Coworking spaces are one of the hottest urban trends sweeping across major hubs all over the world, due in large part to the rise of entrepreneurship among millennial workers. You’ll find several of these spaces in one high density urban area alone, but many smaller cities (mainly suburban areas) don’t have them at all.
Despite its recent jump in economic outlook, Surrey, B.C. was one of those cities. However, the city has a slowly growing coworking movement, and at its forefront is Jason Wong — entrepreneurial superstar and co-founder of Beta Collective.
Wong is an avid ambassador for shared economies and collaborative strategies, so it’s no surprise that he opened what he said was Surrey’s first coworking space. Located near major bus routes and sky train stations, Beta Collective serves local professionals by renting out private office, flexible desk, and boardroom space designed to accommodate a variety of start-ups and non-profit organizations.
Beta Collective was Wong’s first serious business venture. Prior to its conception in 2012, Wong worked as a marketing consultant for a network of nonprofits. After being introduced to popular coworking spaces such as The Hive and The Network Hub in Vancouver, he was inspired to build a coworking office closer to his home in the suburbs.
Wong knew that choosing Surrey for his first foray into office building would come with a complicated set of benefits and challenges. Surrey is a developing city, meaning that there is a competitive advantage when it comes to obtaining social visibility and affordable rent compared to its more established neighbouring cities. Most importantly, Surrey was a place where the community was directly in need of a coworking space; all he needed to do was deliver the supply.
Indeed, when Wong opened the first Beta Collective office to the public in 2013, the business immediately gained lots of traction. It became successful enough that he was able to leave his consulting job and turn Beta Collective from a side hustle into a full time commitment. He was also able to co-found YVR Prep, his second business venture, just four years after.
“I can truly say that it doesn’t feel like work,” he says about running Beta. “I’m surrounded and inspired by other people’s hustle. Often, these people are aspiring entrepreneurs with really cool ideas, and thanks to my marketing foundation, I can help with the mentoring side of their journey. We have really good conversations, and that’s where I get jazzed.”
While there are practical benefits to starting a business here, the biggest challenge in attracting clients to Surrey stems from the city’s unpopular reputation. As a member of several boards and organizations, Wong takes every opportunity to combat the huge Surrey stigma and highlight the virtues of its tight-knit community.
“People assume things about Surrey, but it’s a unique place–it definitely has a big city growth with a small town feel. It has a vibrant, supportive entrepreneurial community, and many are unaware that major corporations and their sister offices exist here,” he presses. “A significant advantage of having a business here is that Surrey doesn’t have the same density that Vancouver does. You don’t have to fight to be visible. There are opportunities here that people overlook for stereotypical reasons.”
Yet, getting a leg up in suburban business circles can be difficult when there are less educational resources and connections. “Join a board of directors,” advises Wong to address this problem. “Don’t be afraid to approach someone on a board and ask, ‘Hey, what do you do and how do you do it?’ Sitting on a board is where networking is truly valuable. It will help increase your visibility and get you invited to a bunch of events, which in turn, will pull you to the real connections you want to make…. As long as you’re passionate about their mission, of course. Surround yourself with people who are bigger and better. And don’t underestimate what you can offer a board. It’s completely a two-way street; they have just as much to learn from you as you do from them.”
Apart from opening a second office for Beta Collective, Wong’s next goals include onboarding more nonprofits and social enterprises and sitting on a tech-centric board, as he has always been, in his words, “fascinated by what the tech guys are doing.” As the appeal of entrepreneurship grows, he hopes to see other coworking spaces pop up in Surrey in the next few years.