CoLab18 is meant to be a North Side community resource, not just a co-working space

Pittsburgh’s growing co-working scene includes spots such as The Beauty Shoppe in East Liberty, Revv in Oakland and Alloy 26 on the North Side, but this one is a little bit different.

CoLab18 isn’t just a place to rent out and use for desk space. It’s meant to be a programming space providing resources, training and internet access to the community it’s grounded in — the North Side.

The 4,600-square-foot center is intended to drive inclusive innovation, community engagement and entrepreneurship on the North Side, home of Nova Place, a former rundown mall that has become a center for technology in the community.

CoLab 18 is the byproduct of the Buhl Foundation’s One North Side Consensus Plan, a 10-month survey of 2,204 households intended as a community-driven effort to improve the quality of life for residents in all 18 North Side neighborhoods.

That’s where the name for CoLab18 came from, explained Diana Bucco, president of the Buhl Foundation, at a ribbon cutting Wednesday morning.

North Side residents envisioned a place to have access and tools necessary to thrive “in this rapidly changing economy that we’re very aware of in Pittsburgh today,” Ms. Bucco explained.

There’s quick internet service. Comcast has enabled gigabit-speed internet access in the space and in surrounding hubs marked throughout Nova Place.

About 150 people can gather for events, and there are digital classrooms, conference rooms and “state-of-the-art” technology available for use. North Side residents get preference.

Programming will focus on community collaboration, education, digital engagement and workforce development. Riverside Center for Innovation, also on the North Side, already has plans to provide entrepreneurship training, while Innovation Works and Alloy 26 will host networking events.

At least 40 groups have committed to providing programming, according to a release.

So far, Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time and United Way’s “Be a Middle School Mentor” will host programs, Citizens Bank will provide a four-part series on financial literacy, and BizFIT Construction will bring a training program for construction businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

Ms. Bucco emphasized that CoLab18 is meant to create equal access to the benefits of Pittsburgh’s changing economy, noting that such a vision requires the public, private and nonprofit sectors to coordinate.

In total, CoLab18 is a partnership between not only the Buhl Foundation but also Faros Properties, which owns Nova Place; Comcast; Urban Innovation21; Innovation Works; BNY Mellon; and Riverside Center for Innovation.

The partnership together has now committed $9.3 million to support the One North Side Plan, which includes investments in Nova Place and CoLab18, according to Bob Grove, a spokesman for Comcast Keystone Region. That has grown from $8.8 million one year ago.

Similar to a library concept, there’s no fee for Pittsburgh residents to use the Wi-Fi, conference rooms and other amenities, Mr. Grove confirmed.

The new space is also a partial reaction to a Brookings report published last September, which contained recommendations for Pittsburgh to fully realize the potential of its innovation hubs.

Some of the suggestions included growing and better connecting the Oakland Innovation District to the rest of the regional economy.

That’s a worthwhile goal, but the Brookings recommendations should extend past the home of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University into the North Side, according to Juan Garrett, executive director of the Riverside Center for Innovation.

“We’re definitely going to put the North Side on the map,” he said Wednesday. “It’s time for us to roll our sleeves up … and it’s time to get to work.”

Originally published on February 14, 2018
SOURCE: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette