SpaceLab’s co-founder and CEO Karen Burton is an educator, historian, and diversity and inclusion advocate in the architecture and construction industry. Along with her colleague Saundra Little, AIA, NOMA, she founded Noir Design Parti, a Knight Arts Challenge winning project that chronicles the projects and career journeys of Michigan’s African American Architects. On Feb. 17, an interview with Karen will air on Michigan Radio where she will introduce listeners to Donald White, AIA, the first Black graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Michigan’s and Alabama’s first licensed Black architect.
Karen and Saundra will discuss the role of Black architects in Detroit’s design history to students in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) on Feb. 15, and on Feb. 21 at 5:30 PM, they’ll lead a panel discussion with five of Detroit’s leading architects at The University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.
Karen will also be a panelist on the topic “Revitalizing ‘Main Street'” at the 10th Annual Detroit Impact Conference, the flagship event of the Detroit Revitalization and Business (DR&B) Club at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Audra Carson, founder, owner and Chief Beautification Strategist at Izzie, LLC and host of the CommuniD Podcast was awarded Olivet College’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor presented to alumni for living out the College’s mission and values. One of Olivet classmates also endowed a scholarship in Audra’s name.
When asked why it’s important to her to give back to the Detroit community, Audra responds, “I love the city with my whole heart and I love the people with my whole heart. I couldn’t see myself anywhere else… It is paramount to me that at this moment in history, with society minimalizing authentic connection, that I highlight Detroiters who are creating communities in their unique and beautiful ways.”
SpaceLab welcomes Jujuan Buford and JSB Business Solutions to our community of professionals.
From Jujuan S. Buford’s bio:
JuJuan Buford is a native Detroiter, successful entrepreneur, public speaker, and business development specialist. He’s dedicated to helping families, entrepreneurs, and business owners establish thriving enterprises, achieve financial independence, and build lives of satisfaction.
Jujuan is driven by the belief that entrepreneurship is empowerment. He brings approximately 20 years of experience gained from the banking and financial planning industry. As a business development professional with JSB Business Solutions LLC, Jujuan helps small business owners navigate the same challenges that large corporations are confronted with: research and development, securing more clients, increasing profits, scaling, retaining talented employees, making better financial, tax & accounting, and legal decisions, and protecting their business interests.
Tash Moore, head blogger for Detroit Startup Week and founder of Catch-313 social media agency interview SpaceLab’s CEO Karen Burton on Medium.
Tash Moore: Thank you so much for chatting with me? You run SpaceLab Detroit, the coworking space downtown geared toward architecture, community development, and like-minded firms. How did you discover coworking?
Karen Burton: Thanks for the opportunity, Tash. I opened my first design and drafting business years ago in Flint. I started in a 70 square foot office in an incubator just north of downtown called the Oak Business Center, which is still operating today. There were a variety of businesses there — professional services and retail with a conference room to share — but at the time everyone seemed pretty disconnected. I thought there could be a better way for businesses to share resources and collaborate.
I see [Detroit] as a top-tier entrepreneurial hub for the country. There are so many resources available and a wealth of opportunities for innovation. – Karen Burton
Freelancing as an architectural designer, the traditional “third places” like coffee shops and libraries didn’t always fit my needs or my colleagues’. We’d need a place to print construction documents and large tables to lay them out for review when meeting with clients. There were many of us solopreneurs who wanted to collaborate on larger projects, and we needed somewhere to come together. The idea for our design and construction-focused coworking space began to develop some time ago, but the timing was perfect in 2015 after I left a job. The following year, my husband Bobby left his, and we decided to pursue the SpaceLab concept together.
TM: With associated partnerships with NOMA Detroit and AIA Detroit, your space really highlights inclusion in a field that doesn’t showcase as much diversity nationally. Besides our majority-black population, what else do you believe makes Detroit special?
KB: I’m proud of my connections with those organizations, as well as with NAWIC and NABWIC, the women in construction groups. We want to highlight that professionals of color and women working in these fields that are so-called non-traditional for us are just as educated and qualified and can lead and work alongside majority companies to get the projects done. SpaceLab is a diverse shared office space with members of all backgrounds and age groups. We’re thankful that people choose to grow their businesses with us.
Credit IQ offers both business and personal credit solutions. Personal credit solutions include credit optimization to create a stronger business profile by helping to correct reporting errors, paying debts to optimal percentages to become reflective in the FICO score, and educating on personal budgeting.
