service to help computers run more efficiently was eventually sold to a larger company, as were two of his other startups.
“If I hadn’t pitched on that stage almost 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been standing here today,” Adler told the crowd at last week’s pitch competition. “That’s how important events like this are.”
Adler’s conviction that the best people to provide advice and support for entrepreneurs are those who have already been there has led him to hire many others who have started their own companies. Aniket Dey, head of WeWork Labs in India, was part of the early team that built one of India’s leading digital-media platforms. Since then he’s become an investor and adviser to startup founders.
“By bringing in founders who are passionate about the problems they are solving and giving them a platform to succeed, we've been able to increase the lifecycle of an average early stage company,” he says.
Mor Barak was leading an accelerator program in Tel Aviv when she learned that WeWork Labs was about to open in Israel.
“I instantly saw the great benefit to startups,” says Barak. “Once I actually became a part of the team, it sank in even more: WeWork has so much to give these early stage companies, and it makes so much sense to create a dedicated team that is being hands-on in delivering it to our members.”
Barak is now also supporting WeWork Labs teams in Germany and France.
Having team members that have been a part of the startup world is important, says Adler, because WeWork Labs is not a one-size-fits-all program. Managers in each location provide one-on-one guidance to founders. The educational opportunities they receive are based on how far their companies have progressed. Founders are connected with mentors who can talk them through issues they are facing.
“We spent much of last year building the foundation of our programming for WeWork Labs, forging local and global connections between members and mentors to conduct productive workshops, host roundtables, and provide personal coaching and support during office hours,” says Adler.
Adler says he’s looking forward to reaching 100 total locations by the end of 2019.
“We’re learning a lot of lessons,” says Adler, “and I feel inspired to share this with the rest of the world.”
WeWork Labs head Roee Adler writes about new business lines and setting them up for success.