Bobby Burton on Opening and Owning a Coworking Space

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.spacelab-17-bobby2.jpg

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.

SpaceLab Awarded Detroit Motor City Match Grant

Imagine our excitement when we got the call! SpaceLab Detroit was one of 13 business awarded a cash grant through Round 7 of the Motor City Match program, a unique partnership between the City of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), the Economic Development Corporation of the City of Detroit (EDC) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

We’re proud to be part of the “new culture of entrepreneurism,” described by Mayor Mike Duggan, “where Detroiters are realizing their dream of opening their own businesses to provide residents access to more goods and services…” Read more in the Motor City Match press release.

WXYZ the Ch. 7 Video

Ten of the 13 businesses awarded a total of $500,000 in Motor City Match grants are women-owned – including SpaceLab Detroit – as reported in Crain’s Detroit Business. Last July, we were a Round 4 Space Award winner through the program. The Space Award connects “new or existing businesses with top available Detroit real estate and financial planning assistance.”

See more on this quarterly awards  program, the presentations, and the award winners on mLive and Deadline Detroit.

Clockwise from top left: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talks about the impact of Motor City Match; Mike Rafferty, DEGC vice president of small business development, presents the awardees; Karen and Bobby Burton show off the award; Karen with Felicia Maxwell, owner of Fit4Life; Bobby with Ederique Gouda, owner of Gabriel Hall; the recognition ceremony took place at Lil Brilliant Mindz, a Round 4 award winner.