VoxTalks With OctoSpaces Founder Rahul Reddy : Of Building An Age Where Art & Innovation Co-Exist

OctoSpaces – A Coworking Space Like No Other

Startups. This is a term that is being thrown around in our city quite rampantly. One generally associates this word with the inception of a million dollar idea, and an influx of some mind boggling innovation. However, not many who use this word as a means of business preposition, truly understand the executable tasks involved in making the said idea into an actionable item. We are at an age where, we all know that India is looking towards entrepreneurs to change the socio-economic fabric of the country, but very few know what it does it all mean. Thus, it is with these thoughts in mind, we sat down in the plush new office of OctoSpaces (located right behind City Center Mall, Banjara Hills), and started our conversation with its founder, Rahul Reddy, about the facility itself and the culture of startups in the city.Here are the excerpts…

A question comes to mind when we see that OctoSpaces is a paradigm for Art and Innovation, and yet categorically it is an incubation space. Could you explain more on that.

Well, you know, we have cultural spaces in the city and on the other hand we have incubators. We  basically have different models of different things for different purposes. But I think art and innovation being at one place, is very important. As I come from both the backgrounds, I understand what each of these fields can do to help each other. The innovation can really teach the art field – how to use technology, how to market, how you can disrupt something, everything will come from the innovation side. The creativity of the art, the innovators can take a piece of that. And so OctoSpaces strives to maintain such possibilities.

So, I am currently bringing the entire art and the innovation scene of the city under one roof. So, this became the incubator for Niti Aayog. But the reason why I wanted to establish this facility is to have an equal platform for art and innovation to get into a symbiotic relationship. Art without commerce is useless. Likewise, commerce without artists is non-relevant. So that balance is essential. Artists won’t survive novelty, the innovators can’t survive without an artistic outlet. So that fine balance is what I wanted to play at. I feel somehow, we are managing to do that.

What exactly is OctoSpaces as a concept and how do you see it?

It’s very difficult to put it, in the form of a definition. I think, as an Octopus itself, we have always created and destroyed ourselves very frequently. We started as something else 14 years back. And now the metamorphosis happened way too many times, you know. So, if we’d met two years back, and if that point you asked me this, you’d have heard a totally different story. That’s how we are and that’s how I am. And that’s how the whole group is because of who I am.

I like to reinvent, I like to destroy what is old, what is boring and what is already done. So, I created about three cultural spaces in the city, then I just got done with that model of just ‘cultural spaces’. Therefore, I took this up, a space which is multitudinous, which has Art, Innovation; Co-working space, An Incubator, A rehearsal space, its everything, you know. I think it is a time of multi-dimensional spaces. Because as a as a planet also we are, you know, searching for space.

I know that a lot of people in the West use spaces, which are multipurpose. In the day it is an office, and by evening, it becomes a cultural space. There is an optimal utilization of spaces. Thus, I think OctoSpaces is a space for art and innovation to coexist, if you want to put it in one line right now.

But other than that, someone described the space in an interesting manner. They said, ‘This Is A Space of Possibility’. So, it’s not just a physical space, it’s a space of collaboration. It’s the space of ‘what can you bring? What can you take?’. I remember the sort of collaborations, I did when I was in Lamakaan, they were mostly artistic. So here, in this space, I’m seeing to it that there are so many diversified collaborations that are happening. Social enterprises are meeting Technology Creators. Technology Creators are meeting with Urdu Poets, and in turn Urdu Poets are meeting the People from Healthcare Background.  So it’s like that. And that’s how I always wished it should be.

When we say OctoSpaces provides for both Art and Innovation, how would you say that it caters to them individually? Is there a particular process for Art enhancement like you have the incubation process for Innovative startups?

The processes is very similar. We incubate both ideas, either Art or Innovation. So, someone could walk into my office with a Artistic idea. And we will give him the same sort of support in process of understanding his idea, connecting to the right people, probably giving him a go to market strategy, how to reach his target audience, how to market himself and so on.

On the other hand, if you walked into my office, with a technology project, you’d be the same. We’ll give you the right kind of mentors, we’ll give you the right kind of team, get the right kind of partners, investment opportunity, financial aid as well. Like I said, it’s a space of possibility and anybody can walk in with an idea. That’s how it works for us.

