Geylang. Probably not the first place you think of when someone says the word “startup”, but here’s a quick tour we did to prove our point
Geylang, a neighbourhood that connects Singapore’s Central and East regions, is famous for many things – a 24/7 food heaven, a “powder keg”, according to Channel News Asia, and the elephant in the room – a notorious red light district.
Little do people know that the area, just a stone’s throw away from Aljunied MRT station, has become home to a number of local startups, including Viddsee and Voyagin in 13, BeMyGuest, and the various startups under incubator and accelerator, The Co-Foundry.
In addition, co-working space Hackerspace.SG has moved its crib to 344B King George’s Avenue, which is a five-minute walk from Lavender MRT station (two stops away from Aljunied MRT station).
While the West has our favourite Block 71 at Ayer Rajah Crescent, and the Central region of Singapore is where you can find Hub Singapore and HubQuarters, the East (or Central-East, if we were to be strict about geography) doesn’t really have a meeting place for startups.
Well, not anymore.
Cheap rent, good food
“Rent is cheap,” said Clement Wong, CEO, BeMyGuest. Based out a shophouse on 425B Geylang Road, he explained that he pays S$1.60/square feet (US$1.28) at his current location, as compared to S$2/square feet (US$1.60) if he were to be based out of Block 71.
As the team continued to grow, Wong found that space constraints were becoming a problem. Through a real estate agent, he discovered a dingy little area – almost inhospitable, but beaming with potential. So, he and the team rolled up their sleeves, and spent multiple weekends painting, renovating and spiffing up the two-floor office.
Now, BeMyGuest’s office has a pantry area, a space for people to meet and talk, working space, and a whole floor dedicated to brainstorming and internal meeting.
A few shophouses down sits The Co-Foundry, headed by Michael Yap, home to a number of startups. Admissions to the accelerator’s ShakeOut programme are accepted on a rolling basis, according to its website. The programme typically lasts six to nine months.
The Co-Foundry also organises a regular “YALONG” event which deals with various facets of technology. One which caught my eye was the meet-up organised on March 27, 2014, where “entrepreneurs, makers, and tinkerers” came together to enthuse and learn more about the Internet of things and wearables.
However, The Co-Foundry is not a co-working space, unlike its neighbour 13, a co-living and co-working space for startups and budding entrepreneurs. While the former is mostly open to the startups in the programme, the latter, founded by Darius Cheung, a seasoned entrepreneur, allows like-minded individuals who need a space to work out of to use the facility for a fee.
In conversation with e27, Cheung said, “It’s an experiment – it is a co-working and co-living space. People actually live there. … You also have Viddsee who works out of one of the rooms as their private office. We also have hot desks and (people) using the event space.”
Viddsee, one of the startups highlighted during the conversation, is an online portal for Asian short films. Earlier, it was based out of Prince George’s Park NUS Enterprise incubator, but as the team grew, like BeMyGuest, the startup needed a place to call home.
During lunch with the Co-Founders of Viddsee, Ho Jia Jian and Derek Tan, the duo emphasised that one of the things they realised after moving into 13 was that the area around the co-working space has no lack of good and cheap food, regardless of rain or shine. Many entrepreneurs can take joy in the fact that these eateries are open 24/7, and there’s no excuse to be skipping dinner now.
To be fair, Geylang is quite notorious for unabashed streetwalkers, and men who practically stare at anything that moves. After an interview with a founder (who happened to be female), we discussed Geylang and the rising number of startups choosing to be based out of that general vicinity. Feeling quite strongly about the topic, she stressed that the seedy environment will be the number one reason why she would rather choose a more expensive district.
“There are seedy places,” said Tushar Khandelwal, Head of Marketing and Community, Voyagin. He added, “But they don’t bother me.” The Japanese firm has been working out of 13 for a month now, and found out about the space through Vincent Lauria, an investor at Golden Gate Ventures.
He continued, “We have four women in our office. They usually work until 7 or 8 PM.” According to him, they would always go home at the same time, even when they used to work out of Block 71.
He added, “They feel pretty safe overall.” However, there was one incident where a female he knew was asked out to dinner by “some guy” late at night. Ogling is not uncommon either.
Compared to Block 71, the Central-East’s Geylang Lorong 24A certainly makes a good alternative for those who might want more colour and variety in their startup journey. Heading out for lunch is probably going to be a difficult task; how can you choose between Penang Laksa and a scrumptious plate of nasi briyani?
Here is a video of my journey around Geylang Lorong 24A: