Above Grand Rapids beloved tapas restaurant, San Chez, perches 5,000 square feet of collaborative paradise. Formerly recognized as the Grand Rapids Tech Hub, the building houses dozens of companies and hundreds of members just there to develop and design. The Factory, founded in 2009 by visionary Aaron Schaap, began as a means to entrepreneurship for Grand Rapids tech and design idea mongers and has evolved into a safe creative space for people at all stages of the product and services launch process.
I joined Aaron, as well as Factory staff and membership coordinators Kate Hunt and Annie Klooster for Coffee with Creators, a weekly event designed to encourage the fundamental principle of coLab: coLearning. There was no agenda, itinerary, or RSVP required; the group was there to discuss things happening in Grand Rapids design, technology, and the overall community.
The Factory is wide open space with windows letting in all natural light, split up only by desks, bookshelves, and chalkboards bigger than my car. Members have access 24/7 and are encouraged to use the conference rooms, tech devices for testing materials, and the think-tanks for getting the ideas out. Schaap began explaining to me that “the level of serendipity that The Factory has started has spread to the whole building”.
The whole building is what brings us back to coLab, which has replaced the title “Grand Rapids Tech Hub.”
coLab manager and President of Lee Shore Ventures, Erik Hall, has been a supporter of The Factory since day one: “The Factory is a wonderful business that adds significant value to the Grand Rapids area. Not only does it have natural synergies with what we are doing at the coLab, but they are also empowering individuals that choose to venture into entrepreneurism.” In many cases, the coLab is actually populated by offshoots of The Factory–companies that have launched product or service there and need room to grow without the added pressure of an overwhelming office lease. Hall says, “The coLab is a unique community that works toward breaking down the barriers to success. When starting a tech-based business there are plenty of hurdles to overcome and we are working at making this process easier.” coLab typically signs companies for one year at a time, offering larger office space as the team grows or shared space to cut office costs.
A typical office building requires a 3 year lease and is far less affordable. The rent includes internet, utilities, parking, maintenance and the resources and network of the knowledgeable staff and surrounding companies. While the fifteen office spaces are filling quickly, there’s only more growth ahead for the coLab.
If the coLab sounds like a place you’d like to work in, try a day pass, a punch card, Coffee with Creators, or an evening class. It just takes a few minutes to see what Annie describes as a place that “technology, design, and entrepreneurship all come together”.
Lyndsay Israel-Feature Writer