Stories From The Co.Space: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, And An Unbreakable Bond
Imagine a group of young professionals and students all living together under one roof to foster a community dedicated to the exploration of creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Sounds kind of cool, right?
Residents of the co.space — State College’s co-living arrangement — would agree.
For those unfamiliar with the co-living craze, it’s a phenomenon that has been gaining popularity and traction since the early part of the century. At its root, co-living is a “shared housing [arrangement] designed to support a purpose-driven life.” In essence, it’s simply a place for innovative young people to come together and for networking opportunities and to support for each other in every aspect of daily life. Today, there are dozens of co-living spaces all over the world, from Chile to China — and they’re only increasing in presence.
The co.space, founded in 2013, sprouted out of an idea to form a co-living arrangement right here in State College. It was meant to be an outlet for students with unique, innovative ambitions to come together in an environment specifically tailored to cultivate their passions. Founders Spud Marshall and Christian Baum worked in tandem with the New Leaf Initiative to buy out a former fraternity house and create a co-living space for dedicated young professionals and students. The catchphrase for the house is “a home for changemakers,” but for two-year resident and current grad student Sam Lapp, it’s much more than that.
“I think the best way to think about it is as a community of people who want to live in a very intentional way,” Lapp said. “By that, I mean people who are invested in thinking about the way they live with people and care deeply about the world that they live in.”
One of the best aspects of the house environment is that all of the residents are encouraged to pursue projects they’re passionate about. These passions can take many forms; food-drives, tech start-ups, or volunteer opportunities are just a few examples.
Lapp has used his time in the house to work primarily on developing his passion for music. Initially, the house served as a way for him and his band, The DopplerPoppins, to create and record music. Over time, however, he aimed to expand his horizons. Last semester, Lapp and fellow housemate Andrew Abraham decided to create an event called “The Groove Room.” Essentially, the event is a day-long marathon for musicians and artists in the community. Various artists come together for one day in the same room to write, record, and produce a six-song EP, regardless of musical background.
(Photo: The DopplerPoppins)
The creation of his event “The Groove Room” relates directly to what Lapp hopes to do in the future. A project that began as a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon has turned into a passion that aligns with his longterm goals.
“I really love bringing people together through music and creating that sense of community. Eventually, I’d like to have a permanent space that’s for that sort of thing,” Lapp said. “‘The Groove Room feels like a prototype for that. It’s like, I’ll try out some events so that later I can have a permanent space to pursue that passion.”
Though Lapp himself has used the house as a means to create events that correlate with his desired career trajectory, he hopes to make it clear that not everyone has to be that specifically focused. Living in the co.space is for anyone who wants to use their personal skills to simply make a change around them.
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about the house is that you have to have some crazy idea or project to live there, but that’s not really the point,” he said. “The point is that we support each other and the things that we’re passionate about.”
This is the case for first-year resident and sophomore Emily Knell. She’s taking her time with project development and is simply soaking up the experience so far.
“I’m personally not working on anything yet, but we have this thing called the Journey Board that’s helping me figure out what I want to pursue,” Knell said. “Basically, it’s a way for you to take these small steps and catalog your ideas and goals for the month and work toward making them tangible things.”
(Photo: Emily Knell | the co.space)
But for Knell, one of the best parts about her experience so far is the people she has met through living there. The co.space strives to take in people from all walks of life in an effort to foster creativity through diversity.
“One day we were all walking somewhere together and on our way there, someone said ‘I love when all of us go somewhere together because none of us look like people who would normally hang out together,'” Knell said. “So getting to know such a variety of people who I wouldn’t have known otherwise makes it worthwhile for me.”
While the concept of co.space is arguably quite unique, the layout of the house itself is actually fairly simple. There’s a total of 20 residents: 16 students, two young professionals, and two house managers. Penn State students share bedrooms with one other student. House managers, along with the young professionals, get their own rooms. Other than that, the layout of the house is up to the residents themselves to figure out along the way. As of right now, there’s a rock climbing wall, recording studios, and even a beehive. House members also work together to determine which parts of the house need renovation.
“We do pitch dinners monthly where you can propose a change to the house,” Knell said. “Most recently, we set up an art gallery. We’ve had people in the house, as well as their friends, send in album covers, photographs, and paintings. We made it this whole big thing and now we have a wall in our house dedicated to art.”
To further foster a growing sense of community, members hold family dinners Wednesdays and Sundays. The house also holds frequent project discussions, and guest speakers even come to the house from time to time. In addition to this, a kick-off retreat takes place at the beginning of the year so residents can connect and plan for the year ahead. But the retreat isn’t the only time residents get together outside of the house — “Coffee Stains” also take place on a weekly basis. The goal of this event is for residents to have the chance to meet up with fellow house members and hang out one-on-one.
“We all really love each other at this point. We go to the movies or study together, and we’ve become such a tight-knit group,” Knell said.
For both Lapp and Knell, one of the greatest things about their experience has been the sense of camaraderie they get from their housemates. Through this support system, they’re able to grow not only mentally, but emotionally as well. At a school as large as Penn State, it can be difficult to figure out how to foster those tight-knit connections — for these members, the co.space provides the best solution for that.
“I get so excited to come home because I know that there are people there who will ask me about my day and actually want to know the answer,” Knell said. “I didn’t realize I needed that kind of support until I got here and it’s just been the most incredible experience.”