Credit IQ’s business credit solutions allow them to get the business owner and their business capital ready by optimizing their business credit using only their EIN without any personal guarantees. Services include establishing a DUNS Number, Paydex score of 80, Experian and Equifax business credit profile, cash flow projections, business plans that meet underwriting requirements, and SBA and alternative loan funding.
Michal Catari is founder and CEO of Wolf Virtual Reality. He previously owned construction companies and has been a construction manager and project manager for development companies. Michal has architecture and interior design degrees from Lawrence Technological University.
SpaceLab’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent intern Micah Womack spoke with Michal about starting a company, virtual reality, and technology in construction, real estate, and the industrial sector.
Micah: Can you tell me about your company?
MC: Wolf Virtual Reality is the name of the company. The trademarked name is “Wolf VR.” Wolf VR is a visualization company in Detroit. We help companies primarily in the real estate market illustrate their properties so they can get advanced funding and early pre-sales or pre-leases of properties.
Micah: As someone going to college, what advice would you give me?
MC: For those who may want to work at Wolf VR, mathematics would be one thing. Some art would definitely be a big plus. The mathematics comes into play when you have to do measurements. It’s not very complex, but it’s good to have to be able to figure out sizes of rooms, volumes and scales. In terms of visualization and art, maybe some hand-sketching or painting because we’re looking for more of the creative types to come on board.
Micah: What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
MC: Probably be the best thing to think about would be to develop solid contacts. This industry is built on contacts. You can have great advertisements and awesome campaigns, but you have to build relationships with individuals, and build their trust one-on-one. My advice is to have a solid network of people from different industries who could eventually use your services.
Micah: Walk us through your management strategies.
MC: As the owner, I need to develop strong relationships with whomever I manage. I also need to identify targets for segments or markets I’d like to pursue.
So, management processes: I oversee a lot of things within our organization – advertising, marketing, payroll, cash flow. I also have to be very mindful about contracts, proposals and estimates. In our engagement with the customer, we acknowledge what they’re trying to achieve, and then we start by developing a schedule so we can be on time with our services and fit within our customer’s schedule.
Micah: What are the biggest issues in construction, real estate and design today,
MC: Construction is one division built on tradition. They do things a certain way and aren’t always the most willing to make changes. Then here we come with a completely new technology, introducing how it can be used in various industries, from medical to construction to real estate to advertising to retail. Although this technology is costly, in the long run it will benefit us if we can be early adopters and allow it to prove itself to work. In our case, we helped a lot of real estate agents, owners and construction companies visualize what’s coming in their projects, and the return is maybe 100 times their investment.
Micah: What’s been the best feedback you’ve received from a client?
MC: I think it’s our attention to detail that’s most captivating to our audience. We spend quite a bit of time portraying what something would look like in the real world through an artificial world that we’re creating. Our attention to detail allows helps our client and their end user to truly visualize what they’re going to get, whether it’s the soap dispenser on the countertop, to the bedsheets, or the flooring or lighting. It’s a true representation as if it was real.
So, our attention to detail, our timeliness, and the communication has been the most rewarding. I would say probably the utmost is, “Thank you for helping us sell our property in five days for over $3 million.”
Micah: What’s your growth plan? What areas are you targeting?
MC: We’re trying to focus on the real estate market. So far, that has been, our most successful segment. We’re also looking at growing into different products so we have a full-service offering for our customers. We started off with visualizations; then full 3D images for virtual tours; then our most elite service: full immersion. Through the use of technology, we can insert that customer into that environment that does not yet exist.
For growth, we’re adding services that our client would typically get from different sources. For example, web pages, project management, and also specialty cameras that do a 360-degree pan of the room, and we stitch them together without having to do animation work. We’re also adding drone services. We decided to combine all those services under one roof.
We are looking to expand into the construction and industrial industries and focus on training using full immersion, our top-end service. We can simulate tasks and provide a training mechanism. If someone is afraid of heights, we can virtually put them on a skyscraper looking down, incrementally increasing their awareness and helping them to be more comfortable in order to relieve any stress.
We can also teach people how to properly do their jobs. If one person has a high level of skill that they’ve developed over 25 or 30 years, they take those skill sets with them when they retire. It will take the next generation another 30 years to develop to that skill level. We can have the senior level person tell us how they execute certain tasks, and then simulate those exact tasks to create a simulation training module, saving the company training costs.
Micah: What is the biggest item on your to-do list.
