CoLab Director Moves On – Reflects On Progress

Ariel Lev

After more than two years of leading the charge at the small business incubator on Grandin Road, Ariel Lev has left the director’s post and may open her own community-based small business. In the meantime she is showing the ropes to the new director of the CoLab, Brad Stephens – a friend that she recruited. Lev also organized the City Works (X)Po last year after founder Ed Walker handed over the reins.

“Brad and I are close friends,” says Lev, “we’ve started a lot of projects together.” Stephens is also the force behind the Big Lick Soup competition, where small non-profits and micro-businesses compete for seed money voted on by a public audience; he also founded “Noke Codes,” a local computer programming group that has put on several “Hackathons.” Lev called Stephens her “right hand” for last October’s (X)Po. “He is incredibly inspired by community development.”

After more than two years on the job, Lev said she will miss CoLab and what it has meant to her but also feels it’s time for “fresh energy from a person with a different perspective from me in this next year, as we push towards further sustainability. We’re not really a startup anymore. That takes a little more of a nurturing skill set.”

Stephens was “excited about it,” when she pitched the idea of taking the director’s position. He also produces a podcast: “[Brad is] all over the place,” marvels Lev, who plans to stay in Roanoke, where her husband Sam works for the Natural Foods Co-op. She’s going through a “self-discovery” period at this point and will see where that leads her.

Saying there is plenty to be proud of and humbled by during her tenure, Lev says her team and CoLab members “changed Roanoke’s perspective on what a co-working space is and can provide for our community.” It took a while to define what exactly that space on Grandin Road could provide for its members: “now we’ve become a reliable of source of information and knowledge about co-working spaces in the region and for the state.”

Gene Marrano