Startup Spaces: Alley Poyner Co-Lab manufactured from Model T factory

In 1916, Ford built a factory in North Omaha to manufacture Model T cars. Over the next century, it's had a history that includes a 50-year run as the Tip Top factory—the maker of hair curlers and bobby pins—then a tire warehouse until someone bought the building to repurpose it…

Sponsor: Thanks to turnstone, an office furniture company focusing on small businesses, for supporting Silicon Prairie News. The company is sponsoring our monthly Startup Spaces series.

About the author: The Turnstone Tip is authored by Jenny Gauld, space planner for turnstone.

An open-air atrium in the lobby is one spectacular feature of Omaha’s newest co-working space, Co-Lab in the Tip Top Building in North Downtown. The space was created and curated by Alley Poyner Macchieto architects.

In 1916, Ford built a factory in North Omaha to manufacture Model T cars.

Over the next century, it’s had a history that includes a 50-year run as the Tip Top factory—the maker of hair curlers and bobby pins—then a tire warehouse until someone bought the building to repurpose it.

Architecture firm Alley Poyner Macchietto helped refurbish the building, stripping it to the studs and exposing its beautiful brick and soaring windows. In 2005, they helped create apartments, an arcade and restaurant. The architects themselves fell in love with the space and moved in, too.

Now in 2014, a new group of entrepreneurs (listed right) works out of the space called Co-Lab, which was designed, built and curated by Alley Poyner.

“It was a big dead space and killed the vibe of the building,” said Michael Alley, principal of the firm. “When we first approached the building owner and asked him if we found the tenants (for a co-working space), would he build and operate it. He wasn’t up for it.”

In time the building owners came around and the architecture firm built out the space and brought in creatives and entrepreneurs to work there.

It all began when Caleb Coppock, a visual artist in Omaha, asked the firm if he could come work out of the space from time to time. They agreed. Then Steve Jensen, a then-retiring city planning director, was looking for a space to work on his consulting business occasionally. 

“Our work is very collaborative in nature,” Alley said. “A lot companies say they’re collaborative but this was part of our DNA…so we wanted even more creative collaboration.”

When Mary Zicafoose—a friend who makes textiles with large looms—wanted to come in, that tipped the scales. 

Alley Poyner bought up the adjacent 4,800 square-foot space and made Co-Lab, a space for creatives to work and mingle. Now a dozen entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups, with around 25 total employees, operate out of Co-Lab. They’re all in similar industries with different areas of expertise, Alley said.

So how did a dozen groups— including designers, a payment startup, an enterprise fund and creatives—come together?

“We call it curating the space,” Alley said. “We just put the word out there and word of mouth worked pretty well. Some we had planted seeds with years ago, some had held meetings in our conference rooms before… all these places needed a home, so we made it work.”

For instance, Alley Poyner architects have worked on restaurants that Secret Penguin has designed brands for. They’ve worked closely on those projects like The Blatt, another NoDo business, to make the overall feel mesh, Alley said.

Dave Nelson of Secret Penguin said they created a co-working space, Divvy Collective, nine years ago and they realized that when surrounding themselves with like-minded, good people, great things happen. 

So when Alley approached Secret Penguin to join Co-Lab, it was a no-brainer.

“We love the people, the surrounding businesses and the space,” Nelson said. “We’ve collaborated so much (with Alley Pointer) with us being here in the same area. Convenience on top of quality work and service is never a bad thing.”

Alley hopes Co-Lab adds to the NoDo landscape, which he calls the North Downtown Innovation District, and helps foster an environment in which entrepreneurs and creatives want to be a part of with endeavors like the Slowdown, Film Streams, the Mastercraft and Hot Shops.

“It’s a really natural fit,” he said.

Turnstone Tip 

If you’re looking to work in a beautiful, well-designed space, the Alley Poyner Co-Lab of Omaha demonstrates the power of intentional planning and the use of zones to accommodate a variety of work styles.

Alley Poyner’s clean, organized spaces offer ample real estate for projects and collaboration. An extensive materials library, colorful artwork and tidy surroundings create a work-friendly environment. They’ve built their community around similar interests and take pride in showcasing the brands that call the Co-Lab ‘home.’

We’d love to see that same polish brought to the indoor bike parking space. The turnstone Bivi bike hook mounts to the wall, allowing bikes to be hung up, freeing valuable floor space. And with bright colors to choose from, Bivi bike hook would wow against the wood wall of the bike area.

Alley Poyner’s ping pong space underscores the importance of movement and fun throughout the day. This would be a great place for a few Buoys, turnstone’s solution for active sitting. Furthermore, the standing areas are suited perfectly for our Scoop stool, giving workers the option to stand or grab a seat while they work.”

To submit your startup for consideration, email to tell us why your company should be featured, and include a few photos. 


The Co-Lab workers are all big on healthy lifestyle, Alley said. Bike parking is available inside the lobby. Also in the lobby, a gallery space for quarterly art shows and monthly artist speaking series. Mary Zicafoose, a Co-Lab resident, has an installation in the lobby this April. 

A collection of Co-Lab residents’ brand logos greets those who visit the space. More than a dozen work there. 

Zicafoose has one of the more colorful spaces in Co-Lab. She creates tapestries and carpets out of beautiful shades of yarn (at left). Her large looms (right) were one of the catalysts to Co-Lab. While she wanted to work in Alley Poyner’s office, the looms were much too big to accommodate.

Community members share drinks and conversation near Secret Penguin’s desk during an open house, April 3.

Each entrepreneur has their own space. Left is a small meeting room that Co-Labbers can use. Pictured right: the space occupied by Dave Nelson and creative branding agency Secret Penguin.

Alley Poyner has large conference rooms for its architecture firm, but Co-Lab workers can get in on the spacious meeting rooms with 18-foot ceilings. The rooftop, complete with grills and outdoor movie theatre (not pictured), free parking, Wi-Fi and work out room are other well-loved feature of the 98-year-old warehouse.

While each entrepreneur has their own space with room for a few people, there’s plenty of standing islands in the middle of the large, 4,800-square-foot space. “People often get up and move around,” Michael Alley said. “That’s where great collaborative activities happen. It’s great for working together spontaneously.”

This post has been co-authored by our sponsor, turnstone.

Credits: Photos by Michelle Vu. Story by Jordan Pascale.

About our sponsor: turnstone believes that our world needs innovative entrepreneurs and successful small businesses. We champion the idea that intentionally designed spaces and a vibrant office culture play a big role in this success. That’s why we’re committed to making it easier for leaders to leverage space and culture to help their companies thrive.


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