Courtesy of Que Roland and Seat Detroit
In January, coworking space Seat Detroit hosted its grand opening. By last month, the business had shut down its Eastern Market operation and moved into a house in Detroitâ€™s North End neighborhood.
The move was a way to reduce costs, but not a failure or downgrade for the business. The difference at Seat Detroitâ€™s new HQ? The company owns it. Thereâ€™s power in the pivot.
â€œI like that word,â€ said Que Roland, serial entrepreneur and founder of Seat Detroit. â€œThatâ€™s the perfect word to describe this shift.â€
Seat Detroitâ€™s new home was always in the plans, Roland said. She rented the Eastern Market site to offer small business owners dedicated coworking; the house was purchased B.C. — before COVID-19 — to provide dedicated event space.
But when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses back in March, Roland didnâ€™t hesitate to change course, moving the coworking space to the North End house.
â€œThe financial constraints of paying my monthly rent were impossible,â€ Roland said. â€œThere was no hope of completing that task because I had no idea how long shutdowns would last and impact my business. So, I made the decision to terminate my lease and move on so that I wouldnâ€™t have that hanging over me.â€
She chose the cityâ€™s North End because it doesnâ€™t have the abundance of coworking spaces that exist across downtown and Midtown, and to place her stakes in a community beyond those 7.2 square miles.
â€œIâ€™m a native Detroiter, and it appears that most of the coworking spaces in Detroit are not owned by Detroiters,â€ Roland said. â€œSo, for me, [establishing Seat Detroit in the North End] is about investing in a neighborhood in which I would see growth, be a part of that growth and have some financial stake in an area thatâ€™s not fully developed yet — but is on its way.â€
Roland believes that her distinction as a native Detroiter who still lives in the city sets Seat Detroit apart from other coworking spaces in other important ways. Her business is designed to welcome everyone, at all stages of entrepreneurship.
â€œI had a lot of conversations before I opened Seat Detroit and knew from those conversations it would be important to create a sense of inclusiveness,â€ Roland said. â€œThatâ€™s why I use the tagline â€˜Creating a seat at the table.â€™ For many Black people, they donâ€™t feel a sense of inclusiveness when theyâ€™re in other spaces.â€
Throughout 2020, Roland has helped her small business owner tenants craft their business plans and develop marketing strategies. She also awarded mini-grants to burgeoning entrepreneurs, one in the amount of $500 to No Fear Cafe and coworking grants to two other small businesses.
Seat Detroit is creating a welcoming environment in other ways, too.
â€œWhen I opened Seat Detroit, I thought about what was important to me as an entrepreneur when I first started out. One thing was going to work, but not feeling like I was going to work, per se. I wanted to feel free — to feel like I worked in a place that wasnâ€™t restrictive.â€
Roland emphasized that Seat Detroit members can bring their whole selves into the coworking space. Beyond that, there are services she offers that serve entrepreneursâ€™ eclectic needs: 24/7 access, a podcast studio, phone booth and storage.
â€œA lot of small business owners, like videographers and others, told me they liked coworking, but they didnâ€™t like how coworking spaces did not provide them a safe place to store their equipment,â€ she said.â€œI listened to people and tried to include what they told me they needed.â€
Roland has some words of encouragement for would-be entrepreneurs still teetering on the verge of starting their businesses, especially as thereâ€™s no way to easily predict whatâ€™s to come next for any of us in a pandemic world.
â€œHow is COVID going to affect Seat Detroit long-term? I have no idea,â€ she said. â€œI also know this is the time to be creative in recreating what you do and who you are. I donâ€™t know if youâ€™ve noticed, but there are a lot of new businesses that did not exist pre-COVID. There are people out now disinfecting buildings and disinfecting cars. Theyâ€™ve started businesses that donâ€™t require a large investment or a ton of money to beginâ€¦. I havenâ€™t stopped brainstorming either. In the last few days, Iâ€™ve come up with three new ideas that I know will be a success.â€
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a new epidemic order that bans work at offices when it can be done from home. The order, which aims to slow the spread of COVID-19 as cases are surging, went into effect Wednesday and remains in place through Dec. 8. Seat Detroit conducts regular cleanings and has PPE like masks and hand sanitizer available on-site. During the pandemic, they’ve put a hold on drop-in coworking and unscheduled tours.
The key to realizing success, according to her, is deciding what you want and then acting on it. â€œKeep pivoting.â€
See Seat Detroit’s website for more details on coworking and becoming a member.
Correction: This story was changed to more accurately characterize Roland’s commitment to inclusivity and updated with information about Seat Detroit’s COVID-19 precautions.