CeBeta – Coworking at Europe’s Biggest Tech Fair

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

CeBIT is Europe’s biggest consumer technology fair. Over 5 days and across 26 halls, big-name businesses, middle players and startup companies showcase their products, drawing crowds in their hundreds of thousands. The annual expo, held in the Hannover Fair Grounds, usually attracts a certain attendee: buyers, distributors and company representatives, suited and corporate, come together to compete against one another, showcasing products that have been created in firms with closed-house policies. In essence, it represents the antithesis of the coworking movement, which is based on principles of collaboration, co-creation, and openness.

This is partly the reason why, this year, betahaus was invited to CeBIT to introduce the concept of working collaboratively to the corporate world. The space that was created was in every way different to the other stands populating the expo, and came into being with the help of dozens of individuals from different professional backgrounds. Together, we created an environment which reflected the betahaus philosophy.

JAY – core group, project coordinator/catalyst/facilitator: We went to CeBIT with the objective to bring our culture – the Spirit of Betahaus and Coworking communities in general – into the CeBit Global Conference. For those familiar with the conference this is no small task as the environment is somewhat formal, austere, tightly scheduled, organized and controlled. Coworking, by contrast, is distinctly informal, chaotic, and evolving. Ironically, in order to create an open space of engagement, we had to create our own walls, and build an environment where our participants felt at home.

Feel at home they did. After wandering wearily through the logo-clad, fluero-lit, stark-white halls of the Messe, the betahaus coworking space was like a refuge.

WALDO – capturing the project on video/interviewing people involved and responses of onlookers: CeBIT to me seemed like an organizational mess. We were driving the car for far too long around the Messegelaende. Streets were closed, policemen and parking-attendants hadn’t a clue about how to get anywhere… the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. But it was like an oasis when we finally reached betahaus. I strongly believe that we were the most interesting thing at CeBIT, so I don’t feel sorry for not seeing anything, except for what I saw during our masquerades and during the evening programs. If betahaus hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have been at CeBIT… really!

CeBeta broke aesthetic ranks. The warmth of wooden trestle desks was combined with soft furnishings and room dividers of hanging teapots and ring-dial telephones. It was a homely space with wallpapered walls and flower pots decking the windows, overlooking the stark conference center below. The space’s design were the fruits of a core Berlin team, who assembled everything from scratch, but there were many who contributed in other ways. EDELSTALL, a coworking space in Hannover, contributed by supplying armchairs, desk chairs, cushions, cables (*). Sponsor logos were hand-painted and framed. Everything came together to create a comfortable and inspiring space.

PEDRO – core group, coordinator/logistics/design: The difference between our space and the rest was a real achievement. It was very fulfilling to see how with a small budget, and a lot of creativity, we were able to design the most outstanding stand. And not because we were bigger or had the latest technology, but because it was colourful and human.

The coworking space was only one part of the bigger whole. The MakerLab area was recreated, complete with 3D printer and laser cutter. The Arena – made with two-tiered stadium-style seating assembled on site (a long 2 hours of work each) – provided a space of discussion and debate. It was home to the daily Seedlounge-hosted betapitches, where startups shared their ideas, rather than protected them. In addition, the Arena hosted a number of presentations by local coworkers who were connected to the space with the help of EDELSTALL.

The dialogues 1&2, whose armchairs were softly lit with floor lamps from an era gone, provided an intimate space for quiet conversation or email checking. WiFi was on site, provided by Protonet, who created a private cloud… that was open to all.

The four areas sparked curiosity from the suited businessmen passing by, and creativity from those within it. Each person involved brought a different set of skills and new ideas to the table, who came together to work on common projects.

JAY: There were fellow coworkers and start ups from EDELSTALL, Modul 57 in Hanover, local designers, students, artists, professionals and start ups from as far as Vienna. Hackers from Berlin and Cologne, makers from Hamburg, exhibitors at the show, speakers from the conference, and …. Let’s just say it was diverse.

But this is what we’re used to. In reality, what went on was not unlike what normally goes on inside a coworking space. For the attendees of the CeBIT Global Conferences, though, it was something fascinating and innovative.

TOM – core team, structural design/construction: The true ‘normality’ of the team was the biggest inspiration for me. Other visitors thought we were doing ‘crazy’ stuff, but actually, this is how we normally work and what we normally do. One man asked why we smile so much… isn’t that crazy?

There are dozens of examples of projects worked on and prototypes developed. And probably some which I don’t even know about. But to give an impression of how attention grabbing some of them were, the beta-Dundu-experiment comes to mind first. Janis from ODC (core team, visual design) worked with Fabian and his crew from Dundu (finalist, business plan competition; exhibitor) to project live-streamed video onto a shield held by the 5 meter Dundu puppet. An hour later, it was taken to the crowds.

JAY: Janis embraced prototyping over planning. It resulted in the projection of my face onto a five-meter-high Dundu during a presentation I gave at the Seedlounge- don’t think they expected that.

While other companies were selling their patented products, we were prototyping. While firms were competing for space and consumers, we were collaborating with strangers, who quickly became friends.

PEDRO: We didn’t try to sell our product, but rather invited people to experience the way we work and live. We didn’t have anything to sell there, so we were open to interact with visitors without expecting anything in return; we were just being us, and just enjoying being there.

I, for one, can vouch for these impressions. CeBIT was the purest demonstration of what it means to collaborate, to co-create. I went with some ideas, discussed them with others when I got there, and came back with many more. Better still, I made friends. People I intend to keep in close contact with. Of the thousands of business cards that were exchanged that week, I’m sure very few real relationships were made. And of them, fewer still which happened outside the realms of the betahaus coworking space. It’s gratifying to know that I made relationships that count.

TOM: Now, few days later, it turns out that a big part of the CeBIT crew is starting to hang out and work at betahaus. I guess that’s the true spirit: meeting new people, getting interested, working together.

There was an overall sense of achievement which graced the group as we disassembled CeBeta.

WALDO: We showed all those business people what the other world looks like. A world they might have forgotten about. We should not stop here, we have go on, show presence until enough business people are convinced of our work style. We’re on to a good thing.

In hindsight, what we did was positive, and opened the doors for future intervention, enlightenment, and greater possibility to connect two worlds and expand perspectives.

RIC – Co-founder of EDELSTALL: I think we achieved our goal of making people curious and confronting them with the subject of distributed innovation. I guess that we managed to raise awareness for coworking and showcased that work can be both fun and fulfilling; that it’s a tool to achieve work/life balance.

JAY: Both from past experience and observation during the event, there is much to be derived. With every intervention, we shape the direction of the event and highlight what is absent. In this instance, an open space, a place to connect, diversity of insights and contributions, opportunity to respond and feedback, opportunities to network and collaborate, and the opportunity to experience new cultures and ways to engage with technology. There is much more opportunity in this field, and much more to be explored. The world of events is ripe for change, and I for one love this arena of play.

Written in collaboration and Edited by Anna Cashman for Deskmag

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Core Team:

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