It’s a warm and sunny late afternoon in March, but Lukáš Hudeček has no time to enjoy the balmy weather.
He’s squeezing our interview into his packed schedule, amidst the sounds of hammering, as the odour of fresh paint hangs in the air. He is overseeing the final stages of preparations for opening Node5, a combination of a coworking center and tech start-up acceleration center, and a brand new player on the Czech tech start-up scene.
Hudeček, a serial entrepreneur, established the company, with fellow IT consultant and entrepreneur Petr Ocásek. When we meet, Hudeček is also dealing with the ongoing preparations for the company launch, as well as dealing with general day to day company issues. “I’m here from eight in the morning until eleven at night, so I sleep in this place too. It doesn’t make sense to go home,” he explains with a grin.
Node5 was scheduled to open in early 2012, but will be officially launched in May 2012, hence the hectic final preparations. At first, the company was to be part of the TechHub IT start-up acceleration program network, a franchise that started in the United Kingdom and has since spread worldwide. However, Hudeček and Ocásek decided to start out on their own. They had previously been heavily involved as co-founders, along with others, of StartupYard, an acceleration program for IT business start-ups, which started in 2011. Through a mentoring approach, the StartupYard project supports up to eight start-ups each year in exchange for an equity share in the new business.
Node5 is also separate from the Hub Praha coworking center, despite the similarity of the the original name. However, Hudeček explains that his firm had originally planned to locate in the same building as Hub Praha, which is located close to Anděl.
Instead, the pair chose to set up on the other side of Anděl, in the ground floor of a former factory on Radlická. “It’s a highly visible location, which is just what need,” says Hudeček. He argues that while Node5 resembles a coworking center like Hub Praha, it is mainly about IT startups and advice. “Although we want Node5 to be a community, we also focus on the different stages of IT businesses, from students starting out through companies wanting to attract investors,” he explains.
When it came their own investment arrangements, Hudeček decided to take a different approach. They chose not to take out loans and instead financed themselves via “FFF” (friends, fools, family), as Hudeček describes it, opting for client membership as the main method of financing their business. “This means that we can be completely neutral in our approach. If an investor is involved, there is pressure to do things in a certain way,” argues Hudeček, adding that “clients pay us for the use of the premises, and they have access both to other members and mentors we call ‘Founders, Hackers, Stars’. In return for the membership payments, we help our members to grow their businesses.”
The layout of Node5’s premises, which totals 624 square meters, reflects these varied client needs. By the reception area is an airy open space for around 40 people, at 30 “hot desks“. These are designed for freelancers or entrepreneurs who are just starting out. “This part of the space is designed for people who don’t need their own desk or don’t need to be in the office all the time, for example students,“ Hudeček notes. Next door is the “residential space“, for 55 people, intended for small firms that have already launched their products, and is suitable for web developers. Lastly, the Node5 premises includes an office space area, made up of four individual office spaces for up teams of four to eight people. Each office measures around 25/30 square meters, but can be extended or altered depending on client needs, and in total the office space can accommodate up to 100. “If we run out of space, we have the possibility to expand up to an additional 500 m2 further into the building block.,” he adds. So far, 30 individuals and companies have signed up as members of Node5.
Mentoring is crucial to an acceleration program and is central at Node5, and Lukáš Hudeček calls his mentors “Founders, Hackers and Superstars”. “I don’t really like the word ‘mentor’. These guys are a small community of 5 to 20 experts who can offer very specialized advice. They hold consultations at certain times on specific days,” explains Hudeček, adding that the advantage of such an arrangement is that the Founders, Hackers, Superstars can become part of a member team on a long-term or permanent basis.
Node5 also plans to hold regular day-long seminars and training programmes, where IT experts from the Czech Republic and beyond will discuss a whole range of topics. “This really adds value for our members because they can listen to what’s going on in the field and even talk to the speakers. The members can ask questions about problem solving, which should be the main aspect of such events,” says Hudeček. “My dream is to be like the General Assembly or Betaworks coworking center in New York. It has a very developed system of mentoring, which works really well, he adds.
As well as linking up with IT experts, Node5 has plans to work with search engines such as Google and Seznam, both of which have their Czech headquarters nearby. “The idea of a Czech Silicon Valley is journalistic hype, really,” says Hudeček. I had a meeting with a journalist about Node5 and he got this big idea that Smíchov is the Czech California, which is a bit of an exaggeration.” But he argues that there is some truth in the idea, and there are clear advantages of IT firms being located near each other. “I like the fact that you can go for a walk and bump into somebody from this firm or that company. It means you can bounce ideas of each other and work together, with synergy effects.”
Node5 is planning to establish an Angel Fund (mini seed fund) for investments between 100,000 and 1,000,000 CZK. Members will be able to apply to gain support, but the actual success of getting the funding will depend on the traction they manage to achieve during their stay at Node5 (4-12 weeks).
Hudeček’s plans for the future are simple. “I want every single freelance specialist start-up in the Czech Republic to at least be a member of Node5,” he explains. “We would provide them with knowledge, contacts, and space, and I’d like to see all member companies going out of Prague and the Czech Republic and go global.” He sees Node5 as a springing. “I think that the Czech Republic is small, but if you combine all the knowledge and contacts that people have, you have a much better chance of succeeding. If you are alone, you have to be very, very lucky”. Hudeček is less sure about where the company will be in five years time, given the difficulty of predicting how the market will look, but “whatever happens, we will follow our community’s needs.”