MC: I’d say it’s to secure a perpetual contract with an outfit – whether that be a construction company, a design house, or a real estate agent. We want to be their go-to source for visualizations, and we’d have a steady stream of income coming in week after week. It could be repetitive, but always something new.
Micah: What technology are you using?
MC: We’re using the latest technology in terms of virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed realities. Those vary between software and hardware packages.
You asked about education. If you have a desire or passion to do or learn what we Wolf VR offers, we are very willing to teach. We find that the people who are very interested and passionate are the ones who are the most creative producers. You don’t have to have a degree – we can teach within the company.
Micah: What was your breakthrough project?
MC: I think it was the very first project that we received. It was from a gentleman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He knew my capabilities. I understood the project and what they were seeking. Someone took a huge chance on Wolf VR – we had only been open a few weeks – but he knew my integrity and the talent pool I would bring. We persevered, we gave them everything we had, and then even more. The relationship has been fruitful for us because now that customer has given us two jobs, and recently called us back for another.
Micah: What was your favorite project to do?
MC: There’ve been so many projects; they’re unique in their own way. If I had a favorite, I’d say the very first project. The owner emailed us and said, “I have these images. I’ve had this other firm put these together. Could you please make it look more realistic?”
That resonates with me because with our jobs thus far – except for only a couple – we’ve had to fix other people’s projects. Not necessarily mistakes, but we had to really take a look at what someone was trying to achieve and turn the customer’s pain into a more fruitful outcome, guaranteeing that the results would be to their satisfaction and exceed their level of expectation.
Micah: If there is one thing you could change about your company, what would it be?
MC: There really isn’t much to say about changing. We’re really evolving as a company. When I first started, it was visualization. I had a solid business plan, and we initially intended on doing simulations. However, as a new company, we had to work to establish leads for that work. So, we’ve taken on many different opportunities from real estate to video game development to other things which help us grow. Having experiences in those different segments really made me think that my initial business plan was just a starting point – we’ve evolved so much in one year.
I see Wolf VR becoming a very prominent player in Detroit and other markets across the country. The goal is to have a Wolf VR office in every state so that anyone can bring their plans and ideas knowing that our talent network will transform their visions into reality at a very moderate cost. We want to become the premier visualization company. There are internet services, but we all really still need to have the interaction with people. We’re an open company. If you drop by our office, somebody will take the time to come talk to you. Please come and see us.
Micah: That’s all I have for you today. It was nice interviewing you!
SpaceLab’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent 2018 summer intern Micah Womack spoke with Bryan about architecture and running a firm.
Please tell me about your company.
Our company is called Berardi Detroit. We’re an architecture and engineering firm. We’ve been open since SpaceLab has been open. We primarily do multifamily housing projects and a lot of Motor City Match and Motor City ReStore Projects.
As someone going to college, what advice would you give me?
Figure out what you don’t want to do, and don’t do that. That’s the best advice I can give. A lot of people have a hard time finding what they want to do. I was one of the weird ones – I just wanted to be an architect, and I just kept going down that path. Unless you already know, try out some stuff, or if it doesn’t seem like something you don’t want to do, or if doesn’t even seem interesting, just avoid it. You’ve got to do some required classes here and there, but for the most part, try to avoid what you don’t want to do.
Why Detroit? Why did Berardi want to come to Detroit?
Berardi wanted to come to Detroit because they had almost 40 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations doing multifamily housing, apartments and senior living, and there seemed to be a gap in the market. There wasn’t a firm addressing, or talking, to nonprofits in that way, making them a focus. There’s a housing boom in the city, so it was kind of a perfect time to come along.
What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities in the future?
Still doing a lot of housing, but getting into different project types. There are a lot of childcare needs out there – that’s something I’m interested in doing. Even though there’s a lot of housing announced and a lot of housing that’ll be built soon, there will still be more needed.
Walk us through your management strategy.
One step at a time. We do weekly meetings with the team, and try to plan out our week. What do we have on the table this week that we have to get done? Obviously, if something comes along, we try to fit it in there. But I’ve found, if we at least plan for the week and address the things that need to be done that week, we’re pretty successful.
What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?
Calling people back, and it’s a constant follow up. You might have a contact with a client one time, and you send them some information, and you might not hear back from them. Or you do, and you still need to call them. It’s a constant thing: just following up and making sure you’re building that relationship. That’s probably the biggest to-do that I do and don’t do. The squeaky wheel gets the oil sometimes. The client that’s calling me constantly, they’re going to get my attention, but I still need to address the other clients that don’t call as much just to make sure they’re happy with the way things are going.
