How to handle office design when going from start-up to scale-up

Space Refinery
April 30, 2024
How to Handle Office Design Going from Start-Up to Scale-Up

How to handle office design when going from start-up to scale-up

Scale-ups often refer to businesses ready to take that next step. In technical terms, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines a scale-up as a company that has maintained 20% annualized growth over 3 years. Scale-ups have an excellent product or service approved by happy clients, and they’re ready to continue their exponential growth.

According to a recent Flanders Investment and Trade study, Flanders is currently home to 2000+ start-ups, 200+ scale-ups, and 5 unicorns. This makes Flanders one of Europe’s densest start-up ecosystems with 330+ start-ups per million inhabitants!

Challenges of scaling up

Common reasons for startup failure

Even in such a dynamic and prosperous ecosystem, scaling up is challenging, and some companies don’t make it to the next level. The global numbers are disarming. According to a Startup Genome report, 9 out of 10 start-ups fail. What are the most common reasons? Lack of product market fit, marketing problems, team management, and finance issues.

If a start-up wants to scale up successfully, it needs to have a holistic approach and cover all aspects, from finances, technology, marketing, sales, automation, HR, and operations. However, growing doesn’t only include processes and people but also finding the perfect space to enable progress.

Your headquarters affects everything, from productivity and company culture to branding and client perception. As your company evolves and your team grows, you’ve overgrown the current space that was your original location and where everything started.

It’s time for a change.

As experienced office interior designers, we recommend first planning out what your dream office looks like. Ask yourself and your team the following questions:

  1. How much value will this project add?
  2. What are you ready to invest, and what kind of returns do you expect?
  3. Where and how will your employees work? Do you support hybrid work?
  4. What kind of spaces do you need?
  5. How collaborative are these spaces?
  6. Does your team require any special rooms?
  7. How would you like your brand to be reflected in the space design?
  8. What makes your company culture unique?
  9. Is there anything you love or hate about your current space?
  10. How can this project help with key strategic challenges?

This process takes time, but it’s well worth the effort.

To support you on your journey, we made a checklist of things to consider (based on our experience and expertise):

Tip 1: Find a great location

Scout for a location that is easily accessible, preferably near highways and public transportation. Check out the neighborhood and do your research on what kind of facilities are close by. Libraries, coffee bars, restaurants, gym - your team will love to have these options near the office. You also encourage more social interactions during lunch breaks or after work.

Once you find an excellent venue, ensure the new office space will be big enough for your team - leaving room and potential for further growth. Also, check all the amenities, like electricity, water, and other essentials.

BECI is a perfect example of a great workspace in a lively neighborhood of Brussels, facilitating interactions between the team and their environment.

BECI first floor communal kitchen by Space Refinery
BECI's first floor communal kitchen by Space Refinery


Tip 2: Create a workspace specially tailored for your team

Each company is different and requires a specific approach and style. What works for one company (for example, Spotify’s squads model) will not work for another (e.g. a rigid law firm). That’s why office design matters. Finding the right way to create an inspiring work environment and showcase your corporate culture through your workspace is essential.

Open office space at AskQ by Space Refinery
Open office space at AskQ

Here are a few design ideas to make your office more unique:

  • Acoustical design: distractions in the workplace are a huge invisible cost. Developing the right acoustics is paramount to creating a workplace that enables individual focus work.
  • Let your team inspire you: don’t be generic. The best employees want to work for companies that have a distinct culture. Your office design should reflect yours.

Board of Innovation’s HQ in Antwerp embodies their team’s playfulness, creativity, and non-obviousness.

Lounge area and kitchen at the Board of Innovation office by Space Refinery
Board of Innovation's kitchen area

Tip 3: Get your money’s worth

Usually, due to financial limitations, start-ups are forced to rent a cheaper office or work in co-workings. On the other hand, scale-ups have the opportunity to think long-term and invest in their own space. When you are moving into a new office, you can take advantage of the design process because you are working with a blank slate. In essence, you are able to make your dreams a reality.


Keyrock is a Belgian fintech scale-up that needed to relocate to a new workspace to accommodate its fast-growing team. The new venue needed some serious renovation, but the team saw its hidden potential and decided to invest in it - which turned out to be a great decision!


Keyrock's lounge area by Space Refinery
Keyrock's lounge area

Tip 4: Create an inspiring and positive work environment

In the scale-up stage, companies should design a workspace that enables their employees to feel good and do great things. Whether this occurs through collaboration rooms, relaxation lounges, quiet workspaces, or whatever works for a particular scale-up, it’s important to know your team and their needs. With a bit of creativity, it’s often possible to take all these ideas into account, especially when starting with a blank page.

When transforming an existing space, there might be restrictions on what can be modified. Nevertheless, despite these limitations, you can achieve great results. icapps is the perfect example.

icapps' tribune for formal and social gatherings by Space Refinery
icapps' tribune for formal and social gatherings

Tip 5: Collaborate with a workspace design company

It’s no secret that as a startup you usually DYI everything you possibly can, but when you're scaling up the priorities change. You focus your team's energy and expertise on added-value work that drives growth.

When it comes to office design, we recommend relying on experts’ help. Good workspace interior designers will ask the right questions, listen to your ideas, turn them into smart design decisions, and carry out the actual execution of the project. Just as your customers rely on your expertise in a specific product or service, you can find a workspace design company to support you in creating a space tailored to your team and business.

Here at Space Refinery, we specialize in future-proof, human-centric workspace design. Throughout the years, we’ve worked with many scale-ups and know how to help your business reach the next level.

Get in touch with us or check out our scale-up portfolio for inspiration!

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