The air changes as soon as you enter the grounds of AfricanWorks on Victoria Island, one of the most scholarly areas of Lagos, Nigeria. The first thing you see is the greenery all over the compound, the atmosphere is calm and tranquil. It’s like you’ve just escaped the hustle and bustle of Lagos.
As you’d expect, the outdoor experience is a clue to what’s going on inside.
The main door is transparent so you can see the comfort that awaits you inside. After a minute in the hall, Grégoire Schwebig, founder and CEO of AfricaWorks came to meet me. He is of medium height and moderately built. His energy, however, was unlike that of a man who had just completed a trip from Paris to Lagos that morning. While we were exchanging pleasantries, one question lingered; Why is this Frenchman building a local business in Africa?
Schwebig was born and raised in Paris with a close connection to French-speaking Africa. His mother was born in Senegal, so he visited Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo while growing up. After graduating from ESSEC Business School, one of the best business schools in Europe, he then worked at Lehman Brothers in London as a financial analyst. After the liquidation of Lehman Brothers, he joined Société Générale in Hong Kong.
In 2011, Schwebig joined Fanasi Capital, a venture capital fund focused on high-growth startups in East Africa, as a senior partner, then moved to Kenya and remained there for 8 years. He was elected consular advisor to the French government for the affairs of 7 countries in East and South Africa. In 2016, he became president of the Kenyan section of the French Chamber of Commerce, a dedicated organization that helps French companies and entrepreneurs to settle in Kenya.
Schwebig wore many hats during his time in Kenya; in 2014, he created Haussmann Africa, a corporate property company that builds and designs tailor-made offices for companies. The company, which he still runs to this day, has designed offices for Uber, L’Oréal and Total.
After designing offices for a while, he realized there were gaps he wanted to fill, so in 2019 he launched AfricaWorks.
The way people work had already started to change before the pandemic hit in 2020. The pandemic has only accelerated change and forced companies to restructure work to accommodate the new normal that is hybrid.
While there was already full-fledged support for the future of work in the West, there was little to no solution in Africa to support the growing business ecosystem – there was no pan-African flexible workplace solution that could propel the future of work across the continent. And that’s where AfricanWorks, a pan-African chain of flexible workspace providers, is plugging in.
The idea was simple: build a world-class workspace that brings together the best companies under one roof in a city. Then scale and replicate the process in another. AfricaWorks launched its first space in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, and now operates in 9 cities and more – Abidjan, Accra, Cairo, Cape Town, Dakar, Dar Es Salaam, Jo’burg, Lagos and Nairobi – in 8 of the countries.
The company lists top multinationals like Glovo, Universal Music, L’oreal, Total and more as part of companies working in its spaces.
“We currently have over 150 businesses and over 2,000 people working in our spaces. We are also opening more spaces in the coming months,” Schwebig told TechCabal.
More than just a coworking space
For AfricaWorks, as the African technology and business ecosystem grows, it will continue to grow to support them across the continent. Beyond being a pan-African coworking space, it now wants to do more as it slowly transforms into a tech company. It has started developing a business-to-business (B2B) product that will provide full operational support to its customers.
“Our B2B service marketplace will be called AfricaWorks Services, which will help us connect our clients to partner service providers such as recruitment, marketing, finance, expansion and everything they need to grow their businesses. activities,” said Schwebig, who also co-founded French-African Foundation, an organization that contributes to the emergence of a Franco-African succession.
The game here is to reduce friction with third parties and be the only direct partner their members need. AfricaWorks Services will partner with talent companies such as OfferZen and Andela to bring qualified talent to its member companies; partner with marketing and financial companies to bring quality marketing and financial services to its community; and African trading technologies like Norebase to help expand and manage trade across Africa.
Schwebig believes that Africa will play a central role in the future of work and they [AfricanWorks] are positioning themselves to be a crucial part of this movement. He thinks this is becoming evident in the way Africa’s tech ecosystem is booming and in the brain drain of talent. AfricaWorks wants to play in talent services, but first for its members and then, perhaps in the future, expanding services to the public.
AfricaWorks operates in 9+ cities and these countries, while they may have similar issues, have a particular business landscape that requires a tailored solution. Schwebig confirmed that while Ivory Coast remains AfricaWorks’ largest market in terms of sponsorship and revenue, it has invested more in Nigeria due to market size and tech ecosystem perspective, especially.
Among other locations, the company also plans to open a new space at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana.
According to Goldie Iyamu, marketing manager at AfricaWorks, by the time all pending projects are completed, the company is expected to have a foothold in 500 businesses and over 3,000 people working in their spaces.
After 2 years and 6 months, AfricaWorks has experienced astronomical growth and is now positioned as the partner for companies with pan-African growth ambitions.