The future is setting up shop in an unlikely place: the Jacksonville Landing. CoLabJax is a combination of the popular concepts of co-work and makerspaces operating as an educational venue housed in a retail storefront at the iconic waterfront building downtown. It’s the first of its kind in Jacksonville, and a potentially transformational venture for the Jacksonville Landing.
Co-founders Chris Lavan and Matt Barker are both engineers and serial entrepreneurs. They’ve been involved in several startup companies, including their contract engineering firm Jenivox Electronics Lab, which focuses on product development and industrial automation. CoLabJax was born out of Jenivox as a non-profit tech entrepreneurship idea. In one short year, they’ve brought CoLabJax from an idea to a thriving hub for creatives. The 4200 sq. ft. lab includes module workspace, classrooms, a 3D printing studio, a media room, an electronics room and a plethora of high tech tools such as lasers, routers and mass spectrometers. Inventors and innovators can join as members to gain access to high tech tools to learn and create whatever they can imagine.
A Tech Entrepreneurial Community
“We do amazing things here,” says Lavan. “I’m pretty proud of what you are walking into today.” Lavan and Barker launched CoLabJax in February 2015, then participated in One Spark two months later. They’ve been growing their community ever since.
Today, they have about 60 members. A basic membership costs $50 per month, and resident makers pay $150 per month. “Most of the people that do our co-working are business analysts who work remotely, so it’s this really interesting mix of people who are specialists in whatever their field of technology is, whether it’s mechanical design, fabrication manufacturing, or electrical design,” says Lavan.
Several CoLabJax members also focus on audiovisual technology. One such creator is David Robinson, aka Uncle Nard of the local rap group Tal-kin Trees. His “Where You From (Duval)” YouTube video went viral almost a decade ago, and today he owns a startup business of creative services for graphic design and video production.
Lavan is excited about the future of audio and visual technology in CoLabJax. They have plans to create a sound studio, and to erect a wall of monitors to display media like ads, footage and interactive material to provide strong visuals for visitors, as well as videoing lectures and live streaming everything they do on colabjax.tv.
It’s a Learning Institution First and Foremost
“The programming and the educational aspect of it is absolutely the most important part,” says Lavan. “We have a program pretty much every night of the week, and that’s when this place really lights up,” says Lavan. Volunteers from different specialty backgrounds put on lectures. They have tech talks and a business book club.
This spring marks their second 12 week Startup Bootcamp class. The class guides entrepreneurs through the process of formulating an idea to learning the skills they need to get their startup off the ground. The course ends with the opportunity to pitch the ideas to real potential investors.
Classes for kids are also on the agenda. Lavan is working on building a curriculum where kids can move station to station learning how to use different tools, like 3D printers, and to build things, like circuit boards. “We do all our own circuit boards,” Lavan explains while he points to a shelf. “You got some parts that are up there, you take your stencil, wipe your solder on and you place your parts, stick it in the oven, cook it, boom, you got circuit boards.”
One of the startup businesses that CoLabJax provides incubator space for is 3D Connectors, founded by David Retske and Peter Cerreta. They have retail frontage in the Landing where they sell 3D printers, offer printing services and hold classes.
It’s worth a stop in their storefront just to check out this awesome cutting-edge technology. 3D printing is the process of making a physical object from a three dimensional digital design by building it up layer by layer with a plastic building material from the bottom to the top.
“You can build things that are almost impossible to build by traditional means,” says Retske. As an example, he showed me a ball bearing he made with one of their 3D printers. Most ball bearings are made with two shells and a ball. The ball is placed between the shells and the shells are pressed together. The ball bearing Retske made was printed out as one piece. “It will never come apart, and it’s fully functional,” he says.
Prototyping is a lot of what 3D Connectors does as a company. The traditional way to make a prototype of an object, like a rubber duck for example, takes a long time. “First you make a mold, then you have to get the injection process going, you have to pick the right materials, and you have to have a whole big assembly to go,” says Retske. 3D printing “is democratizing the process of prototyping. These are mainly low run parts, tooling and prototyping. So if you want to make your first duck and have one in hand, it’s going to cost you dozens of dollars instead of thousands,” he says.
Their motto is “Experiment. Fail. Learn. Repeat.” This new world of manufacturing offers a quick process with a small investment. Each reel of plastic costs about $25, and the printers they sell in their store range from $400 to $2,000.
“We are partners with CoLabJax. They are helping incubate us and grow us in the community. And we’re providing them printers,” says Retske. “It’s a great place to work with everyone here. It’s a great place to meet a bunch of innovators and help them make their projects. Because, in the end, Pete and I are engineers. We’re huge nerds, and we love doing this stuff. We love making and creating. We love seeing cool projects come in.”
To learn more about CoLabJax, their membership program and classes, check out makerspace.colabjax.org