What’s the worst advice you’ve gotten?
Don’t become a licensed architect.
What recent changes in the architecture industry have you seen that are positive?
I feel there’s more collaboration between different people and firms. I think collaboration is a trend. Before, it was “I do this, you do that.” I feel there’s more of a collaboration happening between architects, engineers, and even the contractor. If we don’t stay on the same page, it just goes left really fast.
If there was one thing you could change about your company, what would it be and why?
There’s not much I would change right now. I’d want more people to do more work, but I need more work to get more people. I think we’re right where we’re supposed to be; I think we’re growing. We’re trying to find the balance where we are, and then see where we need to go. I think it’s a constant move forward, and we’re doing that.
Tell us about NOMA.
NOMA is the National Organization of Minority Architects. I am the current Detroit chapter president. It’s a professional organization – the idea is to get people of color in the industry together to network. We’ve found that there aren’t a lot of us, so our emphasis is outreach to high school students like yourself, telling them that we’re architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, structural engineers – and you can be one, too. That’s really the only way we grow the numbers – by exposing it (architecture) to younger people. It’s not something you can turn just left into. Like say, you’re going to school for art, and then you decide to get an MBA and go into business. You can get an MBA and then go into architecture. It’s just not an easy road to turn into.
What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
My son was born – my second son was born. He’s six months now.
A question for myself: In school, when professionals come out and to speak to students, would you like to be one? Can reach back out to you?
This morning, in the aftermath of a national election that was both disappointing and encouraging, I am reminded of the power of persistence and faith.
Twenty-two years ago, in 1996, I had just sold the company that I and my two co-founders had spent the past twelve years building. Ours was a journey that required tremendous persistence, faith, focus, and talent, but even with all that, our ultimate success would not have been possible without the perseverance of our forbears. In that moment of triumph, I wanted to do something that would explicitly recognize the contributions of my parents who, in the face of hardships and racial bias, still persisted and made opportunities available to me and my siblings. I decided to fund a scholarship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor that would recognize engineering students who embodied my parents’ values of determination in the face of adversity, faith, hard work, and education. Two of my heroes and mentors at the University, Assistant Dean Anne Monterio and Professor Leo McAfee, encouraged me to endow a “full ride” scholarship that would carry with it the honor and prestige it deserved. Thus was born, on October 17, 1996, the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan.
I still tear up when I remember the luncheon at which we unveiled the scholarship. My mother was there, as was my dear Uncle Bill (Hayden) and the pastor from our church in Flint, the Reverend Braxton V. Burgess. I spoke briefly to honor my parents and to explain the rationale for the scholarship, and then it was time for my mother to speak. She could barely finish her remarks, as she was overcome with emotion and began to cry. Reverend Burgess and I each held one of her arms to support her as she continued to speak. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Fast-forward seven years. I watched from my home in New Jersey as the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship was awarded to a brilliant engineering student from Detroit, Garlin Glichrist. I couldn’t make the award ceremony, but my brother Fred, his wife Pat, and my mother did. We were all proud to award the scholarship to such a talented student who seemed to embody the values that my parents held dear. We felt that he was destined for success, but we had no idea of the impact he would ultimately have.
Garlin graduated with a masters degree in engineering from U-M. He worked for Microsoft Corporation in Seattle before realizing that his calling was public service, not corporate software development. He moved to Washington DC, ultimately holding a key position with MoveOn.org. Then he moved home to Detroit to take a position in city government. That is when I began to see the possibilities for Garlin’s future taking shape.
In 2017, Garlin ran for and lost the race for city clerk in Detroit. The loss was disheartening to Garlin, but it also fueled his re-engagement with his home community and supercharged his passion for public service. This year he was tapped by Gretchen Whitmer to run for Lieutenant Governor on her ticket, and last night they won easily. If Garlin had not demonstrated courage and faith in his career choices, he would not be Lieutenant Governor-Elect this morning. If he had not persisted after losing the race for Detroit City Clerk, he would not have been available to help Gretchen Whitmer win the election.
All of this brings me back to the power of persistence and faith. If my parents had not persisted in the face of tremendous adversity, I would not have been able, in the wake of the civil-rights era, to build a valuable engineering company. If I had not built such a company, I wouldn’t have had the resources to endow a scholarship at University of Michigan that would support Garlin Gilchrist at a critical time in his professional development. Had Garlin not demonstrated the faith of his convictions and dedicated his considerable talents to public service, he would not have been standing on the stage, victorious, with Gretchen Whitmer last night.
