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Lab1500 hopes to incubate success in new coworking venture

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 3, 2012 - A new coworking option is coming to downtown St. Louis.

“We set out to create a space where aspiring but seasoned entrepreneurs can come together in the idea stage of their ventures, bounce things off of each other and work on them,” said Jan Christian Andersen, one of the establishment’s operators. The space also will be available for workshops or classes.

Lab1500, a new 3,000 square-foot space at 1500 Washington Ave., is housed in a 120-year-old two-story brick structure that’s spent the last several years vacant. The facility is an offshoot of Ignition Tank, founded earlier this year and run by local entrepreneurs Andersen and Dan Lohman, who presently work out of the nearby T-Rex incubator. Ignition Tank offers administrative support to small companies.

A recent tour of the Washington Avenue building reveals that it’s still in the throes of an extensive rehab with new plumbing, lighting and HVAC systems going in. The gritty feel of the former warehouse is expected to be maintained along with the original brick and hardwood floors and decorative ceiling tile.

“We’re trying to keep as much of it authentic as we can,” said Lindi Niedner, director of marketing for Ignition Tank.

The revamped space will boast WiFi, a lounge and a glassed-in conference area, as well as a resource library and classroom.

The coworking concept has been growing in popularity across the country for some time. Here in St. Louis, collaborative spaces include Nebula Coworking and St. Louis Coworking. St. Louis Coworking announced in September it was going through a transition and would be restructuring its business model.

Lab1500 will have no private offices and only communal desks. Rates are available yearly, monthly, weekly or even daily, a feature that Niedner said could be handy for individuals traveling into town who don’t want to work out of their motel rooms.

It’s all part of an attempt to maintain flexibility for folks looking for a spot to explore an enterprise or project that is still far more concept than company.

“There really seemed to be a void when it comes to young or aspiring entrepreneurs who want to work on their ideas ... in a place geared more toward fostering their ideas instead of going to Starbucks and working from a couch,” Andersen said.

The idea is also popular with those who work from home or perhaps even those who have an office elsewhere. Lab1500 hopes to attract everyone from graphic designers to garage entrepreneurs with a special focus on startups.

“It’s based on each person’s individual needs,” Niedner said. “Some people might want to use this as a supplemental membership. If they’ve got a dedicated space somewhere else, they might want to come over here and get a different environment.”

It’s an environment where the creative process will take place in a highly communal setting.

“Compared to other coworking spaces that have dedicated desks, this definitely invites more of a collaborative spirit,” she said. “We will have long tables and booths and conference rooms. Everything that you might need, whether you want to get away in the lounge area and be more by yourself or come into the collaborative area and sit at a table with 10 other people and talk about your ideas.”

Lab1500 is largely a byproduct of the search for space to house Ignition Tank, which will take up the building’s second floor. The ground level will host Lab1500.

“We knew we wanted to be downtown amongst all the other things that are going on and we knew about the building but realized it was clearly much larger than what our immediate needs were,” said Andersen.

And thus a new business was born.

The structure’s dual use means rates can be reasonable, said Niedner. A day pass runs $10 while renting space for a year is $800 although a special promotion right now cuts the price to $500. Monthly memberships are $75 or $45 under the present discount.

“One of the reasons we’re able to keep some of the costs down is that it’s not a profit center,” Niedner said. “It’s more of a service and a space that we’re providing to the community that will be financing itself.”

Lab1500 is set to open its doors in January and the website has just gone live. Niedner said she hopes the space becomes a part of the startup culture in St. Louis.

“Collaboration drives innovation,” she said. “Sometimes, you need that second person’s push or critique of your idea to push you in the right direction or resources you might not have or contacts that you need. Being able to collaborate with others will allow some of those opportunities to come through.”

David Baugher is a freelance writer.

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