How coworking space Seat Detroit changed course to...

How coworking space Seat Detroit changed course to stay open during the pandemic

At her new digs in the North End, founder Que Roland aims to create a space that’s welcoming to all.

seat detroit coworking space's new home in the north end

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 Detroit’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 Detroit’s new HQ? The company owns it. There’s power in the pivot.

“I like that word,” said Que Roland, serial entrepreneur and founder of Seat Detroit. “That’s the perfect word to describe this shift.”

Seat Detroit’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 didn’t hesitate to change course, moving the coworking space to the North End house. 

“The financial constraints of paying my monthly rent were impossible,” Roland said. “There 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 wouldn’t have that hanging over me.”

Que Roland, founder of Seat Detroit coworking space
Courtesy of Que Roland and Seat Detroit

She chose the city’s North End because it doesn’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.

“I’m a native Detroiter, and it appears that most of the coworking spaces in Detroit are not owned by Detroiters,” Roland said. “So, 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 that’s not fully developed yet — but is on its way.”

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.

“I 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,” Roland said. “That’s why I use the tagline ‘Creating a seat at the table.’ For many Black people, they don’t feel a sense of inclusiveness when they’re in other spaces.”

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.

“When 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 wasn’t restrictive.”

Roland emphasized that Seat Detroit members can bring their whole selves into the coworking space. Beyond that, there are services she offers that serve entrepreneurs’ eclectic needs: 24/7 access, a podcast studio, phone booth and storage. 

Interior of Seat Detroit, coworking space in Detroit's North End neighborhood.
Courtesy of Que Roland and Seat Detroit

“A lot of small business owners, like videographers and others, told me they liked coworking, but they didn’t like how coworking spaces did not provide them a safe place to store their equipment,” she said.“I listened to people and tried to include what they told me they needed.”

Roland has some words of encouragement for would-be entrepreneurs still teetering on the verge of starting their businesses, especially as there’s no way to easily predict what’s to come next for any of us in a pandemic world.

“How is COVID going to affect Seat Detroit long-term? I have no idea,” she said. “I also know this is the time to be creative in recreating what you do and who you are. I don’t know if you’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. They’ve started businesses that don’t require a large investment or a ton of money to begin…. I haven’t stopped brainstorming either. In the last few days, I’ve come up with three new ideas that I know will be a success.” 

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. “Keep pivoting.”

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.

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter with a heart for people and their stories. A WDET Storymakers Fellow, she also writes for nonprofits and individuals through her small business Keen Composition.