We in this region, this state, this country will not get to the “more perfect union” we strive for in one giant leap. Faith, persistence, hard work, talent – the values of my parents and probably yours, too – will get us there, one step at a time.
Congratulations Gretchen and Garlin. Serve well.
November 7, 2018
Note 1: This story proves the power of persistence and the value of supporting young talent. I strongly encourage everyone with the means to support talented students, especially students of color, at the University of Michigan who want to be a positive force in their communities. If you wish to contribute to continue to build the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship Fund, please contact George Dendrinos at the University, email@example.com, (734) 647-7113, and state your intentions. Feel free to copy me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish.
Note 2: I was with Assistant Dean Anne Monterio and Professor Leo McAfee this past summer on the occasion of Anne’s 80th birthday celebration in Las Vegas. They are the heroes and mentors who helped me greatly when I was a student at University of Michigan, and who years later were instrumental in the establishment of the Fred and Louise Tarver Scholarship Endowment.
David Tarver is a faculty member at the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship, founder and President of the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative, author of Proving Ground: A Memoir, and an adviser and member at SpaceLab Detroit. He is a highly successful technology business executive with an incredible entrepreneurial journey.
SpaceLab’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent 2018 summer intern Micah Womack spoke with our co-founder and COO Bobby Burton about owning a business and his vision for the company.
Can you tell me about your company?
My company is SpaceLab Detroit, and we are a coworking space in downtown Detroit. We opened a little over a year ago. I’m blessed to say that we’ve leased all of our private office space, and we have a number of members in our shared office space. We focus on the construction and design industries – the majority of our members are in those fields.
Walk us through your management strategy?
To build relationships with our customers. One of the hardest things to do is customer retention, yet it is most valuable things to do as a business. There’s nothing better than having long term customers, particularly customers who speak well of you. Customer relationships are very important. You want to make sure those are strong, and you meet your customer needs.
What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a client?
How much they enjoy the sense of community. The quality of the work environment at SpaceLab.
What’s your growth plan? What areas are you targeting?
Well, what I want to do is expand beyond coworking and to get more involved in the actual construction and development fields themselves. Coworking is a nice start, it’s a way to bring people together. Particularly, I want to help grow African-American construction contracting firms. There’s a huge opportunity in Detroit, and there’s a big demand that’s not being met.
What’s the biggest item on your to do list now?
We want to develop more relationships in the contractor arena.
What technology are you using?
A lot of web-based and cloud-based tools – that’s kind of where the industry going. Automation is huge in any businesses. It’s an easy way for a small business to look large and for a small business to increase their profits and to provide services that they couldn’t provide otherwise. We have a software package called Nexudus specifically tailored for coworking spaces. It allows us to manage our billing and our space, particularly our conference room space, and it allows our customers to manage the space for themselves. They can make their own bookings and pay their bills without having to interact with us.
What was your “breakthrough” project?
Completing SpaceLab’s build out in June of 2017. Opening the doors was the biggest.
What was your favorite project to do?
Wow, I mean going back into my days in I.T. (information technology), it was delivering new applications with new functionally to our customers. That was always fun and exciting.
What advice would you give to someone who is starting their own business?
Patience. Patience, and one of the things you have to have is a cushion. When you start a business, you’re going to struggle at first, so you need to have a good, solid financial plan and a financial cushion so you can make sure you can carry yourself through until time your money starts to come in and your business starts to become profitable.
LOUIS FISHER, AIA, NOMA is celebrating his 40th year of living in Detroit and practicing architecture in the city. Louis owns Architecture & Urban Design, PC, and was project architect for the U.S. Tennis Association’s Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums in Queens, NY (with Rossetti), the 1980’s expansion of Cobo Center in Detroit (with Sims-Varner) and designer for many other projects in Detroit. Louis is currently the national treasurer for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA).
BERARDI +, with Detroit Director Bryan Cook, NOMA, AIA (left) and his team, continues to offer architectural and design services for several Motor City Match and Motor City Re-Store retail and restaurant projects.
VM3 CONSULTING CORP. has been recognized as a Diversity Focused Company by Corp! magazine. Led by founder and CEO Alisha Moss, VM3 helps clients jumpstart diversity programs by providing strategies that will ingrain diversity into their organizations. As a small, minority, woman-owned strategic management consulting firm, VM3 understands the importance of diversity and the difficulty of implementing it into corporate culture.