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Where ideas and entrepreneurial spirit collide

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David Cheney, center, works on his medical illustration business at the Collider, a business incubator in the historic Conley-Maass-Downs Building on Fourth Street Southwest in downtown Rochester. At left, John Stricker works at his Raizlabs business designing apps. At right is a copy of a Sasquatch poster Cheney did for a friend, to add a bit of whimsy to the business incubator.
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David Cheney could have worked from home when he began his career with iSo-Form doing medical illustrations. Instead he chose to work on the second floor of a historic red-brick building in downtown Rochester with other entrepreneurs who have nothing at all to do with his work.

For one thing, he said, "We have a big family and we still have one young one at home," so working from home could have been a problem.

Much more important is that he’s with people who have nothing to do with his work.

That’s part of what makes the Collider Coworking so great, he said. People from other disciplines bring new ways of looking at things, different perspectives, to help him succeed.

"To me, it felt a lot more like a place I could learn a lot from other people and make some connections that could help my career," Cheney said. When others are dedicated, "that rubs off too."

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Also, if he was at home and didn’t have pressing deadlines, he might be tempted to loaf a bit, maybe catch up on TV. Not at Collider, where he sees others working.

"It’s a lot easier to feed off the energy of other people," he said.

Old building, new ideas

The Collider’s location in the historic Conley-Maass-Downs Building carries a seeming contradiction: "It’s an old building but there’s a lot of new cutting-edge stuff." He likes that juxtaposition of old and new.

That’s just what Jamie Sundsbak wanted to happen when he started Collider a few years ago, above the Bleu Duck restaurant. "Entrepreneurs are inspired in coming up with creative ideas if they are in a creative environment," said the community manager. Instead of cubicles, it’s open so workers can feed off that energy of others, can feel creative vibes.

He looked around the coworking center one day recently and noted Cheney working on medical illustrations; John Stricker, with Raizlabs, doing software apps for big companies; Ethan Herber, a marketing manager for Interstate Hotels; Rick Morris, who’s the Sierra Club Rochester clean energy organizer; and Craig Wechwerth, who does accounting and financial contracting for his Trek Analytics business.

In all, there are 52 members, with 20 active most weeks but others who need a place now and then to work at one of the work stations, each with four desks.

Having many people around you is part of being in an inclusive community. "You can’t be a loner start-up company," he said. "You should be connected to a broader community." It’s all about density. "That creates real sparks of new ideas, creativity," he said.

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Maybe if one person designs a new web page, he might call over others who offer instant feedback, maybe suggesting different or better ways to do it.

Discovery Square in miniature

Collider is a limited liability company and gets income both from charging to use desks, computers and other facilities and from local sponsorships, he said.

But at its heart, it’s much more than a business incubator, Sundsbak said. It’s a prototype of what the much bigger Discovery Square area could be as part of Destination Medical Center. DMC officials are watching because they are interested in tapping that creative flow of energy and entreprenuerism.

Sundsbak said he came to setting up the coworking center rather circuitously. He was working on a start-up in Salt Lake City about 15 years ago, but his wife got a job at Mayo Clinic and he followed. "I thought I could make this company work in Rochester, but what I found was the entrepreneurial spirit was very different from Salt Lake City," he said. In Rochester, business people just getting started weren’t coordinated; they kept to themselves.

His start-up didn’t start up, so he began working as a molecular biologist for Mayo. While at Mayo, he began looking around for others with "my true passion." He put out the word of a morning coffee for entrepreneurs in hopes of getting some organization.

Sundsbak said if he only got a few people, the idea was dead. He got about 40.

"There was a hunger for entrepreneurship," he said. He added lunches and evening gatherings, about 300 over several years. Eventually, he left Mayo for Collider.

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He used the name Collider because the idea is to set it up many chances as possible for people and ideas to collide. "You just never know who you’re going to meet, who you are going to talk to," he said.

The business opened in April 2016. So far, it hasn’t spawned any mega-successes, but that’s typical because it takes about five years to go from an idea to a successful company, Sundsbak said.

In five years, as DMC grows, he hopes the Collider also grow in floor space and number of people.

"For me, it’s just a start," he said. "We need a hub for this stuff to happen."

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Jamie Sundsbak, Collider Coworking founder, right, talks with Ethan Herber, a marketing manager for Interstate Hotels, at the business incubator.

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