Smart Solutions

Beta Campus

A collaborative space, offering not only co-working offices and desks, but a ‘creative laboratory’ providing access to high-end new technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters and recording studios.

Implemented inWaidhofen an der Ybbs

Country : Austria

What’s the solution?

The ‘beta campus’ solution goes beyond the traditional offer of co-working spaces and meeting rooms to provide users in rural areas with access to high-end new technologies through a ‘creative laboratory/workshop’.

These facilities provide local businesses, home workers and other local groups with access to modern technologies such as 3-D printing, laser cutters, robots, audio and video recording studios and augmented and virtual reality studios, which they would be unlikely to have the capacity to invest in on their own.

The availability of these technologies opens up the possibilities to develop business ideas that would otherwise be out of reach to local entrepreneurs and small businesses. Anyone may use the lab to learn and build their skills in new technologies and get new business ideas going.

The lab also offers a weekly after-school programme for children and courses to allow young people to get in touch with new technologies and enhance their technical skills.

The beta campus offers all the standard features of a co-working space, such as wifi, printers, a café lounge and accessibility for people with disabilities. Members are usually companies, but individuals are invited for membership too. Flexible time slots and singular or permanent access are offered.

In its full iteration, the beta campus solution can extend to include local smart housing solutions and schools. In this way, the beta campus concept can aim to accompany the life-long learning journey of the people in the area and foster cooperation across sectors.

What makes it smart?

The solution is smart because it builds on the traditional model of a co-working space to offer access to specific high-end modern technologies enabling the development of new business possibilities in rural areas.

The solution:

  • focuses on life-long learning and reduces local skills shortages with a strong focus on scientific, technical and crafts skills.
  • makes use where possible of existing assets in the form of an old, idle local building .
  • offers an easily accessible co-working space for anyone who needs it.
  • is a collaborative space that builds local capacities and enables new connections and business ideas to emerge
  • joins forces in the region to foster regional development.

How is the solution implemented?

  • Bring together local business leaders to explain and explore the interest in cooperating and sharing access to new technologies and training workers in new skills locally
  • Set the scale of the project and identify the attractors (e.g. the co-working desks attract many users but the combination with creative spaces/lab offer more options for users)
  • Identify a space that could be regenerated to provide the necessary facilities
  • Seek funding from various sources, and continue to get different stakeholders involved

In what local context has it been applied?

Waidhofen an der Ybbs is a semi-rural town in the province of Lower Austria with a population of a little over 11 000 inhabitants and a population density of ~86/km². The wider catchment area has a population of around 30 000 and a population density of 42/km². In the past two decades, the total number of inhabitants decreased slightly, but the number of trainees (young people at the age of 14 – 18 years) has been dropping significantly: more than 200 less within 10 years (2004 – 2014).

In 2016, about 10 % of all workers were employed in agriculture (Austria: 3.5 %). Historically, the region thrived on iron industries and still a good number of large industrial companies remain in the region. In 2016, the region was among the top 5 regions in Austria counting the number of workers employed in the sector of production, mining, etc. The unemployment rate remains among the lowest in Austria (below 3 % in 2016).

Main challenges addressed:

  • demographic trend, young people leaving the region
  • brain drain, skills shortage

Who was behind the implementation?

The solution was instigated by the regional LEADER organisation (LAG), working together with:

  • Local business leaders
  • The local mayor and town administration

What was the local journey?

