Campus London, Google’s space for entrepreneurs, won’t reopen its physical doors after the pandemic. Google for Entrepreneurs will continue to run virtual programmes. I felt sad when I heard the news, but also grateful and proud: The reason Campus is closing is that it worked.
When Kama Staryga, Eze Vidra and I started Campus back in 2012, we approached it like a startup designing a new product. We visited pioneering spaces across the world, like Beta House in Berlin and General Assembly in New York. We did user interviews with startup founders in the East London community to figure out what they needed, how we could have the biggest impact and bring something unique to the scene. More co-working space, free/cheap event space for 100+ people, a cafe with good food and fast wifi, an Android phone test bank and access to mentors and investors topped the list. Oh, and secure bike parking because that part of Shoreditch was a little bit sketchy.
With the help of our friends in the Google real estate team, we gutted a 7 floor building in a quiet street just off Silicon Roundabout and redesigned it to serve the community with all that. The design was sparse and industrial because it looked great, and because our budget was limited. Ironically, some of the design proved so popular that it made its way back into the way Google designed its offices.
Our friends from TechHub and Seedcamp moved in and became our launch partners alongside StartupWeekend. The opening party featured fun tech, great food and Vint Cerf. The next day we sat behind our Lego-style reception desk and held our breath to see if anyone would come.
It turned out that lack of demand was not a problem we were going to have. The building was full from day 1, so much that other co-working spaces opened up around us. Entrepreneurs packed out the cafe (run by Central Working, themselves a startup), finding co-founders and meeting investors. Events were running from breakfast until late evening. TechHub’s desks were booked out. Bloggers recommended Campus as a place for digital nomads to touch down when in London. The wifi slowed down to a grind, causing Eze to tear his hair out until we brought in help from Google’s infrastructure team to upgrade it.
Just under two years later we had over 22,000 members, had hosted over 1,110 events and startups associated with Campus had raised GBP34M in funding, back then a huge amount.
In addition to the resident startups, the community embraced the building and made it their own by bringing so many interesting programmes into it. Sarah Drinkwater who succeeded Eze as second head of Campus writes about them beautifully in her blogpost, so I won’t repeat them here.
Ten years ago we used to look enviously from London to the Bay Area (where I live now). Today London is firmly on the global startup map. I’m grateful and proud to have been part of a brilliant group of trailblazers that helped to breathe life into the fledgling London startup scene a decade ago. Thank you especially to the Seedcamp team Saul Klein, Reshma Sohoni, Carlos Espinal and Philipp Moehring, and to the TechHub team led by Elizabeth Varley for being our early partners. Thank you to the Google For Entrepreneurs team led by Mary Grove for taking on Campus and scaling the model across the world, to Eze Vidra and Sarah Drinkwater for making Campus London special, and to Marta Krupinska for having the courage to call it quits now that it’s no longer needed in London.