On Main Street in Urbana, Illinois, there is a small nondescript shop next to a coffeehouse. It has the words [co][lab] written on the glass and anyone passing by could miss it. But inside there’s something special happening.
[co][lab] is Matthew Cho’s brainchild and the way he describes its purpose in the form of a question: “How do you do something that forces [creatives, entrepreneurs, and makers] to work together in one collective space?”
Founded seven months ago under the umbrella company of Cho’s development firm called Cake Design Development, [co][lab] has brought together entrepreneurs from around the Champaign-Urbana community and fostered collaboration between entrepreneurs that normally wouldn’t interact.
There are thirteen entrepreneurs in [co][lab] and each one has brought something unique and different to the shared workspace.
“The idea behind a collaborative workspace isn’t unique,” Cho said. “But we wanted to add a twist: to bring creatives, entrepreneurs and makers into one collective space.”
It goes beyond the walls of [co][lab] as well. Cho wants to demonstrate the power of collaboration to the community at large, to bring together and explore what Champaign, Urbana, the University of Illinois, and neighborhoods can collectively bring to the table.
The genesis of [co][lab] began when Cho was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, completing a capstone that heavily involved aspects of urban planning and architecture. His thoughts turned to how people use the same space in different ways and how that could be leveraged into a business.
He came up with four ideas—a coffeehouse, gallery, incubator, and restaurant. Using a spare space in a building near a coffeehouse and restaurant, [co][lab] became the incubator and gallery.
“You put up a wooden box and then you have an office,” he said. “Then after hours, the building becomes a gallery. The question is, how do you basically program activity for all hours of the day?”
After hours and on the weekend, [co][lab] becomes a hangout spot for not just the entrepreneurs who work there. People stop in to look at the offices or the latest pop-up business project that sells products in the front of the building.
When [co][lab] first started, Cho said he was interested in primarily two groups of entrepreneurs: entrepreneurs that focused on technology and designers who have a more creative direction with their work. Although it’s too early to tell if the [co][lab] has been successful in achieving its goals, it has fostered communication between entrepreneurs in different industries and with different skill sets.
“Short-term, the idea is not to get burned out,” Cho said. “I think the great thing about a place like this is that there are a lot of ideas. The point is to find one idea and execute around it. Long-term, I just want everyone to very successful.”
If there’s one thing that he thinks will take [co][lab] to the next level, it’s creating a culture of ‘We’re all in it together.’ If that happens, the sky is the limit and he will have succeeded in his goal of demonstrating the power of collaboration to the community at large.