Fairfield CoLab: Where Self-Starters Connect

fairfield colab, Adam Plagge, Kevin RIley, Anna Bruen, Minca Bog, Tai Ward
The dedicated people behind CoLab are Joshua Laraby, Fairfield Economic Development Association (FEDA) and Fairfield CoLab administrator; Tai Ward, co-president; Minca Borg, co-secretary; Adam Plagge, FEDA director; Anna Bruen, co-president; Kevin Riley, co-secretary; and (not pictured) Joey Del Re, treasurer.

Fairfield has joined the national trend towards creating coworking spaces. Facilities have sprung up from coast to coast, providing shared workspace at a fraction of the cost of renting an entire office, with the added benefit of providing a workplace community.

Fairfield is the second rural community in southeast Iowa to open a coworking space, Pella being the first. There are also successful coworking spaces in the Des Moines and Iowa City metro areas.

Centrally located downtown on the south side of the square, the Fairfield CoLab is a nonprofit that offers alternative workspace to entrepreneurs, self-starters, and freelancers. The facilities include a large shared workspace and nine individual offices with access to high-speed Wi-Fi, printers, scanners, a meeting room with presentation equipment, a private phone booth, and a kitchenette with unlimited free coffee and teas.

“We’re giving people who work at home a place to go, so they don’t have to be alone in their basement,” says co-president Tai Ward. “It’s just awesome we can smoke people out of their basements.”

A variety of flexible membership options are available, and anyone can try out the Fairfield CoLab free for a day. “We want people to come by and check out what the space has to offer,” says co-president Anna Bruen. “We really want people to see this as a community resource. Come bring your project and try working in the space.”

Access plans are available on a daily or monthly basis, with a slightly higher fee for a dedicated workspace. There is even a punch pass option. The meeting room is also available for nonmembers to rent separately. (You can find more detailed membership information at ffcolab.com.) Currently, there are 45 members who use the space.

Ward says they’ve been pleasantly surprised by the interest in the space and the vast amount of community support they’ve received to get up and running. Over 2,000 community volunteer hours have been poured into renovating the CoLab building thus far.

“There’s been a lot of community openness and engagement,” says board member Minca Borg. Many members have noticed increased focus and productivity, according to board member Kevin Riley. “It’s inspiring,” he says of his move from his home office to the CoLab. Connecting with peers and working with others who are passionate about their projects offers greater motivation. “It keeps you wanting to move forward, to see what’s possible,” Riley adds.

Borg says working at the CoLab “inspires innovation” and adds, “We’re creating a business ecosystem.” Home-based workers fight the dangers of home-based distractions, and working in a noisy coffee shop can be frustrating. The CoLab offers a professional business environment with all the amenities of home but none of the distractions, with the added bonus of being able to bounce ideas off peers and make decisions informed by others’ experience.

Business Cross-Pollination

Different than a new business incubator or a business accelerator, the Fairfield CoLab is more of a “connectivator,” allowing people at all stages of business evolution to connect with and learn from each other, promoting cross-pollination of ideas and experience in a vital and professional setting.

The Fairfield CoLab also connects members to business support services, regional loan programs, financial services, business plan support, entrepreneurial workshops, networking, and more. CoLab members have access to a variety of financial and business development services through partnerships with Indian Hills Community College, FEDA, local banks, and private investors.

The space is designed to host community events such as an annual business-pitch competitions, tech meetups, educational speakers, and business plan writing seminars. “Since the project’s infancy, the vision has been consistent: to create a centralized hub with a productive buzz that connects our community’s talent, resources, and creativity. This is what people need to grow their projects and businesses to the next level, and that’s ultimately what we want for them and for   our community,” says Joshua Laraby, FEDA’s economic project coordinator and administrator for the Fairfield CoLab.

The idea of a coworking space has been kicked around in Fairfield for years. It was finally turned into a reality when former Fairfield resident Lee Ross’s enthusiasm  galvanized support for the project from FEDA and the Bonnell Project.

“Helping establish this space was a key objective for FEDA this year,” says Adam Plagge, FEDA director. “We saw it as an opportunity to transform a downtown space in need of TLC into an energetic space that promotes business creation, downtown vitality, and the retention of Fairfield’s creative class. We asked local businesses and community leaders to financially support the entrepreneurs driving the project, and the response is indicative of the extreme generosity that exists within this community.”

He also notes this project brings the building to a full circle. Some 15 years ago, the Bonnell building was home to a business startup known as Cambridge Financial, which is now Jefferson County’s largest employer, with over 600 employees.

The nonprofit’s board of directors consists of co-president Tai Ward, co-founder of Big Game Software; co-president Anna Bruen, environmental planner for Pathfinders Resource Conservation and Development; board members Joey Del Re, co-founder of Galaxy Ninja; Kevin Riley, founder of Riley Designs; and Minca Borg, co-founder of Naturewise Farm and EcoFairfield; and Joshua Laraby and Adam Plagge from FEDA, who are helping to unfold the project.

The Fairfield CoLab Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and all donations are fully tax deductible. Located at 107½ S. Main St., CoLab is open from 9 a.m. to  5 p.m. You can also find Fairfield CoLab on Facebook.