Málaga, Spain

"We care, you thrive."

These four words are the essence of Marlife Business Hub, a coworking space with a Mediterranean touch. True to its ethos, Marlife takes a holistic approach to serving its clients, caring for their professional and personal needs. And it's more than just a workplace; it's a vibrant community where businesses and professionals from diverse backgrounds come together to connect, grow, and support one another.

At the heart of Marlife is Catalina Opazo, an entrepreneur born in Chile and raised in Marbella, Spain.

While she studied economics and international business, Catalina says she had always envisioned doing something independently. Sociable and passionate about creativity, Catalina brings her personality into her business, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for her clients.

Marlife Business Hub is her first venture, but it's clear she's only just begun. Fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, she has applied the lessons from her first business to subsequent projects, including establishing Marlife Design, an interior design company.

From employee to entrepreneur

Before she dove into entrepreneurship, Catalina spent two years studying abroad in Australia. When she finished her studies, she moved to Málaga, a short drive from where she grew up.

Once settled in Málaga, Catalina got a job at a newly established coworking space. Working three years as an office manager at the site, she became well-acquainted with the industry.

"We started to grow, rented another space, and I practically set it up because it was just my boss and me — I was the only employee. So we started to build a very large community, and I began to grow along with him," Catalina explains. But working as an employee and helping build someone else's company ultimately led to clarity.

"That's when I realized what I really wanted in life. I had always wanted to start my own company, I wanted to become independent and create my own space with my own vision."

Of course, leaving the security of your job is never an easy decision. The doubts and fears of leaping into entrepreneurship are equally exciting and scary. Fortunately for Catalina, the entrepreneurial spirit was already strong in her family. Her father supported her and finally pushed her to take the plunge.

The early challenges

In 2021, Catalina quit her job and embarked on the journey to set up her own coworking space, taking on all responsibilities herself: "It was... not easy, it was quite complicated but very exciting," she says.

Finding the perfect location was the first step in establishing Marlife Business Hub, and this marked one of the first significant challenges. The pandemic increased rental availability in Málaga as several companies vacated their spaces, which worked in her favor. Catalina found a spot on the city's famed Calle Marques de Larios. When she visited the site, she immediately knew it was the right location for her business.

"The beginnings were tough, but as soon as I saw this place, I wanted it."

Recalling what it took to secure the perfect location, she says, "We were on Calle Larios, the main street in Málaga. Rents were high, and the owners hesitated to rent it to me because they didn't even know what a coworking space was. And of course, in comes a young woman, 29 or 30 years old at that time, and it took them a while to give me the space. We fought hard, showed them paperwork, a business plan, and everything, and eventually, the owners accepted my offer."

With the space secured in November 2021, the next hurdle emerged: the renovation. This posed another significant challenge for the budding entrepreneur. With only a month and a half to complete it, she faced classic architectural challenges. Each day presented new problems, but she summoned her strength and stayed focused with the clock ticking away.

"I didn't have the time to experience fear in the traditional sense. Anxiety and nervousness gripped me, but I was fueled by the constant need for action and reaction. The urgency to make swift decisions and maintain the project's momentum overshadowed any fear."

Catalina navigated the process alone without an interior designer, hiring two separate companies for each location's two floors to quickly complete the renovations. "I hired two companies because I needed to open as soon as possible. I hired one for the renovation downstairs and one for the upstairs. We started the renovation, and, in the beginning, I did most of it myself, including the branding and the vision, because I had a very clear vision of what I really wanted. I did it with my sister's help," she recalls.

Marlife Business Hub opened its doors in January 2022. Situated in the heart of Málaga's capital city, just a short walk to the Mediterranean coast, the space offers entrepreneurs, startups, and digital nomads a productive work environment blended with the vibrant Andalusian lifestyle. But Marlife's growing number of clients are most attracted to the collaboration, collective growth, and personalized attention offered by the city's fastest-growing coworking space.

A passion for community

Coworking is a favorable option for businesses seeking more flexibility. But Catalina believes a coworking space is much more than just a place to get work done. For a coworking space to thrive, she says you must invest your heart and soul into the business and have a genuine passion for the community you foster.

She elaborates on her philosophy: "I've seen many coworking spaces, and I've seen many that haven't done well, and I think it's because some people don't have a real passion for what they do. They think they have an empty space that they can fill, but it's not like that, I believe. You always have to offer that extra value, especially now that we have so much competition."

"Only someone who truly believes in what they're doing can provide that added value, not someone who is just looking for money and business success. There are other things that work like that, but I believe a coworking space isn't one of them."

Passion for the community is what sets Marlife apart. Catalina's vision was to create a professional space yet maintain a pleasant, cooperative atmosphere. Her business is primarily geared towards companies and startups, creating a space where members can help each other when faced with challenges.

