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The 17th century English coffee-houses, to quote Steven Johnson, were places where people “would get together from different fields of expertise and their ideas could have sex. This was their conjugal bed in a sense.”
This concept is usually used as a popular model for modern co-working spaces: engineering serendipity. At least that’s the case with Twenty Fifty, a popular up-and-coming co-working and networking clubhouse for startups and freelancers in Cape Town, South Africa.
The space showcases plants hanging from high ceilings, dark wooden floors and large open windows that looks out onto bustling Buitenkant Street, and sits right on top of the popular steampunk roastery Truth Coffee. In the far right-hand corner of the 1st floor’s main room sits a programmer tapping away on his keyboard, writing a new string of code for his latest project.
He’s only in South Africa for a month and needs a place to work, network and find some inspiration. “I like it because it’s a productive environment, I feel that people are here to get stuff done and change the world. And that is inspiring. The social aspect is also a big draw card,” says Nicholas Pringle, a temporary member of Twenty Fifty.
Co-working spaces have been popping up in and around the Mother City in the last few years, each sleeker and more quirky than the other. Other prominent spaces are Hubspace, 88mph, and Daddy.O.
These spaces offer far more than traditional office chairs, internet access and a water cooler. They are repositories where ideas mingle and people build things… mostly web things. They’re where freelancers, entrepreneurs and globe trekkers can meet, greet, sip coffees together and have access to decent Wi-Fi.
Like the classic 17th century shops where people brewed as much coffee as they did revolutions, Twenty Fifty wants to offer the perfect cocktail for great ideas, but with a modern, 2.0 twist.
For instance, the space offers yoga classes, co-working field trips where people can refresh their minds with a change of scenery, and pizza and beer in case of late night working hours. People can partake in business crash courses such as web development, or get inspired by what industry experts have to share in the weekly workshops.
There was a class recently on Fast Fiction, a hybrid writing style between poetry and narrative, where attendees paid R250 for a crash course instructed by award-winning South African artist, Liesl Jobson. Other classes have covered themes like The Persuasive Pitch: 5 Antidotes to Ensure You Don’t Blow the Opportunity and Marketing Communications: How to Tell Stories in an A.D.D World.
“We wanted to create the kind of environment where those chance encounters aren’t left to chance, a physical space where serendipity is accelerated,” writes Pearson in a blog post.
Like many of Cape Town’s co-working spaces, people from different but related industries get together and work on projects, individually or otherwise. Co-Founder Gareth Pearson says that he wants to distinguish Twenty Fifty from the general label of co-working spaces and aims to be more like a clubhouse for Cape Town’s talented breed of entrepreneurs, freelancers and in-betweeners.
“We steered away from ‘office-y’, and opted for a space in a beautiful old building with high ceilings and a coffee roastery downstairs,” Pearson writes.
Some of Twenty Fifty’s current members include Mahala, Indie Shuffle, and Wikimedia, with about 30-odd people using the space. There are various membership rates to choose from, ranging from R800 for eight days a month or R1500 per month for a weekly 9-to-5 access.
Pearson studied at Stellenbosch University after which he gained some experience in managing and organising different projects and events including TEDxStellenbosch and is acting as the Cape Town Ambassador to the Sandbox Network, an international initiative promoting social game-changers. He founded Twenty Fifty together with Nathan Daniel in August 2013.
The name Twenty Fifty refers to the year, explains Pearson. “It’s a mid-century milestone that is within our lifetime but far enough away that the world will be significantly different.”
He has a passion for bringing people together and is also behind a monthly social tour, Third Thursdays, where people visit trendy art galleries around Cape Town that stay open till late at night — an initiative that has grown quite popular over the last few months.
Together with an interest in creating a physical networking slash learning space, Twenty Fifty is also getting involved in other initiatives such as Silicon Cape to increase the role it plays in the local startup scene. The company is also being promoted by Cape Town World Design Capital 2014.