  • The regional LEADER organisation hosted discussions around the demographic trends and skills shortage at the beginning of the LEADER period 2014-2020.
  • Local business leaders realised that they all were seeking skilled workers/residents and competing for very few talents. They decided to try to stop the local brain drain and address the skills shortage by training workers and young people locally. A flagship project had to be developed that fostered positive change in the region by focusing on innovation, start-ups and entrepreneurship. The local mayor, the president of the regional LEADER organisation and a CEO of a local steel production company formed a core team to steer the process.
  • A number of projects and organisations had already been working towards this aim. Therefore, a space had to be found which was emblematic and could serve as a place to join forces, for mutual learning, development of new (business) ideas and encompass many stages of life-long learning. The idea to found a future-oriented ‘campus’ was created.
  • Initially the plan was to build this campus from scratch on local grassland by using innovative, modular building techniques. However, further discussions led to an agreement that it should be based around an existing local asset – a building/place that was idle and could be re-activated. An old factory building that used to be a major employer in the area and already containing office spaces and residential flats was identified as a perfect location.
  • Initial steps to enliven this space anew were taken, including hosting events on technology and innovation, an opera and an exhibition on science and technology.
  • At the same time, a feasibility study was carried out to identify the potential of the idea in 2017. A utilisation concept was developed to guide the initial set up.
  • In 2018, the beta campus started off in Waidhofen an der Ybbs with seven co-working desks, two meeting rooms and an online booking system. The name ‘beta campus’ aimed to demonstrate the aim to constantly develop itself and the region – ‘beta’ meaning not yet finished/under development.
  • To set up the lab, additional funding was required. This was successfully applied for through the Austrian Research Promotion Agency which had called for proposals for so-called ‘innovative laboratories’.
  • On this basis, the laboratory and workshop was set up offering a 3-D printer, a laser cutter, a collaborative robot, audio and video recording studio and augmented and virtual reality studio.
  • Three annual summer camps for kids have been part of the programme in the years since 2019.
  • A format for talks has been established, where keynote speakers give a short presentation followed by a discussion. The focus is on entrepreneurial and technological issues.
  • Since then, the campus is developing constantly. In 2020 an architecture competition was concluded. The winning proposal is the basis for ongoing development of whole site in 2021 and beyond.

What have been the main outputs & results?

  • The beta campus will offer a total of over 5,000 square metres of facilities. Of this, 700m2 have been developed so far: 15 co-working desks, one event room and two meeting rooms are established as of 2021.
  • The degree of capacity utilisation of co-working desks is about 70-80%; for the event and meeting rooms this figure is about 50%.
  • The number of members has been growing from 40 companies in October 2019 to 63 companies and 10 individuals as of August 2021. The companies range from small businesses to large companies.
  • The community grows constantly and thus collaboration in the region across sectors (software development, online marketing, researchers, public administration, industry bodies, …) is being strengthened.
  • In the six months from March 2021, about 20 courses for kids were offered. The interest was constantly high (80% booked). The summer camps have always been fully booked.
  • Youngsters/apprentices enjoy the courses offered for them in cooperation with local institutions as well. The weekly course for the general qualification for university entrance for apprentices has qualified 60 trainees in the years since 2019. Moreover, a range of workshops is being offered for them (security at work, topical issues, …)

What does it bring the village/community?

  • The beta campus offers local businesses and entrepreneurs the potential to develop new business ideas based on new technologies that would otherwise be out of reach. From the start, it fosters collaboration between businesses which formerly competed for talents and now join forces to reduce skills shortage.
  • It also offers a space for the people in the region, young and old, to develop their skills and learn together and from each other, specifically in the field of technological development, craft and science.
  • The campus therefore expects to led to significant local business opportunities and job creation, driving local economic development and attracting new residents.
  • This in turn hopes to generate positive cycles of local development feeding into the creation and development of local services and further contributing to a prosperous region that is attractive for young people to stay in or return to.

What’s needed

Financial resources

Main types of cost:
Financial needs:
Funding received:
Own contribution (income generated from the co-working space, funding from members and project initiators, ...)581,426 €
Austrian Research Promotion Agency397,076 €

Human resources

• Board Members

• Project Manager

• Community Manager

• Marketing experts

Physical resources

• Old factory building including staff houses and offices

• Modern tools

• Desks, computers, printers, chairs, …

• Meeting room equipment (desks, pin boards, chairs, …)

• Laboratory and workshop equipment

• Lounge interieur

• Infrastructure for breaks (coffee machine, lounge …)

• Online booking system

• Strong internet connection

What to do…

  • Start small, try out ideas at a small scale before offering them in a larger space and to a wider audience
  • Remain politically independent while keeping various stakeholders constantly involved
  • Inform and involve the neighbours when renovating an old building
  • Develop the space according to specific concepts of how to use the space

and not to do

  • Don’t develop the space without the engagement of existing local businesses
  • Don’t commit to the idea with carrying out a feasibility study

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