Mayor Elizabeth Goreham says State College is a great place to start a business — and it’s only getting better.
Eric Sauder, Spud Marshall and Christian Baum, the directors of The New Leaf Initiative, aim to make the atmosphere for small businesses friendlier through co.spark, a communal working space for start-ups in the area.
“They share resources, good energy and pay just a couple hundred bucks. It creates a culture of business start-ups,” Baum said. “Nobody has ownership over it. Really, it’s anyone’s — everybody is paying rent.”
If co.spark catches on, it has the potential to revolutionize student entrepreneurship in the county, Serena Fulton , New Leaf’s community collaborator, said, as well as allowing other small businesses to feed off of the creativity and ingenuity that students generally bring to the table — namely, the “spark.”
“I definitely think it’s going to help out small businesses collaborate and gain insight from each other; I also think it’s going to be valuable to the community in general,” Fulton said. “The space will be open to students and anyone who wants to come in — it’s an open workspace and people are welcome to bounce around ideas.”
According to a draft proposal provided by Fulton, co.spark aims to “unleash our community's collective impact for innovation” by putting all the best minds in the same room.
Fulton said that businesses in different areas of specialization would be able to collaborate under one roof, allowing, for example, a marketing strategy firm to get help from a financial business that would have greater expertise in that area.
Fulton and Sauder have been viewing a few different locations for the space and are currently under negotiations to obtain one in downtown State College.
New Leaf recently launched co.space, an educational living space that affords young entrepreneurs, innovators and “changemakers” — or individuals committed to making the world a better place — an opportunity to live and learn together in an off-campus house.
The co.space and co.spark ideas are off-shoots of a global brand that the Initiative hopes to launch, known simply as “co.,” referring to their collaborative and cooperative nature, Baum said.
The draft proposal provided by Fulton referenced the 2010 “Soul of the Community” report conducted by the Knight Foundation and the Pew Research Center , which advised that State College leaders should “...cultivate and promote offerings that appeal to talented college graduates seeking jobs, as attracting and retaining this group will be critical to the community’s long-term growth.”
New Leaf hopes that its work in the community will help keep young professionals in the area, an initiative that some of the municipal government has also been trying to encourage for years.
“I think New Leaf is determined to engage the minds of the students... and they’ve done a lot to stimulate students to think about other possibilities than just getting a job,” Goreham said.
Goreham said several students had signed and sent a letter to the borough endorsing how important it is to have people participating in a local incubator that assists local businesses and student-driven entrepreneurships, demonstrating the student support for organizations like New Leaf.
Sauder and Baum are excited about the involvement they see coming from not only students but also community members and leaders like Goreham.
“It’ll definitely be interesting,” Baum said.