Tech hub builds out downtown space


Grand Rapids Collaborative’s Open Device Lab, where tenants can test mobile apps and other technology. Courtesy coLab

A tech hub in downtown Grand Rapids is expanding — on multiple levels.

The Leonard Building, at 38 W. Fulton St., sits across the street from Start Garden, and has been rebranded from the Grand Rapids Tech Hub to Grand Rapids Collaborative or coLab, said Erik Hall, manager of coLab and president of Lee Shore Ventures.

Hall’s father, Craig Hall, president of Lee Shore Enterprises and co-founder of Grand Angels, is the one who originally conceived and led the project, but his son runs the show now, with the elder Hall preferring to stay out of the limelight, Erik Hall said.

Third-floor renovation

The third floor of the four-story building, which houses San Chez on the first floor, was recently renovated, opening up a 10,600-square-foot space for technology-based businesses and entrepreneurs to plant roots in Grand Rapids.

Rooms at coLab filled fast.

Twelve of the 15 units on the third floor are rented, Hall said, and two of the open spaces are in negotiations.

“Interestingly enough, around Grand Rapids, technology to most people means ‘web based,’ but we’re also any other sort of technology media, like advanced manufacturing, advanced materials,” Hall said. “We’re looking for tenants that are more than just a typical lifestyle business.”

Rent starts at $535 per month, and leases can be negotiated on a monthly basis, he said, a more convenient lease system for small businesses that are just starting.

Startup community

Renters have access to Internet, common areas, conference rooms and an Open Device Lab, where users can test mobile apps and other technology, as well as use a MakerBot 3D printer to help test prototype designs, he said.

Hall said coLab is run this way, because in order to “break down barriers for success,” which is actually his company’s motto: things need to be kept simple.

“With startups. . . some people make things more difficult than they have to be,” he said. “So anything we structure is (simple) . . . to create a community that realizes they can start up their businesses efficiently and to increase commerce in the Grand Rapids area.

“Somebody can come in, plug in and their business can start without having to worry about utilities and stuff,” he said. “There are no extra bills, (but with) a lot of the other spaces, you have to pay for common area maintenance. We don’t position on a dollar-per-square-foot basis.”

Not all of coLab’s tenants are locally based.

Some, like Adonit, a Taiwan-based producer of pressure sensitive writing devices, are international, an example that West Michigan can brand itself as a tech base for the state, the country and even the world.

“West Michigan has a lot of tools and resources available that aren’t necessarily available in other cities, even around the world,” Hall said. “It’s a lot easier to get space here than Ann Arbor. There’s an exciting community is growing here.”

Second floor and basement

The next step in the coLab plan is to renovate and build out the second floor, turning it into two office spaces.

Hall said his team also is discussing a proposal that would turn the basement into a conference space.

Fourth-floor Factory

The Factory, Aaron Schaap’s co-working space for entrepreneurs, is the tenant on the fourth and final floor, Hall said, and now that the third floor space is up and running, the building is becoming home to a growing tech-savvy family of entrepreneurs.

“It is very difficult to find space as a small business,” Schaap said. “I think the Factory is probably one of the greatest assets the building has, because it offers that co-working flexibility, but eventually people need a place for some ‘head-down’ space.”

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