If you built it, would they stay?

If you build it, they will come. And maybe they will stay.


There wasn’t any such thing as a Coworking Lab when Ross Overstreet was starting out. Overstreet founded Overgroup, a software development company.


If there had been, it might have been helpful to him. So Overstreet, who last year moved his company Atlanta, has made sure what was absent for him will be present for the people who will come after him in Pensacola.


Overstreet helped the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship open a Coworking Lab, a collaborative, open work space that is employed in cities such as San Francisco, Boston and others. He worked with Kelly Reeser, director of entrepreneurial development at the Greater Pensacola Chamber, to make it come together.


Coworking Labs allow app developers, programmers and other creative, technologically based folks a formal workspace without the overhead of having to rent or buy traditional office space.


Tech sector innovators thrive of collaboration. Until recently, when the lab at the CIE opened, there was no such space in Pensacola. In addition to office space, lab tenants receive a high-speed Internet connection, fax capabilities, access to the CIE's conference rooms.


The CIE , a partnership between the Greater Pensacola Chamber and Pensacola State College, is an incubator for emerging businesses. The whole thing is 7,000 square feet but there was a 925 square foot area that hadn’t rented in a long while. The tenants were talking about coworking spaces and asked if Reeser had thought about using that unrented space for coworking.  


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While she was mulling that, the tenants also told her that cool furniture was crucial to a coworking space’s success.


Within a couple of months, Overstreet had called and told her he had moved to Atlanta. While he was keeping an Overgroup presence in Pensacola, it didn’t make sense anymore to keep the big office space he had on Government Street.


Had she ever thought about making a coworking space, he wondered.


Three Overgroup employees are in the coworking lab and Overstreet donated the cool office furniture.


“It’s taken the CIE to the next level,” Reeser says. “Ross has been on the CIE policy board almost since it started. i think this was his way of staying involved in Pensacola and giving back.”


Overstreet says the move to Atlanta has been good for him and his company, which creates software that allows clients, some 60 regional phone companies, to let customers pay bills online, activate prepaid cellphones, check minutes and the like.


Overstreet grew Overgroup from a two-person gig in 2002 to Inc. Magazine's 2012 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S.


The critical mass of tech-based industries that Overstreet hoped for didn’t materialize fast enough in Pensacola to help him stay. But it speaks volumes about his character that he didn’t leave Pensacola in the dust when he left town.


He left the seeds to grow more just like him. We need the good sense to take what he left us and nurture it so that the next 10 Ross Overstreets may choose to stay.


It seems like the least we can do.


Note: For more information about the CIE or how to become a tenant, contact Kelly Reeser, Director of Entrepreneurial Development for the Greater Pensacola Chamber, at (850) 696-1314 or kreeser@pensacolachamber.com.