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CoLab relaunches workspace, walks from Gangplank

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CoLab relaunches workspace, walks from Gangplank

  • Organizer Justin Williams took to a tabletop to address a crowd at the CoLab Workspace launch party on Tuesday.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comOrganizer Justin Williams took to a tabletop to address a crowd at the CoLab Workspace launch party on Tuesday.
  • Dylan Smith/

A nonprofit coworking space in Downtown has reorganized, a move the group's managers will help the organization remain focused on its mission of incubating local entrepreneurs. The Pennington Street offices of Gangplank are now known as CoLab Workspace. Tuesday evening, about 120 people attended CoLab's launch party.

CoLab will take over the lease on the 7,000-square foot office in the Pioneer Building, 17 E. Pennington Ave., said Justin Williams, one of the group's founders. CoLab will continue Gangplank's practice of offering free drop-in office space for anyone who needs a place to work, he said.

"That hasn't changed at all," he said Tuesday. "It's about cultivating an environment, being a community catalyst. We don't charge rent, but people have to give back, to help out those who are working around them."

The walk away from the national Gangplank group, which was founded in Chandler and opened a space on Tucson's Southeast Side in 2011 before moving Downtown in May 2013, was prompted by a shift in the national organization's operations, Williams said.

"They want to have a virtual community that's national, with people being available 24-7," he said. Williams said the Tucson contingent — led by 15 businesses called "anchors" under Gangplank and now known as "leads" — wanted to focus more on working closely with their local colleagues, rather than with those at the national group's locations in Arizona, Virginia and Ontario, Canada.

Instead of being affiliated with Gangplank, CoLab will be a program of Startup Tucson, another nonprofit run by Williams.

"We recognize that growing local community is essential to the success of growing Arizona's economy," Gangplank co-founder Jade Meskill said in a news release put out by CoLab.  "We are excited to work with CoLab and groups throughout the Arizona to make our home a world-class community of innovators."

Although Williams said Tuesday that split was amicable, there have been monetary differences as well as philosophical ones. Some Tucson participants have chafed under restrictions Gangplank placed on fundraising for the nonprofit.

One of the group's leaders, Ryan Flannagan of the marketing firm Nuanced Media, said that the important thing is to "remember, this thing is free to the community." He said that in his time working at the space, just short of a year, he's grown his staff from four to 12 workers. He credited the expansion in part to the coworking space's creative environment.

Williams, standing on a table to address a crowd of business owners and techies, echoed that, explaining that the group's purpose of to "build passion for the community" around starting new businesses and attracting tech entrepreneurs to Tucson.

Interviewed after speaking, he acknowledged that rebranding the group from Gangplank to CoLab might better relay that idea of community, rather than creating an image of lone pirates awash on the seas of tech.

"Tucson is increasingly being recognized as a hub for entrepreneurs, and this move strengthens the resources our community has to offer locally and enhances our reputation nationally," Williams said in the news release from the group.

"I want people from Portland to visit Tucson in December, and drop in to work here. When it's time for them to grow (their businesses), they'll remember what a great place Tucson is," he said Tuesday.

CoLab's vision of a thriving local startup scene is shared by the managers of the Pioneer Building, the Holualoa Companies.

The COO of the international property investment firm, Stanton Shafer, said the Tucson-based Holualoa backs CoLab, and will transfer the lease on the space to the nonprofit.

Although rents in the building — which is about 60 percent filled, up from just 30 percent a couple of years ago, Shafer said — run about $17 per square foot, CoLab doesn't pay cash for the space.

Instead, Williams said, just as participants in the group "pay it forward" by lending a hand to the others working at CoLab, the organization as a whole commits to holding workshops and other events to help foster a thriving startup sector in Tucson.

Among the other business working out of the space are Lead Local, Click Magnet, STAT, the Pineapple Project, Ufree, Crowd Audio, IFASA, Groundwork Promotions, and GoForTech, Williams said.

"We bring 500 to 1,000 people a month into the building, between people who drop in and our lead startups," he said. "That's great for everybody involved."

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