William Grose center for African American innovation

Building capacity within the black small business community to provide equitable access to opportunity and long-term wealth creation.

Boosting African American capacity with entrepreneurship
There are 28 million small businesses in the US, generating nearly two-thirds (64%) of all new private sector jobs and paying nearly half of all payroll.  And small business is responsible for the lion’s share of our country’s innovation, creating 16 times more patents per employee, which increases with the number of employees.  These statistics are not consistent across all demographics, however.  African Americans own just 7% of small businesses (approx half of their overall representation in total population) with gross receipts representing less than 5% of all small business revenue.  And while personal savings is by far the largest means by which small businesses start and expand, African Americans are 22% more likely to use personal credit cards and 40% less likely to use home equity to finance their business needs.  That shouldn’t be surprising given African Americans have twelve times less median family wealth than whites and are 50% less likely to own their home.  So while small businesses are the engine of our economy and the strongest opportunity for employment and wealth creation, it takes access to capital, talent, and technical skills which is not proportionally distributed across all demographics.

One opportunity for leveling this playing field is the category of accelerators, incubators and coworking spaces which together are one of the fastest growing office markets, increasing 25% in number each year 2014-2016, and doubling in member base for that same period.   And there’s growing interest in coworking membership by large companies, signaling not only sustained growth for the sector but also increasing opportunity for the small businesses that are working in these spaces to increase their opportunity for growth.  This may explain why a company like WeWork could be valued at $5B in 2014.   In short the value of coworking spaces is the opportunity they provide to learn and accelerate ideas and gain access to networks and capital.  Plus there’s ample research to support that coworking enables workers to feel a greater sense of control, agency and happiness in pursuing their professional lives which is as good a company perk as any.

Coworking focused on the African American community may help level the playing field and provide access to capital, talent and technical skills required to successfully launch and grow a small business.

It is for all of these reasons that a collection of Central Area organizations are creating the William Grose Center (WGC), a non-profit entrepreneurial training center and coworking space focused on building small business capacity and innovation within the African American community.  The organization will provide technical assistance and an accelerator environment, funded in part by member fees and service contracts, assisting public-sector agencies with community development and capacity building priorities.  WGC is the creation of partner organizations Black Dot, Africatown, and Black Community Impact Alliance who are working with the Office of Economic Development to develop the business model and identify a location, potentially utilizing the Equitable Development Initiative/Fund.  The OED has provided funding to help the organization refine their business plan and perform an initial feasibility study for renovating retired Fire Station 6 at 23rd & Yesler.  Within two years, WGC aims to be building capacity for over 300 members annually and running more than five training events each week from inside the 7,500 square foot historic building.

FIX’s role
In 2016, the OED hired FIX to develop the William Grose Center business plan and project manage the Fire Station 6 feasibility study.  Over a six month period, FIX worked with the WGC team and third-party consultants to define the market opportunity and value proposition, identify revenue sources, create a staffing plan and design an operations strategy.  Concurrently, we managed the technical and design feasibility study for Fire Station 6.  See our post on that work here.

ClientSeattle Office of Economic Development
Size7,500 square feet
Location23rd & Yesler, Seattle
ProgramCoworking innovation center & event space
RoleStrategic planning
Project management
Business modeling
ImpactEnable new mission-oriented African American-owned organization.
A business focused on providing equitable access to skills training.