The PowerLab, a co-working and incubator space in southwest Yonkers, celebrated its grand opening last month, a major step for a project that its nonprofit founder hopes will bring new economic opportunity to its neighborhood.
Standing in the 2,700-square-foot former medical space that has been repainted, tiled and decorated with local artwork, Ray Wilcox remarked on how far the space had come following a year of refurbishment. It wasn’t easy to get there, he said.
“It’s been a lot of work and a roller coaster for sure,” said Wilcox, a cofounder of the project. “We pushed back our launch four or five times already, but this worked out perfect.”
On the third floor of an office building at 45 Ludlow St., The PowerLab’s new office is furnished with an assortment of desks, couches and tables, along with a reception area and a kitchen and café. The project’s leaders hope the space will soon be filled with freelancers, entrepreneurs and employees of companies in growing tech fields. It will also be home to a number of workshops and courses that teach skills such as coding and design.
The project was launched from a canvassing initiative started three years ago, the Highland Hill Project. The initiative is led by the Yonkers-based nonprofit Community Governance & Development Council (CGDC), which led an effort to speak with residents in southwest Yonkers and identify needs in the community.
“The primary need that we identified was the lack of economic opportunity,” said Community Governance and Development Council Executive Director LaMont OyeWale’ Badru. “So we had an idea for creating a business incubator as a potential model or solution for that problem that was different than traditional paths to economic development.”
CGDC began work on The PowerLab and partnered with Wilcox and Anthony Bailey, managing partners of Defiant Media Group, a Yonkers-based marketing and business development agency, which oversaw the buildup and launch of the facility.
To help renovate and launch the workspace, CGDC received a $75,000 community development block grant last year from the Yonkers Planning Department. The project also received a $20,000 grant from the Elias Foundation and additional funding for its planning from the Westchester Community Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.
In a statement of support, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said The PowerLab will “provide needed guidance and opportunities to community members to create businesses by giving them the tools and office space they need to be successful.”
Wilcox said tenants in the office space include a range of local nonprofits. Membership in the co-working space at The PowerLab costs $185 a month, which includes access to work space, meeting rooms and printing and copying. The PowerLab also offers private office space for $500 per month, though those spaces have already sold out.
A $25 monthly membership provides free or discounted access to The PowerLab’s events and access to the work space for an additional $20 per use.
The group is finalizing the operating plan for its incubator program, with plans to launch that operation in February. After that, Badru said, The PowerLab will work to launch a business accelerator program using additional space within the building.
The incubator will offer free workspace to selected startups along with mentorship, business development training and technical support, according to Badru. The accelerator, meanwhile, will target more established companies and help them access capital to grow their operations. Both will prioritize businesses that are based in Yonkers and women- and minority-owned.
CGDC was launched in 2012 to organize an attempt to acquire the former School 19 building at 70 Jackson St. in southwest Yonkers. The nonprofit proposed to convert the school building into a community facility with an urban planning-focused high school. Ultimately, the city sold the property to Long Island City-based developer Alma Realty Corp., which plans to build an apartment complex there.
CGDC then launched the Highland Hill Project, which aims to assess community needs in the area around the School 19 property to develop a comprehensive plan that will recommend solutions for the neighborhood.
CGDC noted on its website for The PowerLab that one in three residents in southwest Yonkers lives below the poverty line.
“We identified the economic development that needs to occur,” Bailey said. “This is the catalyst for it — providing that space and opportunity for individuals to be here.”
The PowerLab has so far hosted coding and design meetups, talent shows, lunch bag drives for people who are homeless or hungry, yoga sessions and entrepreneurship classes. This summer, the nonprofit worked with the Greyston Foundation and Purchase College to launch a free eight-week entrepreneurship course at the Purchase College Center for Community and Culture in downtown Yonkers.
The PowerLab also plans to partner with an educational institution to launch a coding program, Badru said.
“We think a lot about workforce development, but we’re geared more towards the future economy,” Badru said. “We understand that information technology is the future for growth in our communities. So when we focus on job development, our focus is on building skills, like programming, coding and learning IT infrastructure.”