What is MESH?
Well, essentially, MESH is a physical place – it’s a building complex in downtown Oslo designed for co-working, creating, and holding events. There’s also a café, a bar, and a club that is used primarily at the weekends. We’ve also starting expanding recently, just to make things a little more complicated! We’re creating more spaces in a neighbouring building over two floors, which is part of our expansion plan. Crucially though, we consider MESH to be much more than just a physical space. It’s a community hub for entrepreneurs and creative people. We’re not in the business of space, as far as I’m concerned – we are in the business of community. It’s just a necessity that we have spaces where people can meet, work, create, learn, entertain, and socialise.
Your list of tenants is extremely diverse, with everyone from artists to graphic designers to tech startups based in your premises. What are the advantages to having such a diverse range of skill sets under the same roof?
When we first started, we wanted our community here to comprise of roughly 70% start-ups, and 30% creatives. That has stayed the case until recently, but now that we started to expand, we’ve started to tweak that concept a little bit. Now, we really want to make our headquarter building for resources and the base for creatives, with experts in HR, people from film, media, journalists, and graphic designers – a multi-disciplinary house which will also serve as the main event location. The start-ups will be located in different houses on different floors, according to what kind of stage they’re at in their business.
But yes, diversity in background and proficiency is key – we believe that, if you mix these people together, that’s when you get a lot of good synergy happening. It’s not just about the tech side of things, either – even if you just grab a beer with an artist who’s renting a space – he/she might not have any idea about the technology involved in your project, but he/she will probably have extremely valuable insight into other areas of your business. Every such interaction is helpful.
Critics of capitalism often view the business world as extremely competitive and cut-throat. Do co-working spaces such as yours fly in the face of that?
I think that just belonging here, being part of the community, makes people naturally behave in a more cooperative manner, rather than being overly competitive. I see people from the same branches who would much rather work with each other than compete with each other. There’s a great sense of camaraderie, too – a feeling that you belong to the same family, which is a boon to all involved. The same philosophy endures on a larger scale, too – we don’t see ourselves as being in competition with the other co-working spaces in Norway and the other Scandinavian countries. Although they are similar concepts, we all do different things, and have different outlooks and objectives. There is a sense of community and kinship between these organisations, too.
Is everyone in the MESH complex on board with this community spirit, or are there any unpleasant rivalries that have emerged between businesses or individuals?
There are always going to be a handful of those people, but they are always singled out by the community pretty quickly. It’s not a question of actively ostracising those people, it’s just that it becomes clear in those situations that neither those individuals nor the community at large would benefit from working together. Either you relate and identify with our ethos, or you don’t. In that sense, it’s a problem that resolves itself, because it’s usually best for all concerned to part ways at that point. We have an initial filtering process anyway, which involves an application form and a face-to-face chat before any space is offered – this helps us to identify whether the applicants would be suitable or not, so it’s rare that we have end up with tenants who are at odds with the ethos.
Your mission statement on your website is decidedly critical of existing governmental hierarchies, and asserts that your organisation “believes in a democratisation of creation and a new wave of impact through technological and personal empowerment”. Do you think that governments can often hinder progress in the business community?
Yes, absolutely. Here in Norway especially, it seems as though they do that very actively at times. There are many reasons for this, but I think it’s partly societal. Norwegians have a cultural tendency, like the other Scandinavian countries, to lean heavily towards a socialist mentality. There is this idea that there is a ‘mother figure’ of sorts, who will take care of everything and who knows what’s best. There are very few community-based, government-independent movements. This is getting better, but there’s still some sort of laziness there I would say – an attitude that someone else will take care of it. If something is in the way, a lot of people would rather just wait it out rather than take direct action on an individual basis. I come from Hungary originally, so this is just my impression, living here as an outsider. Being a socialist-leaning country, the idea of community is not a foreign one for Norwegians, which is why I find it strange that the government is so untrusting of bottom-up initiatives and entrepreneurs stepping out on their own, as so many do here at MESH. People are becoming more and more open to it these days, but there is still a way to go before we embrace the free market more as a nation. As for MESH, we are a 100% private company – we don’t have any governmental involvement, and we’re doing great things.
What was it that attracted you to Oslo?
I initially came here with my boyfriend, who started working at a start-up company. So I guess you could say that, initially, we didn’t come for the attraction of Norway itself, but for an exciting opportunity. I transferred my studies here, which is when I met Audun and Anders, and that’s when we started MESH.
Was it a challenging process to get MESH off the ground?
There were challenges, but it was not too much of a struggle, as we all knew what we needed to do, and knew it was in our best interests to get it off the ground as quickly as possible, so we were very focused on the tasks that we had to complete.
How do you see the business community in Europe evolving over the next few years?
It’s difficult to say for sure. Silicon Valley is of course a huge influence on Europe, but I think we have to be realistic, and be aware that there is probably never going to be any one community that can match Silicon Valley, in Norway or anywhere else. It’s impossible to reproduce, I would say. Besides, in Europe we tend have much richer traditions and stronger cultural identities. We are so different in that respect that I don’t think we should strive to emulate that community, but rather create something similar but fresh, and go about that in a very European way.
We hope that co-working spaces such as ours will become a bigger and bigger part of the business landscape in Europe. It’s a good way to educate and shape one another. People in the USA are a lot better than us at that kind of thing – open conversation, selling yourself, selling your ideas; that way of doing business. That’s a cultural difference that has maybe set us back somewhat. I think we would do well to try to facilitate that mentality; re-shaping our business culture while staying true to our roots. We’re actually about to launch a new regular event with the intention of addressing that. Quite often, presentations can just be one person on a stage with a series of slides, talking about how well they are doing. This is something we want to challenge, in favour of having a much more open, conversational approach.
What are some of the most exciting and successful projects to have come out MESH so far?
Our main success story would have to be Kahoot!, a game-based educational app company that are really making an impact globally. We are really happy that they are here at MESH. They serve as a role model for some of the newer start-ups here, and the pace with which they are expanding is staggering. It’s really inspirational for us too. They were actually one of the factors us that triggered us into expanding our spaces, to be able to host those kind of companies. Just a few months ago, they moved into one of the biggest offices we had, and now they are taking over a big chunk on the new floor, which is exciting. I’m personally enthusiastic about TransferCar, which is a mixed-nationality team from Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. The idea of the company is to relocate rental cars, which is something I can relate to, and have identified a need for in the past. I’m very excited where it could go in the future.
We’ve also worked with a very exciting company called Xeneta, who are building a platform for the shipping industry which modernises and streamlines the whole administrative process. Obviously, shipping is huge business, especially here in Norway, but the operators within that industry still tend to use paper-based systems, which is bizarrely antiquated. Xeneta have identified the need for modernisation in that industry, and have set about disrupting it in an intelligent and positive way. This is exactly the kind of company we like to be associated with.