2009 is when I actually started doing this amalgam of Art and Innovation, though I had started the company way before. I was traditional initially, in running the business.  I think in 2009, my mind expanded to whatever was about to come. So, it is then that I gave my first interview to WoW magazine, and I told them that anybody can walk into my office with an idea, and we will fix the medium later. We usually find the artist, and their passion, and then we see where it goes, irrespective and not exclusive to any medium.

As we continue that thought, what was the team composition like when you started OctoSpaces? And is this team still intact?

OctoSpaces, I started in 2011-12, as a pure co working space. The idea occurred to me in Spain. I was meeting somebody there, they took me to a coffee shop, which was right inside a co-working space. I was blown away. This was an office and a café too. It made economic sense as well. The answer was simply that co-working space was symbiotic. That is when, I started the very first Co-working space here in Rd no 3, Banjara Hills. Eventually, I started getting involved with the startup ecosystem, understanding them, and all that and it slowly snowballed into what we are here right now.

Since then, I opened three more spaces. This facility has the biggest space spanning around 12,600 square feet, which became a tech incubator, aided by the Government of India. So, it’s been a very different sort of a journey. And I think, I don’t really operate with a team centric model.

I don’t usually have hires, you know. I usually have collaborators, people collaborate on various levels, and stick on and move on. It’s very dynamic. There are very few full time employees till today.

I don’t understand the logic of Employment to begin with. I think employment is a bad word. Because there is no onus, and there is no ownership. I’ve never really had a lot of employees, of course, you know, but maybe just a core team here and there, working under different projects. So it was always a mix and match of people.

So, from the point of inception of OctoSpaces, to today, how do you think the startup scene in the city has changed? And what does future seem like?

In 2009/10, a lot of people didn’t know what startups were. They were still figuring out the word, you know. They were copying ideas from Bangalore and Mumbai. Basically, we were very naive about the whole thing. Even today we haven’t really got really too far. But from where we were, obviously, we’ve grown by leaps and bounds. But in a global perspective, we are a negligible minority. The reason being our attitude. I think we do not have a very strict disciplined attitude of work. There is no other city in the world which wakes up at 11 o’clock. We do. People don’t open shops till noon, which I can’t imagine anywhere else.

So, today we are in the last category of the charts, consisting of success ratios of startups registered. Or even plainly registered. We are far away in bloating about Startup culture as such, but these are promising times too. Fortunately, we are way ahead in infra facilities and Government support and initiations, financially deep pockets and more. Even geographically speaking, Hyderabad is poised perfectly for new tech startups, with our plateau being one of the safest surfaces in the world. Also, we are centrally located to Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai. So, the advantages are there. Hence, it is conducive for companies like Apple, Amazon or Facebook. Govt of India too has allocated the maximum number of AIC’s (Atal Incubation Centers) to the state of Telangana. So, the future looks bright and promising.

Given the categorical problem of attitudes and lifestyles, would you say that all these facilities provided by the Government or as facilities like OctoSpaces, truly help Startups materialize something? After all, the people remain unchanged, yes?

So, people are now reading stats, right? As soon as people start understanding these stats and questioning them, the change will come. When people start to question – why there is not one Unicorn Startup from the city, there will be a big change in attitude.

Ironically, we actually had unicorns and we drove them off to Bangalore. Swiggy was started in Hyderabad. So was RedBus. So many stories like that. I mean, there are so many Bombay based startups, Delhi based startups, started by Hyderabad people. And the biggest example of this migration is that the largest group of successful entrepreneurs, expat successful entrepreneurs, in the world are in USA and all of them are from Telangana. Thus, it becomes an attitude problem within the city. And it has to be remedied quickly.

Even while the schemes were first initiated in 2014, I was skeptical as to their effectiveness. However, when the critical mass starts forming, the junk will be automatically filtered out. That’s the transitional phase that we are in right now. Now, slowly and steadily, people have started noticing the why’s and how’s of startup businesses. They are approaching mentors, getting awareness and are formulating plans. So, awareness has started and it is picking up quickly.

As you touched upon the topic, for a layman who has just an idea for a startup – How does incubators like OctoSpaces, come into play?

If you just have an idea, the best thing for you to do, is to approach an incubator, or somebody you know in the ecosystem – sound them the idea and check with them if it is an idea worthy of your time and their time. Once that is done, the incubator will take care of the entire process of polishing the idea, of bringing it onto the paper, taking it to the ‘proof of concept’ level, taking you to a prototype level and so on.

