Witmakers: a place to work, not a playground

A bit more than a year ago the first entrepreneurs moved into Witmakers, commercial premises occupying a listed building in the centre of Maastricht. Witmakers isn’t a “collective workspace” or a centre for start-ups but an inspiring environment for companies that are creative in their field. “We’re here to work – it’s not a playground. We’re not going to have a ping-pong table!”

“At first,” says Vic D’Elfant, “we felt a bit like we were an attraction at an amusement park. People were constantly peering in at the windows to see what was happening.” D’Elfant and his company MIDDAG, which specialises in custom websites and developing apps, helped come up with the concept for Witmakers. He was one of the first to move into the building, along with two employees and the office dog. “Before that, we’d been based at a business centre in the suburbs for nine years, in premises arranged by Maastricht’s Business Contact Centre. I got to know my current business partner there; we merged our two companies into MIDDAG.” 

”We just liked it!”

Almost all sixteen sets of offices at Witmakers have now been let. One relative newcomer is Quick Brown Foxes, a strategic creative communication agency with roots in Belgium. “We were looking for an environment with more dynamism”, says Simon Kempeneers, to explain the move from Heusden-Zolder (not far across the border) to Maastricht. “We liked Witmakers right away. In fact, just liking it was our main reason for moving here. Maastricht is centrally located in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, and it’s a vibrant city. That doesn’t just make it easier to recruit employees, but also to broaden our market.” 
Quick Brown Foxes, which has five permanent employees and three freelancers, now occupies two rooms on the ground floor. “It’s nice that we can share the kitchens and meeting room, for example,” says Kempeneers, “but it’s also essential that there’s no ‘open workspace’ here. That may work for self-employed entrepreneurs, but not for us. We want to be able to receive clients and to work in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. If we’re looking for a bit of liveliness, then we can just walk into the city centre. That’s our playground – the office is only for work.”

Legislation

The disadvantages of moving to the Netherlands are mainly of an administrative nature, says Kempeneers. “In many respects the legislation is less European than the entrepreneurs are. But in the end, that doesn’t outweigh the benefits: working in another country is a rewarding experience; it offers new opportunities and a new sales area, and you get to know a different culture. And Maastricht is a fine city, so clients love coming here.”

Vic D’Elfant agrees. “At first we were a bit worried. Would clients still find their way to us now that we’re right in the city centre? But we now realise that isn’t a problem. People from further away can make a day of it, or even a weekend. There’s a kind of automatic selection process:  clients who want to do business with us find it perfectly acceptable that that they can’t park right outside.”

Car sharing

But Vic D’Elfant does believe that the city authorities could assist entrepreneurs in the city centre, for example by carefully reviewing the parking policy, by providing extra bicycle parking facilities, or by increasing the number of parking spaces for shared cars. “They shouldn’t just view the city centre as a tourist attraction but also as a place where people work”, Simon Kempeneers adds.

If it’s up to the two entrepreneurs, they’ll stay at Witmakers for the time being. That’s also because the business property offers opportunities for cooperation on actual content. Indeed, the first shared project of Quick Brown Foxes and MIDDAG is now a reality. D’Elfant’s advice for fellow entrepreneurs is “Take a look around you, and be open for new connections. I believe in the motto ‘You can go faster by yourself, but you can go further together’. Collaborating means that your growth can be more stable. That’s where business premises like Witmakers can help.”

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