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A Café, Workspace and Bold New Idea: HanaHaus Opens in Palo Alto

March 17, 2015 by Susan Orenstein 0

On March 19, an exciting new space created by SAP opened on University Avenue in Palo Alto. HanaHaus is a place to work, learn, play – and drink some of the world’s best coffee.

The brainchild of Professor Hasso Plattner, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of SAP SE, HanaHaus holds the promise to become a hub of ideas and activity.

Sanjay Shirolé joined SAP in May, 2013 and is vice-president and global head of HanaHaus. Before joining SAP, Shirolé spent more than 15 years as an entrepreneur, successfully founding and leading two Silicon Valley software startups, and he continues to mentor and advise technology entrepreneurs worldwide.

We talked with Shirolé about the vision behind HanaHaus and the journey to make it a reality.

How did HanaHaus start?

As a vision by Hasso Plattner. Since helping to found SAP, he’s never lost the drive to push boundaries and try something new. And he’s deeply interested in what it takes to innovate. He recognizes the importance of who is in the room – and even what the room looks like. He wanted SAP to have some sort of street presence, so we knew early on that HanaHaus would build on the best of café culture. It would be centered in a really great physical space and would be a hub of activity, a place that draws people in, sparks new thinking, supports entrepreneurial energy and adds to the vitality of a community.

What’s the HanaHaus vision?

The short description is that it’s a café and community workspace that fosters a vibrant culture of technology innovation. Adding more detail to that picture, HanaHaus seeks to bring people together to work, learn and play. It will host speakers, design thinking workshops, “maker” events, innovation showcases, music and more. We’re also creating a tech desk, where entrepreneurs and others who are passionate about technology can connect with experts and services in a host of areas, from user interface design to software architecture.

Can you talk more about the space itself?

A really exciting part of HanaHaus is its location in one of the most historic buildings in downtown Palo Alto, the “New Varsity Theater” at 456 University Ave. Opened in the 1920s, this theater holds a lot of great memories for people in Palo Alto, and more recently it became a Borders bookstore – so it’s always catered to people’s interest in exploring ideas. We’ve really worked to preserve some of the original elements of the theater – such as the old marquee – while refurbishing it and making it a beautiful and comfortable space for people to spend time in today.

You mentioned HanaHaus is a café. Can you provide more detail?

Blue Bottle Coffee is providing full café service, so we’re very fortunate to have a world-class partner. They will also be serving freshly prepared meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner – we want to nourish people physically as well as mentally.

What about other features or services?

Every aspect of HanaHaus has been designed to encourage community, connection and creativity. There is a range of space available to sit and work, talk with people or collaborate on projects. Individuals and groups can reserve seats and work tables, as well as open and closed meeting areas and quiet rooms. Groups can also rent out event space.

Why is SAP pursuing this vision right now? How does it serve the company’s goals?

SAP has really gotten behind this project because it believes that to be an innovation leader, it has to act beyond its own walls. New ideas spring up from anywhere, and creativity lives outside of traditional boundaries. HanaHaus supports everything from our ability to attract talent to how we nurture an innovative culture. We also want to be part of the conversation happening in the Bay Area around new ideas – HanaHaus will bring us into the entrepreneurial community in a new way.

What makes HanaHaus different from other cafés?

We did a lot of research into what already existed and looked for unmet needs – for example, while other cafés provide people with a workspace, they don’t actively seek to connect them with each other. We plan to do that, whether through our tech desk or just informal conversations.

Does HanaHaus tap into broader trends about innovation or the way people are working today?

We definitely think so. People are working anywhere, and many don’t have a conventional job. Even if they do, everyone needs to think entrepreneurially today, given the fast pace of change. There is also growing recognition that you need cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives to innovate – you can’t work in a silo. HanaHaus is open to everyone and is designed to bring diverse people together.

Talk about what people can do at HanaHaus.

Really anything you could do at a café plus a lot more. You can drink great coffee, get work done and all that. But you can also connect with other people, participate in workshops, listen to speakers and go to events – we’re hoping to have musical performances and other events based on people’s interests.

What challenges have you faced during this project and what insights did they offer?

The challenge is doing something new and being willing to take that risk. It’s been a great reminder that innovation takes more than vision, but daring and patience. You have to let go of preconceived ideas and recognize that things won’t be perfect. The key is to learn as you go and keep iterating.

What is most inspiring to you about HanaHaus?

I’ve really valued working with my core team –Param Bedi and Hassan Khan – to get it off the ground. Their energy inspires me. And so does the energy of all the people we’ve talked with about the idea, from leaders in Palo Alto to entrepreneurs. The way they’ve embraced the project has kept us energized even on long days.

Is HanaHaus still evolving? How?

We hope it will always be evolving. We don’t want to dictate that it be one way or another, and we’re eager to gather feedback and continue iterating. We expect that features like the tech desk will evolve over time to best meet the needs of the community. Ideally, HanaHaus will be shaped by the people who use it.

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