Further supporting her mission to create a place for people to collaborate, she explains that "in terms of time and dedication, the majority of my investment goes to the coworkers."

Given her friendly nature, the in-person community has become indispensable to Catalina's personal and professional development. This is what motivates her to come to the space every day. "For me, community plays a crucial role because it's what makes me happy to do what I do. Seeing people happy keeps me moving forward and trying to improve myself," she explains.

"I could actually work much less than I do now because I have help. I have people working for me, everything is more or less organized, but the community is what gives me life."

Despite its community values, Catalina feels it's important to note that Marlife is not an overly social space during work hours. Her team prioritizes creating a positive work environment during the day, while the community aspect is primarily cultivated outside of office hours.

"There are numerous coworking spaces in Málaga, and some are more sociable than us, more leisure-focused. However, that's not our approach here. We maintain a slightly more professional environment with excellent vibes and leisure activities arranged outside the workspace."

Marlife organizes monthly events, ranging from talks and after-work gatherings to outdoor activities like picnics in the mountains, barbecues, kayaking, and horseback riding. "When we organize these activities, we make sure that everyone comes and that they can connect a little more professionally, as well," says Catalina.

"We care, you thrive."

Like their slogan echoes, Marlife also distinguishes itself through its personalized service, genuinely caring about the people and companies it serves: "We provide a personalized service in the sense that we want you to grow along with us. For example, we are very flexible both in good and bad times. If, for example, a company rents a big part of the space, and things go wrong or they want to reduce it, we will never pose any kind of problem," Catalina explains.

"We really look out for your business as well as ours."

Catalina's values are centered on care and transparency. She arranges frequent meetings with the CEOs of the companies renting her space to understand their needs and help fulfill them. "Almost all the companies that have come in with us have continued to grow with us. So, we always ensure they have adequate space to grow," she says.

Marlife offers an all-inclusive package, providing various services such as visa assistance, help with formally establishing a company, and assistance securing accommodation for those new to the city. These services are managed by an external company in collaboration with Marlife, offering their clients a multitude of benefits. They have also partnered with over 20 businesses, including bars, cafes, restaurants, gyms, and hotels.

Marlife has more than 18 companies on-site — from technology, consulting, marketing, and distribution organizations.

"We have experienced steady growth alongside these companies. A notable example is Brite, whose CEO and founder, Lena Hackelöer, has been with us from the beginning and received the International 'Woman of the Year' Award recently," Catalina is proud to say. She also mentions Snowdrop Solutions and Bring It as two examples of companies that have grown alongside Marlife, the latter "starting with a small office and now having one in our expansion at Avenida Pries 32."

Expanding beyond coworking

Now that Marlife Business Hub is running smoothly, Catalina has leveraged her experience and contacts to found another venture, Marlife Design, an interior design studio. Unlike the coworking space, this idea was developed with a business partner. Her partner studied engineering and interior design, complementing Catalina's contributions to the commercial aspects. Marlife Design is currently engaged in several projects, including the design of Marlife Business Hub's second location.

The coworking and interior design ventures stem from Catalina's deep desire to help and care for people and her ability to solve problems and be by their side.

"It's like very different things, but they are related. In the coworking space, I witness the growth of your business; in the interior design company, I see the journey of how a person buys a house and renovates it completely. And we're there with you, we support you. So it's about seeing the growth of both things, and it's about being a part of your project, whether it's for work or for creating a future home," she explains.

Catalina also manages two tourist rentals and is establishing a new brand of powdered shampoo called 'Now,' targeting conscious consumers. The brand's natural, organic products are manufactured without water, reducing water transportation and carbon emissions.

"We are creating this (shampoo) brand right now; the product will be manufactured in Italy, and our idea is to market it globally. We aim to have it on the market within the first months of 2024."

It might be easy to predict that Catalina plans to diversify her business ventures further. Most entrepreneurs can probably relate: "My mind works better when engaged in continuous creation and improvement. Given my personality, I believe focusing on a single project would inevitably lead to boredom."

But Catalina also points out that when she shifts focus to a new project, "it's because what I already have is established or reasonably stable. This gives me the time and energy needed to explore new initiatives." She creates systems and hires a team to focus on day-to-day operations. She lets her intuition take the lead when it comes to timing and ideas for new projects.

Being the project manager, building a team of the right people, and training them is crucial for Catalina. "For me, that's the only way I can keep growing and have more than one company. What I've done in the coworking space is train someone to be my second-in-command, passing on everything I know," she says.

"I believe that's the key to managing multiple ventures — having a trusted right-hand person in each of the companies."

And the key to growth as an entrepreneur? Unsurprisingly, Catalina believes that creating your network and supportive community can make the journey smoother — and definitely more fun.

"Surround yourself with people who are in your circle — people who are embarking on similar journeys, because in the end, their mistakes will help you, and their successes will help you."
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