We’ve talked about quite a few open co-working spaces recently, and we’ve even made some observations about how some open co-working spaces have done compared to others. There are many more open co-working spaces that we haven’t covered yet, but they all boil down to the same thing, mostly. Startups, freelancers, digital nomads and SMEs are looking for space, and these ventures are happy to provide.
Which is why iLabs came from the left field for us.
- They’re a nonprofit.
- They’re only open to Sunway & Monash students for now
As part of the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation the Sunway Innovation Labs, or iLabs, is an open co-working space nestled in the heart of Jeffrey Cheah’s growing Sunway township. And at least while they figure out the ropes, the space is built so that Sunway students can get exposed to the market—everything from the mindset, understanding financial terms to the Silicon Valley jargon.
With the introduction of two startup-sounding courses in Sunway University like a full Bachelors of Science in Entrepreneurship, and the other being Mobile Computing and Entrepreneurship, it seems that the time is right.
To find iLab, we were ushered away from the elevators of Menara Sunway and instead led down a flight of stairs. However, even though iLabs was located in the basement ‘dungeon’ floor of Menara Sunway, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the actual space was full of inviting sunlight.
There, we sat on the fancy furniture that we later found out was sourced second-handed from hotels to meet space founder Matt van Leeuwen, described as the Head Jedi of the whole operation. They claim that it was a coincidence that they launched on May the 4th (be with you).
“In my background I spent a lot of time working with universities, startups, and also as investors in companies. And one thing that I find, especially with universities is that they are too obsessed with the technology. They obsess and they really want to push this to the market without really understanding and thinking about what problems they’re trying to solve.”
“One thing I wanted to do is to make them understand what those challenges are—what the problems are first, and then work backwards to build solutions that are a lot more targeted.”
And to really bring this point home, iLabs Sunway has built partnerships with big names such as Grab, along with MaGIC, Cradle, and Silicon Valley’s Young Outliers.
“We modeled it partly after Harvard’s Innovation Lab, and it’s also set up for current students. So when they have ideas, we provide them with the facilities and the tools to come up with products, technology and eventually to launch their business.”
The Work Area
Considering the purpose of the space, it makes sense that it’s a tad smaller compared to other, multi-floor co-working spaces that we’ve seen. But what they lack in square feet, they make up for in multi-function.
Matt informed us that they made sure that all the furniture in the work area had wheels, so that they can easily pivot (much like a startup). This way, they can easily convert the work space into an event space that, on their launch, held 150 people.
Right now, iLabs is running the area free and easy. It’s open for students to have their after-school clubs and they don’t need to make any bookings to the meeting rooms or any of the spaces before use. Matt wants to start out open, and will only step in to set up some rules if things get out of hand.
“We work very closely with the entrepreneurship society, tech club and the entrepreneurship in Monash and Sunway because these guys have already built a community. We need them as our soldiers to go out and spread the word about iLabs and all the events held here. So that’s the marketing part out of the way.”
The Other Work Area (Or Picnic Area)
As an area to share ideas, the calming green grass and vibrant bean bags are a tried and true startup aesthetic that will appeal to developers and students alike. We noticed that it had been modeled similar to a grassy picnic area, and is even located right next to the wide-open windows.
As part of their efforts to educate Sunway kids in the ways of startups, in August the team plans to run a bootcamp. This bootcamp will select the best 50 ideas to refine, test, and practice pitching for.
And out of those, the team hopes to pick the top 3 that will get a one-way ticket into their upcoming accelerator.
On top of that, the team also hopes to hit kids at a ‘grassroots’ level. In collaboration with Young Outliers from Silicon Valley, iLabs will be running a summer camp for kids from all over Malaysia.
“These teenagers come together for 2 weeks to learn everything entrepreneurship. Design thinking, business models, and ultimately they get to pitch their own ideas.”
“But the real unique thing about this program is that they hook you up with these amazing mentors from Silicon Valley; we’re talking about the designers from Tesla, someone from Google, Facebook, Chief Digital Officer of HP. This calibre of people. So we’re bringing that to Malaysia and Sunway iLabs will be the venue to host that.”
The iLabs is the physical manifestation of Jeffrey Cheah’s hopes of one day turning the Sunway township into a SMART City.
Free WiFi for all of Sunway is in the pipeline and the team hopes that by letting ideas run free in iLabs, Sunway too will be able to absorb some of that digitised innovation magic into the entire area. This also means that any ideas developed in iLabs have access to ample testing ground and can see immediate validation or otherwise.
Eventually they’ll look into either expanding the space or opening up the area to others, but for now, students in Sunway and Monash get something of an extended library to do their assignments in, while also getting to explore a potential future career in running startups. For students with these types of ambitions, this can be an invaluable learning experience and they get access to it free too.