Founder Spotlight: Francesca Zimmer - Santos of co.lab

Connection, community, collaboration 
 By Candice L. Quimpo 

 
When you enter co.lab, one of the first thing you’ll notice is the open setup: tables and chairs fill the space, but no cubicles or other barriers to divide the coworkers. This lack of physical division lends to a collective attitude about work: that it can be flexible; that collaboration holds more value than competition; and how the right support system can prove vital.
 
 
Meet the coworkers
 
Co.lab is notable as the first cross-sector coworking space in the Philippines, explains Francesca Zimmer-Santos, co-founder of co.lab. She admits that the shared space situation may be strange for those new to the idea of coworking. It can be mistaken for a library-type setup where formality and silence rule. Coworking at co.lab corrects this assumption easily. While not as stiff nor as uptight, co.lab’s friendly atmosphere is founded on the unspoken rules of respect and discretion.
 
On the other side of things, while coworking may not be a lively social mixer, the encouragement to engage with other coworkers—through introductions and community events, even over a cup of coffee—can translate to a new alliance or partnership of some sort.
 
Francesca points out that their job at co.lab includes providing a setup where these people can thrive as they build their business, while making the environment suitable for a coworker to exchange thoughts or bounce off an idea with someone else, even if it’s someone they’ve only just met.
 
 
Strength in diversity
 
As coworkers become more comfortable crossing lines and sharing more of themselves, they participate towards a collective movement that values innovation and creativity. They are able to look at success in terms of being able to work with a variety of people (and all that comes with it, including differences in opinion and conflicts of interest) and with a practiced ability to find common ground that is directed toward a solution.
 
In some ways (and for many people) it’s not very natural or comfortable to engage with strangers and cross over to another’s space, even if the border one crosses leads simply to the next table. But Francesca has seen the benefits of coworking first-hand; she sees the value that the coworkers gain in acquiring multiple perspectives. She relishes her role as a connector, comparing the experience of two people connecting to traveling: being able to transport mindsets and open them up to moments of inspiration and learning.
 
In a way, by emphasizing this triumvirate of values at co.lab—connection, community, and collaboration—co.lab celebrates a real strength in diversity. This is easier said than done, but it is an outlook that guides co.lab to cultivate a community of coworkers that sees cooperation as the better option to out-and-out competition. Here, coworkers are encouraged to lean on the strengths of another and create synergy, instead of narrowly focusing on one’s own success as traditional competition would dictate. What’s one to do, then? Maximize the experience by expecting and utilizing the cross-pollination of talents, ideas, and projects.
 
 
 
Entrepreneurs as nation builders

Francesca challenges the notion of success further. Working in co.lab has allowed her to witness the proliferation of ideas being born—and some, sadly, being discarded. She insists that so many good ideas exist and that fear is the usual adversary to seeing them to fruition. Commitment, she explains, tackles this, allowing entrepreneurs to work through their fears and go the extra mile.
 
It’s very easy to generate ideas, she points out, but executing them is another story. And when a good idea falls wayside because of a lack of discipline, or even faith, it’s almost like a selfish act. When a good idea is a solution to an existing problem, an entrepreneur that transforms it into a working reality is performing an act of generosity as well as a contributing to the good of society.
 
“I believe that coworking is good for our country,” she reflects. Her hope is that in a coworking space like co.lab, where ideas are encouraged to flourish, evolve, and be supported, more generous entrepreneurs can create solutions that push society and the country forward.