The Hithe is a new, low-cost, demountable business incubator space in Rotherhithe designed by IF_DO. The name, from Old English, describes a landing place or small port for ships and boats, making reference to the nautical history of the area fronting onto the Thames, and the building’s role in fostering nascent entrepreneurs.
Commissioned by Southwark Council, IF_DO has worked closely with the pioneering social enterprise Meanwhile Space CIC to bring a redundant site into productive use. The 200m2 building provides 12 units of workspace; the largest is occupied by Meanwhile Space.
The Hithe is the practice’s second project developed with Meanwhile Space, following the success of Granby Space, a 350m2 short-term refurbishment on Lower Marsh, Waterloo, which has closed after five years. The Hithe represents a new departure for Meanwhile Space, as a new-build facility designed to be relocated. In this, its first iteration, it represents a new piece of social infrastructure for Rotherhithe: a community hub in a neighborhood undergoing rapid change.
The relatively small site is located on Albion Street, within the wider Rotherhithe masterplan area, and was identified by Southwark Council for meanwhile use of up to 11 years while the council develops plans for the area.
Working within the constraints of a tight budget, the structure has been designed in collaboration with engineer Elliott Wood and fabricator Weber Industries to be fully demountable and relocatable, ensuring a long-term use. It is constructed of an efficient lightweight steel and timber frame made with bespoke and prefabricated components and structural insulated panels (SIP), and built onto the site’s existing foundations, largely eliminating the need for any new concrete on the project.
Inside, the timber structure and services have been left exposed. Ten micro-studios are arranged around a ground floor central gathering space with links to the kitchen and yard to the north of the site, which will be transformed into a planted outdoor social space. Two larger workspaces are located on the first floor. All units are accessed externally, reducing the requirement for built circulation space.
The building acts as a hinge between the existing community and the new developments around it, aiming to connect new and existing residents as the area goes through significant change. Double-height glazed lanterns on the north and south elevations create a landmark within the streetscape, with the aim of increasing footfall to other businesses along Albion Street.
The Hithe demonstrates how the construction industry can utilize circular economy thinking to reduce its carbon emissions and offer more sustainable solutions for urban regeneration. It is one of three circular economy demonstrator projects in London for CIRCuIT (Circular Construction in Regenerative Cities). In the long term, when the site is ready for permanent redevelopment, the building will be broken down into its various components and re-erected on an alternative site. In the short term, by offering affordable workspace to local businesses, The Hithe promises to inject vibrancy into Rotherhithe, supporting the community as the area undergoes change.
A Business incubator is an organization that helps startup companies and individual entrepreneurs to develop their businesses by providing a fullscale range of services starting with management training and office space and ending with venture capital financing. The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) defines business incubators as a catalyst tool for either regional or national economic development. NBIA categorizes its members’ incubators by the following five incubator types: academic institutions; non-profit development corporations; for-profit property development ventures; venture capital firms, and a combination of the above.
Business incubators differ from research and technology parks in their dedication to startup and early-stage companies. Research and technology parks, on the other hand, tend to be large-scale projects that house everything from corporate, government, or university labs to very small companies. Most research and technology parks do not offer business assistance services, which are the hallmark of a business incubation program. However, many research and technology parks house incubation programs.
Incubators also differ from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Development Centers (and similar business support programs) in that they serve only selected clients. Congress created the Small Business Administration in the Small Business Act of July 30, 1953. Its purpose is to “aid, counsel, assist and protect, insofar as is possible, the interests of small business concerns.” In addition, the charter ensures that small businesses receive a “fair proportion” of any government contracts and sales of surplus property. SBDCs work with any small business at any stage of development, not only startup companies. Many business incubation programs partner with their local SBDC to create a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurial support.
Within European Union countries there are different EU and state funded programs that offer support in form of consulting, mentoring, prototype creation, and other services and co-funding for them. TecHub is one of the examples for IT companies and ideas.
In India, the business incubators are promoted in a varied fashion: as technology business incubators (TBI) and as startup incubators—the first deals with technology business (mostly, consultancy and promoting technology related businesses) and the later deals with promoting startups (with more emphasis on establishing new companies, scaling the businesses, prototyping, patenting, and so forth). The mission on creating specific innovations among the young minds of researchers via. 101 specialized incubators have been boosted in various parts of India through AIM-India. For instance, AIC-IIITKottayam, a startup-based incubator, specializes in IoT Cloud research jointly with world class incubators from Germany, the US, Austria, and so forth.
The formal concept of business incubation began in the US in 1959 when Joseph L. Mancuso opened the Batavia Industrial Center in a Batavia, New York, warehouse. Incubation expanded in the U.S. in the 1980s and spread to the UK and Europe through various related forms (e.g. innovation centres, pépinières d’entreprises, technopoles/science parks).
The U.S.-based International Business Innovation Association estimates that there are about 7,000 incubators worldwide. A study funded by the European Commission in 2002 identified around 900 incubation environments in Western Europe. As of October 2006, there were more than 1,400 incubators in North America, up from only 12 in 1980. Her Majesty’s Treasury identified around 25 incubation environments in the UK in 1997; by 2005, UKBI identified around 270 incubation environments across the country. In 2005 alone, North American incubation programs assisted more than 27,000 companies that provided employment for more than 100,000 workers and generated annual revenues of $17 billion.
Incubation activity has not been limited to developed countries; incubation environments are now being implemented in developing countries and raising interest for financial support from organizations such as UNIDO and the World Bank.
The first high-tech incubator located in Silicon Valley was Catalyst Technologies started by Nolan Bushnell after he left Atari. “My idea was that I would fund [the businesses] with a key,” says Bushnell. “And the key would fit a lock in a building. In the building would be a desk and chair, and down the hall would be a Xerox machine. They would sign their name 35 times and the company would be incorporated.” All the details would be handled: “They’d have a health care plan, their payroll system would be in place, and the books would be set up. So in 15 minutes, they would be in business working on the project.
Rents are offered at an affordable price to attract sole traders and start-ups. In addition to Meanwhile Space, tenants include a social enterprise focused on getting kids active, an apothecarist, an architect, a filmmaker, a beauty entrepreneur, and a sewing club tutor.
Parsaland Trading Company with many activities in the fields of import and export, investment consulting, blockchain consulting, information technology and building construction