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Summary:

Hostel entrepreneur Darren Overby loves collaboration. He sees a blend of business people and makers working out of his new space in San Francisco, where they will make unexpected connections.

RockIT CoLabs sits at 602 Kearny St. in an old building that sat mostly empty for 18 years.
photo: Signe Brewster

Darren Overby is the kind of guy who thinks airplane seats should face each other. He likes restaurant tables that force strangers to interact. The first time he stayed at a hostel, he was so struck by the community and openness among its guests that he decided to backpack across Europe for two years. Then he went on to found hostels.com and the Pacific Tradewinds hostel in San Francisco to spread that environment as much as he could.

Overby thinks makers are in need of a collaborative, social space too. He hopes to attract 20 to 30 members to RockIT CoLabs, a new 2,500 square foot coworking and makerspace in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

“People say, ‘Oh, your passion is hostels.’ Really my passion is creating environments and technology where collaboration can flourish,” he said Monday during a tour of the new space. “I just want stuff to happen here.”

RockIT CoLabs sits at 602 Kearny St. in an old building that sat mostly empty for 18 years.

RockIT CoLabs inhabits three floors at 602 Kearny St. The building sat mostly empty for 18 years. Founder Darren Overby foresees small businesses taking over the still-empty rooms on the upper floors in future years.

Spread over three floors, members have access to a roughly equal mix of coworking and maker resources. There are big tables for laptops and interacting with new people, as well as a basement electronics workshop stocked with parts and manufacturing machinery like a 3D printer and a CNC mill. Overby is encouraging free meetups and classes in the basement, where he hopes to eventually see collaborative learning taking place every night.

The top floor of RockIT labs is dedicated to coworking. Large tables encourage connections among people working on different projects.

Community manager Kevin Chen and member/Tortuga Backpacks founder Fred Perrotta talk on the top floor of RockIT CoLabs, which is dedicated to coworking. Large tables encourage connections among people working on different projects.

RockIt Labs provides basic manufacturing equipment, such as a 3D printer, to qualified members.

RockIt CoLabs provides basic manufacturing equipment, such as a Type A Machines 3D printer, to qualified members.

Members pay $100/month to access the space after 5 p.m. or $200/month for 24/7 access. Overby said he is not sure if RockIT CoLabs will become more popular among the maker or coworking crowd, but he hopes there will be a good mix of people. That gives rise to the serendipitous connections he cares so much about.

“We’re kind of morphing coworking with maker space. We’re trying to be something a little bit different than the average coworking space,” Overby said.

RockIT Labs founder Darren Overby in the basement electronics workspace and teaching room.

RockIT Labs founder Darren Overby in the basement electronics workspace and teaching room.

RockIT CoLabs is more of an experiment than a business. Overby would like to see people collaborate on projects that matter — the next Wikipedia or ridesharing app. By the end of the year, he would love to have collected a core group of people interested in forming a larger hackerspace. Perhaps they could take over the still-empty rooms in the building and stick growing startups in them.

Overby also hopes RockIT CoLabs can help disrupt current culture by educating people on how to use tools like 3D printers.

“I feel like we’ve lost a whole generation of people that fix their own things, make things, modify their environment,” Overby said.”In the last 30 years, we’ve become increasingly a consumer population where it’s like, ‘Oh, the VCR broke? Let’s go buy a new one.’Iit’s kind of a shame. There’s nothing like taking something apart to learn how it actually works.”

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  1. Matthew McLaughlin Monday, July 22, 2013

    Very cool idea. Coworking is becoming increasingly popular and important.

  2. Reblogged this on SMILE ALWAYS .

  3. Ben Werdmuller Tuesday, July 23, 2013

    I am so ready to join this.

  4. Really cool space. I’ve been there several times. The people are great, the accommodations are outstanding and the view out the windows is a nice way to take a break. I love RockIT!

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