By Troy Moon
Pensacola State College
It’s “Taco Thursday” at Pensacola Co:Lab and workers from more than a dozen different companies are sitting in a common area munching on tacos, and between bites, talking about their businesses.
Company leaders from each of the small businesses get up and offer updates on how things are going – their recent “wins,” their “needs” and other aspects of the business.
There’s a sense of camaraderie in the room. That’s the way Co:Lab is designed – to offer start-up companies and entrepreneurs a nurturing, supportive environment to help them to launch, grow and succeed.
Co:Lab offers turnkey office opportunities that include various amenities such as mentoring at reduced rates. It’s a community-supported business incubator.
“Our goal is to get them to stand on the edge of the nest,’’ said Co:Lab Director Patrick Rooney. “When they’re ready, they fly and leave.”
Operated by FloridaWest Economic Development Alliance in partnership with Pensacola State College, Co:Lab operates in the College’s Downtown Center. It launched in 2008. PSC President Ed Meadows sits on the Co:Lab Policy Board.
“Anytime you can grow you own local talent and add small businesses, you add to the diversity and stability of the local economy,’’ Meadows said. “You need a balance between large industry and smaller businesses.”
Co:Lab has more than 22,000-square-feet of space on three floors of the PSC Downtown Center. Spaces start at $12 per square foot and are furnished. Office spaces are available in sizes from 100 square feet to 950 square feet. Co:Lab provides regular mentoring and offers conference rooms, breakrooms and other gathering areas where personnel from the Co:Lab companies can get to know each other and share ideas.
Companies are limited to a five-year stay at Co:Lab. Currently, Co:Lab is home to 18 different companies, with more on the way. Co:Lab businesses are varied, ranging from digital marketing, cybersecurity and even localized gift baskets.
Co:Lab was forced to shut down its on-site operations after the PSC Downtown Center suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sally in September 2020.
Some of the business tenants worked remotely, while others found new office spaces. But many returned to the brick-and-mortar – and completely repaired and renovated – Co:Lab spaces when the PSC Downtown reopened in summer 2021.
Rooney said there were 50 different businesses operating in Co:Lab when Hurricane Sally hit, and Rooney hopes to steadily increase the current client numbers.
“We have two more coming in August and a few more in the pipeline,’’ Rooney said. “It’s a great environment with a lot of different resources to take advantage of.”
Jon Deckert, community enrichment director for Vivid Bridge Studios, a digital marketing company, said Co:Lab offers the perfect proving ground for a young professional firm. The company is in its fifth and final year at Co:Lab.
“It’s definitely been a great experience,’’ Deckert added. “We definitely appreciate the business coaching and the camaraderie that happens in this space by just meeting around the water cooler and bouncing ideas off of one another.”
For more information on the Co:Lab, visit https://colabpensacola.com/.