“I’ve been in business since I was in seventh grade. I was given five dollars a week for lunch and it obviously wasn’t enough. I knew I needed to fundraise.”

Corey Clark started hustling by up-selling candy to the other middle schoolers until he could afford a fancy lunch from the cafeteria snack bar. He carried that underdog sensibility and fight to succeed well into adulthood. Now, 27, Clark has created an impressive number of businesses including:

  • a candy dealership
  • landscape artistry
  • an organic juice bar
  • an ethical water company
  • a nonprofit centered around volunteering
  • an all-natural soap business
  • a production company

The entrepreneur decided to tack on another initiative to his already exhaustive resume in May after a serendipitous series of events.

In Dec. 2014, Clark was seeking an indoor working space for his production company, Point West Productions. With the help of SpaceCadet, a local startup that connects people looking for short-term rentals with vacant spaces, he stumbled upon an 8,000 sq. ft. warehouse on Chestnut Street. After some chatting with the landlord, the metaphoric light bulb switched on and Co Lab was conceived.

“When you have a space like this, you know something big has to be done with it,” Clark said. 

He notes during our interview that local visual artists such as himself have very few physical gathering spaces. There is a huge population that has no community aside from groups created on Facebook. They know of each other’s work but haven’t met in person, and Clark saw a deficiency and promptly sought to remedy it.

After posting on Craigslist calling for local photographers and videographers interested in a creative working space, Clark pitched the idea in 20 minutes to the 10 people who showed up. The pitch: he needed $200 from each of them and they would be able to shoot in and collaboratively use the warehouse through the rest of the year. They all signed up. He had $2,000, a solid base of supportive artists and entrepreneurs, a cut-rate lease and the push to get Co Lab up and running.

Photo courtesy of Co Lab.
Photo courtesy of Co Lab.

Clark sold his vehicle and invested everything he had. “It was a risk I didn’t think twice about. I ultimately just want to help young creative people succeed,” he said. 

A few months later the warehouse now boasts a cyclorama, a product cyclorama, P.A. system, green screen, paper rolls, open space for photography set ups, rentable photography equipment (lights, stands, reflectors, tripods, etc.), rentable storage space, conference tables, a projector, a makeup station and a handful of comfy couches. The soft opening on June 19 boasted about 50 attendees and created a solid foundation for potential investors and members. The grand opening is set for Jan. 2016.  

At this stage, Co Lab is just DIY enough. It is an authentic space built around an authentic idea. Thus far members have personally donated many items to the location resulting in a sense of ownership. The space feels less like a office and more like home.

Co Lab set up a comfortable space for its members. Photo courtesy of Co Lab.
Co Lab set up a comfortable space for its members. Photo courtesy of Co Lab.

Clark brought on board fellow Roadrunner alumni, Co-founder Tremon McGrath and Brand Strategist David Montemayor to help him get the business started.

“The hard thing about being an entrepreneur is that you want to do everything yourself,” he said. “The downfall to that is you’re leveraging your own strength. This is a place that needed the combined help of a lot of people.”

McGrath jumped on board after looking for a space to transition his business, RAGG (Reach A Greater Good) clothing, which focuses on sustainable clothing made from bamboo and hemp. Montemayor is a fellow University of Texas at San Antonio grad with a master’s in marketing and a heart for innovation and storytelling. Together the group maintains a cohesively philanthropic vision.

Co Lab seeks to cultivate and maintain an area for young artists to grow and expand upon their skills. Montemayor comments that the ultimate goal is to become an urban-centered backdrop with foresight and sustainability.

Eventually, the group wants to combine their efforts with an affiliated nonprofit and add a coffee shop to the mix. They have already begun looking at additional space to expand. “The goal isn’t to make money – I’m chasing a dream to give back to the community more than is given to the company,” Clark said.

Co Lab is structured, not unlike Geekdom, with members charged monthly. The membership options start at just $50 a month and are open to anyone from graphic designers to web developers, video editors, photographers, painters, architects, sculptors, small business owners, etc. The levels are as follows:

Co Lab members work in the collaborative space. Photo courtesy of Co Lab.
Co Lab members work in the collaborative space. Photo courtesy of Co Lab.

Creative Membership 1: $50 – 24/7 accessible office space, WiFi, conference tables, kitchenette, unlimited coffee and tea, etc.

Creative Membership 2: $100 – 24/7 accessible office space, small open area set-up, WiFi, conference tables, kitchenette, unlimited coffee and tea, etc.

Studio Membership 1: $150 – unlimited large open space set ups + Creative Membership 2

Studio Membership 2: $200  – up to 10 hours a month of cyclorama usage and unlimited large open space set-up + Creative Membership 2

Studio Membership 3: $250 – up to 20 hours a month of cyclorama usage and unlimited large open space set-up + Creative Membership 2

Co Lab already houses 26 members, including some local heavy hitters like Sarah Brooke Lyons, with the capacity to reach up to 150. More than 20 photoshoots have already been held at the warehouse including a Silver Dancers promotional shoot and a handful of professional fashion shoots. The next event, a backpack and school supply drive called “Every Ounce Counts,” will be held on Aug. 21. Sponsored by local tequila company Sierra Vieja, the fundraising event will benefit children of Magdalena, Mexico.

The Co Lab warehouse space. Photo courtesy of Co Lab.
The Co Lab warehouse space. Photo courtesy of Co Lab.

Helping creatives with an entrepreneurial spirit, Clark, McGrath and Montemayor are undoubtedly on to something.

“One of the barriers to success is that you never do the doing. You get caught in the happening and forget to act,” Clark said.

They did it. They built the space for the creative types to come.

*Featured/top image: Co Lab members work in the collaborative warehouse. Photo courtesy of Co Lab. 

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Melanie Robinson

Melanie Robinson is a San Antonian writer, poet and musician who currently works as the content writer for Tribu, a digital marketing firm, and freelances for the Rivard Report, San Antonio Current and...