Interview: TRYBE, A Makerspace and Co-working Space

Set to launch mid October, TRYBE is a merger between a makerspace and a coworking space. As a collaborative platform looking to foster a sense of community through creating and experiential learning, TRYBE seeks to cater to entrepreneurs and youths.

We speak to Nadia Wong and Akira Morita, founders of TRYBE, to learn more about their new community space.

This interview has been edited for length, clarity and flow.

Can you tell us more about TRYBE?

Nadia: TRYBE is first and foremost a community of startups. We are united by our ethos of trying and collaborating, and our desire to build up local capacity and grow local startups. We all run different training programs and events in entrepreneurship, design thinking, and digital fabrication. We welcome all people with similar values to join us. Our space consists of a makerspace, coworking space and a training room. We are creating a well-equipped space that will enable us to deliver top-notch training programs, and to provide continuous support to local entrepreneurs. Through our programs, we hope to foster an entrepreneurial mindset – one that is willing to try, collaborate and take personal responsibility.

Akira: We want the younger people who are starting up now to have that support from each other, rather than from us or from others who are more experienced. We want to see if  we can encourage that sort of culture in our community and our space.

Are you still in the midst of developing it? If so, when is the expected launch?

Nadia: We are. The expected launch is in mid-October.

Akira: We’re starting to experiment with our concept and programming by hosting events. We started doing that just last week, with a program called Work Safari, and this weekend there is a big event, the SEA Makerthon. We also have other initiatives that we’re working on, so you will see that these events have the TRYBE name on it. But we don’t have a space until October.

How did you come up with the idea for TRYBE?

Nadia: TRYBE developed out of a desire to see more local startups grow and become sustainable or investable. Ki Chong (from ARC Hub), Akira and I all support young Cambodians by running entrepreneurship, leadership and maker programs. We realized that our programs sparked an interest for entrepreneurship, but it usually ended there. So we asked ourselves how we could enable young people to continue developing their startup ideas after the spark. Parallel to this, we were all working on startup projects and were facing different challenges. We found strength to keep going in the support, and sharing of knowledge, networks and resources that we gave one another. We realized that this sort of supportive community is needed to enable young people to succeed in their startups. This community could foster a mindset change to enable people to have the courage to try, collaborate, and take personal responsibility for their work.

How did the name TRYBE come up?

Akira: It’s a combination of two words. The word tribe means a group of people who are tied together by familial or tribal connections, which to me is about more than just physical location. There’s something that’s uniting us.. We wanted to put two more words into that one word, by spelling ‘try’, which is to try new things, to try your best, and ‘be’—be yourself,  be who you are. So, we are a tribe that is united by the spirit of trying and being ourselves.

What were some of the challenges you faced when developing this project?

Akira: To me, this is an idea that’s been around, in one way or another, for quite a long time. I think we started to talk about creating something when  I met Nadia,  last year. Because of that long lead up time, there was a lot of wanting “to be done already” and taking our time to think through things and being intentional has been a challenge.

Nadia: Yes, this isn’t a new idea. Everyone talks about incubation, acceleration and the support that startups need. One of the challenges is figuring out what is really needed. Is it space, funding, or mentorship? I initially thought that it was a mixture of those factors, and set out to build a space with tenants that could provide mentorship. However, in exploring this idea further, I’ve realized that it’s not only space, funding or mentorship, but a mindset and a community. We hope to foster a mindset change through programs and the community to enable entrepreneurs to have the courage to try, collaborate and take personal responsibility.

In your opinion, what sets TRYBE apart from the other co-working spaces in Phnom Penh?

Nadia: Our makerspace and the training and community programs that we’ll run are key differentiators. We have a huge “doing” focus and we encourage people to try to create and make things. We believe that the maker element fosters the mindset change by getting people to challenge themselves and be unafraid of failing.

To build community, we have some unique programs too. Akira’s heading that up so I’ll let him talk about it.

Akira: We’re running a series of events called Work Safari. It’s happening in different coffee shops every two weeks. One of the things we’re doing with this is testing our assumptions on people’s awareness around coworking spaces. We as a community have assumed that if we open coworking spaces, people would know what to do with them. But I think, we are realizing, that before we can do that, we have to really explain what it is. Coworking is a new thing, even in the west, and there are certain ways to cowork that are better than others, ways that you can get more out of it. That’s what we want to help our community to understand better. The other thing we want from this series is to understand what people need in terms of support and physical amenities.  We don’t really know. We wanted to try different coffee shops and other spaces as well, maybe new co-working spaces, or different office spaces that are not used, and bring the community in and see how that fits. I will inform the community the kind of spaces that we will create, and what kind of culture that we want to foster.

What are your views on the growing amount of co-working spaces in Phnom Penh?

Nadia: I think it’s a good thing. There are obviously a lot of young people who are graduating from universities and want to work for themselves or start a new venture. There has been an increase in coffee shops but I think it’s insufficient. I think coworking spaces, when done well, can really build up the entrepreneurial ecosystem. What I mean by done well is when there is a community focus, and when they really try to build people up to help each other.

Akira: The city is growing, so it’s only natural that there are more office spaces, coffee shops, and co-working spaces. I think we’re still figuring out what would be the right mix for this city. I do think that the community focus will give us an edge. Those communities of people will sustain themselves much longer than any physical location or business entity that just has nice space or nice amenities.

What response do you expect to receive with TRYBE?

Nadia: I think that we’ve already had a fairly good response from a very small community of people. There are people who really like the idea of having a makerspace, who love the idea of STEM education, arts and access to tools to make things. But not a lot of people know what a makerspace is, so I think we’ll have to actively share and invite people in to experience what we have to offer. I hope that we will be able to partner with schools, universities, and different groups and enable them to use the space for experiential project based learning programs.

Akira: We’re excited about starting the development of something that is step by step. Space is one of those things, partnerships with different levels of organisations, schools or ministries, or international aid organisations, and private companies that have been wanting to support the younger entrepreneurial industry. So they’re all interested, but rather than saying TRYBE is going to just do it all, we’re going to start small, and see where the community wants to grow and slowly add more things to it.

What do you hope to achieve with TRYBE?

Nadia: There are two big things we want to achieve. One is to successfully launch startups, and support them to a point where they are sustainable, scalable, and investable. The second would be to develop really strong programming to foster the mindset that we just talked about, a willingness to try, collaborate and take personal responsibility. We hope that the programming that we create will contribute to STEM education, leadership and character development, and that these programs will be replicable and scalable into schools and universities.

Akira: We want them to be hands on, rather than be with somebody with a Powerpoint and teaching you methods.

Nadia: One last thing – even though we are coming out as a tight-knit community, a tribe, one of our core values is to create a platform to partner with people and to be open to collaboration. We are not a closed community. We’re very open to partnering in various ways.

Akira: This is a very open initiative, all of us, Ki Chong, myself, Nadia, we aren’t trying to build a business that will let us profit and grow and do these big things. We want to collaborate, we want collaboration because we want a systemic change in this community and we realised if we don’t reach out to people, that will never happen. So we’re always looking for partners, or people we haven’t come across being interested in what we are doing.

If you have ideas on the TRYBE space, Nadia and Akira will be very open to your suggestions. Simply drop them an email at trybepnh@gmail.com.