Report: SoftBank could invest up to $4B in co-working firm WeWork

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Co-working firm WeWork Inc. is negotiating an investment from SoftBank that could be as high as $4 billion, according to a report published Sunday by CNBC.

The deal is said to involve an initial investment of $2 billion followed by a secondary round worth “more than $1 billion” that could end up being $2 billion. WeWork last raised $690 million in 2016 on a valuation of $16.9 billion, but it’s not clear at this stage what the valuation on the new round will be.

Founded in 2010, WeWork has become the world’s largest co-working space provider, although the company describes itself as a “platform for creators” in that it provides the space, community and services need for startups and others to “create [their] life’s work.”

With locations in 36 cities in 15 countries, the company differentiates itself from others in the co-working space by offering community and support services in addition to work spaces for those looking for a place to work either solo or as a base to establish a startup. Those extras include a range of features, including co-living spaces in some locations, community and networking events that include expert speakers. The company also offers services such as support and discounts for banking, financing and shipping.

The company has its doubters as a real estate operation that carries a valuation closer to that of many technology-driven “unicorn” companies. Some of those concerns endure. And some observers, such as Michael Dearing, founder of the venture capital firm Harrison Metal, had harsh words about raising so much money in a secondary round in which senior management is selling a significant number of shares.

Although primarily pitched at startups and smaller tech companies, WeWork also includes among its users Amazon.com Inc., which has hired space in its Boston location for 200 employees.

The size of the potential investment from SoftBank is notable after the Japanese giant made a commitment to President Donald Trump to invest $50 billion and bring 50,000 jobs to the U.S. in December. Coming into a potential new round, WeWork had previously raised $1.69 billion from large array of investors, including Aleph, Benchmark, Fidelity Investments, Glade Brook Capital Partners, Goldman Sachs and Harvard Management Co.

At its core, WeWork is a managed real estate venture, in that it acquires or leases properties to provide the co-working service. So no doubt the new round will be used to add to its property portfolio and expand its services, still U.S.-heavy, into more locations globally.

Photo: eschipul/Flickr