CoCo, an incubator of several successful startups that offers shared workspace to entrepreneurs in Lowertown, at the Grain Exchange in Minneapolis, in Uptown and in Fargo, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month.

Co-founders Don Ball and Kyle Coolbroth shared some thoughts on the history of the organization, which kicked off in St. Paul’s Lowertown.

“The day we opened our doors happened to be the first day of light rail construction right outside our door,” said Ball. “The entire building was shaking from the pile drivers. We had to wonder whether we had made a critical error in judgment.”

When CoCo opened, there was no co-working in Minnesota, Ball said. After some modest success, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak asked CoCo to consider opening on the 16,000 square foot former trading floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

"We were already looking at spaces in Minneapolis when the mayor called. He seemed to think it would work and even suggested we rename it the “Brain Exchange,” said Coolbroth. “We weren’t sure we could ever find enough members...but we also knew that we’d never find a space as beautiful.” 

A key moment of affirmation came in November 2011 when Google Chairman Eric Schmidt visited -- another idea of Rybak's. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship between Google and CoCo.

“It was a media circus, with reporters and camera crews all over the place,” Ball said. “The best moment of the day was when Eric Schmidt told the media that he’s been all around the world and hadn’t seen anything quite like this."

In the last couple years, CoCo has expanded twice again, opening a space in Uptown and another in downtown Fargo, ND.

Here are some of the businesses that have been part of the CoCo community. Lots of recognizable names and success stories:

·  Anaplan - graduated from CoCo due to high growth

·  Apruve - graduated to their own space in Butler Square

·  Docalytics - received funding from AOL Founder Steve Case at Google Demo Day

·  Hyper IQ – acquired by Buzzfeed on Dec. 17, 2014

·  Kidizen - received funding from AOL Founder Steve Case at Google Demo Day

·  Lead Pages - grew from 10 to 100 employees in one year, while at CoCo St. Paul before graduating into their own space

·  Mindsailing - a marketing firm that is choosing to grow within CoCo

·  Mobiata - the mobile development arm of Expedia, which works out of CoCo Minneapolis

·  Mobile Realty Apps - grew up at CoCo St. Paul and later on CoCo Minneapolis before graduating into its own space

·  Rowbot - an ag-robotics firm that has received significant funding

·  Spark Devices - an Internet of Things startup whose cofounders met at CoCo

·  Zipnosis - graduated from CoCo Minneapolis into their own space

CoCo facts:

·  Locations: 4

·  Members: 800

·  Events in 2014: 176

·  Cups of coffee consumed in 2014: 52,695

·  Tours in 2014: 456

·  Visitors in 2014: 10,065

·  Funding sources: membership revenue and sponsorships

(Photo: CoCo co-founders Kyle Coolbroth and Don Ball in the Grain Exchange in 2011. Photographer is Richard Sennott, Star Tribune.)