In our state we have 45 incubators, the highest in the country, which can help someone. Government of India needs to authorize incubators, which cannot be opened by private players as of now. I feel for a city like Hyderabad, 45 incubators, is a huge step in the right direction. This means that we are ready with all the facilities. The receiving mass is being created here, you know, people who are ready to utilize these facilities.

We were looking at the meetups which happened recently within the facility, and we noticed something called the Students Startup meet. Could you elaborate on that as well?

See, Student’s startup is the real deal. That’s where all our innovations are going to come from. And the Government of India is doing a fantastic job of nurturing it. The AIC’s are focusing primarily on student startups. When I was in school, if I had an idea, I didn’t know where to go. Now, there are centers in every school that you can go and talk to. And there are actual mentors sitting there talking to them, getting ideas. I’m not going to one of the main reasons why we do not have enough entrepreneurs. It’s plainly because of our Indian mindset of employee slavery. We have a very pessimistic towards ‘Entrepreneurship’.

Our parents say – don’t make crores and all. Make only ten thousand but make sure there’s job security. Because we come from a very poor background as country, we come from slavery, we come from that whole disturbed environment where slavery is better than risk taking.

That mindset has to change, and it is changing with the new generation. People are understanding risk taking. In fact, I had spent a lot of time with my incubatees parents, trying to assure them that their children are doing something worthwhile. Truly it takes a toll on the mental state of an innovator or entrepreneur, when he is questioned every single day about his idea’s worthiness. So, the environment has to be changed. The cultural shift is essential.  India is a third-world country, with its share of problems. On the other hand, it also has opportunities that no other country has.

If we can create a mindset shift that its okay to be a risk-taker, or an artist or a writer, then the community itself changes. People want to authenticate the 30,000 rupees guy, who hates his job and wants to die tomorrow, but they don’t want to take the entrepreneur guy into consideration. So the regressive mentality needs to change.

The mentality is changing in the city. I see now that urban parents themselves, are reaching out to organizations to see if their kid’s ideas can be put into action. That’s a positive change that I’m seeing.

Also, could you talk about the startups collaborating within this space and is there a particular category of startups you might be more inclined towards?

We try to incline towards on education and healthcare sectors. We have startups here broadened under these categories. I believe that, if there is a possibility of shift in this world, it can only happen through last mile health care, as well as education everywhere. These two become the base incubators. So, we are working on very disruptive technologies in both education and healthcare. And, one of our premier startups is basically a biodegradable cutlery manufacturer, who basically create plates, glasses, paper straws from biodegradable materials like sugar cane, molasses, bamboo and vegetables. We’re trying to setup an innovation lab and a manufacturing unit for the said startup.

We also have a company which is trying to digitize the entire education syllabus of the country with AR technology. Also, one another startup is towards solving the problem of skill development. We’re trying to see how we can bring back 3 million women back to work. Women in the country, often let go of their jobs at an early age due to multiple reasons. Our idea is to bring them back, reskill them and re-hire them.

Also, we have a super innovative sanitation product, working towards cleaning public toilets. So, some innovation is happening in that area. This innovation is targeted to eradicate 90% of diseases which occur due to unclean bathrooms.

Apart from this, we are also developing, a disaster recovery drone which can reach out and help people stuck in disaster prone areas which are inaccessible for first aid. So these drones will reach out to the people stuck, equipped with medicines and food, with direct interactive screen where they can eek out professional medical help as well.

So, before we wrap up, what is the future you see for OctoSpaces in perhaps the next three to four years?

My vision is very clear and simple. I want to grow into more geographic locations, support more and more number of people, and thus create an impact. Keep innovating, keep doing something new. Three years, or even five years down the line, I want to have so many more OctoSpaces in so many more locations, so that we can seek so many more artists and innovators and build a co-existing ecosystem. Basically, I want to keep creating this possibility of possibilities.

People walk into our office most of the time, they can talk to the CEO within five minutes. They can talk to my team in less than five minutes. It’s an open-door policy. So, five years down the line, I want to basically impact ten times more people than what I am impacting right now. Create as many jobs, and keep contributing to the economic growth of the country in the best manner possible.

That was Rahul Reddy (Founder – OctoSpaces), speaking in detail about the startup culture which is glowing bright within the city, and how OctoSpaces has become the forerunner in defining the movement. To new innovations and inventions, we tip our hat. Also if you are a startup with an the next big idea, feel free to contact the incubation facility OctoSpaces by following the link