In those rare moments on a busy Wednesday when Carrie Rosenfelt can actually look up from her work, she sees an energetic space, bustling with innovation.
“It’s really an entrepreneurial ecosystem that we’re trying to create here,” Rosenfelt, executive director of ECDI Northern Ohio, says of The Dealership.
Rosenfelt’s observation is most apparent on Free Wednesdays, which present an opportunity for current and aspiring entrepreneurs to join members of The Dealership to take in a workshop, use a conference room or bounce ideas off others — all free of charge. It’s one of several mechanisms that highlight the co-working space and small business hub’s continued growth as a vibrant asset in the community.
The Shaker Heights Development Corporation (SHDC) and Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI) operate The Dealership together at 3558 Lee Road in a new partnership that has boosted programming, membership and more since the year began. The new arrangement has ignited an array of new services for area businesses and the community at large, while the coworking space continues to be a unique resource for all Shaker Heights residents who need an office space that isn't called Starbucks.
“There’s a lot of mission alignment between the two organizations,” SHDC executive director Nick Fedor says. “With SHDC focused on enhancing commercial districts here in Shaker and ECDI really focused on providing capital and resources to entrepreneurs and small businesses, it’s been a really good fit so far.”
The Dealership now has 29 members, up from 11 in January. Fedor says there are just two vacancies among the first floor’s 17 offices. The small business owners there include attorneys, accountants, web developers, caterers, property managers and others. With a 1,000-square-foot space in the rear of the building, the Cleveland Makers’ Alliance brings even more creative entrepreneurs to the hip and funky location with three-hour meetups each Tuesday that are open to the public.
Because the need for coworking space, additional business education and funding often coincide, ECDI — an SBA lender — has proven to be the ideal partner for SHDC. Since the statewide organization expanded to Cleveland in 2012, ECDI has helped businesses here obtain 306 loans totaling $7.7 million, Rosenfelt says. Fifty-one percent of those loans helped minority owned businesses, while 53 percent were owned by women. The average loan size has been $25,000.
At least one ECDI staff member is at The Dealership from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Additionally, an SBA Lending Representative holds office hours there from 3 to 5 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.
“With all of those organizations having programming here, it’s a really nice way to introduce Dealership members to everything that’s available in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, ECDI and beyond,” Rosenfelt says.
On the inside: keys to planning, financing, laws and LinkedIn
Launched earlier this year, the Lunch & Learn series has become a hit among current and prospective members, with recent topics such as contract law and protecting intellectual property.
The next Lunch & Learn, “Maximizing LinkedIn for Business,” is slated for May 31 and will be led by ECDI volunteer Diane Helbig of business coaching company Seize This Day. DeAnna May of Western Southern Financial Group will present the “Financial Planning” Lunch & Learn on June 7. All Lunch & Learn programs are free, open to the public and include a lunch.
Earlier this month, The Dealership also hosted a panel on gaining access to capital that featured representatives from ECDI, the Small Business Administration and the Hebrew Free Loan Association. Rosenfelt says ECDI and SHDC hope to make the panel a quarterly offering.
“That was very beneficial because, for me, my intellectual property consists of the training content that I create, so the professional development workshop was focusing on training us on how to go about getting trademarks, patents, things as simple as making sure our PowerPoint presentations have copyright [symbols],” says Yolanda Hamilton, whose YDH Consulting is a Dealership member.
“Sometimes when you’re just starting up, you’re so focused on getting the clients and income, that it’s the small things that fall through the cracks," she continues, “so that was very helpful — and free of charge — to provide professional development for the business owners.”
Other events have included the weekly Operation HOPE Small Business Workshop Series, delivered via Operation HOPE and the HOPE Inside office of PNC Bank. The weekly series covered the pros and cons of ownership, components of a business plan and more with aspiring entrepreneurs. ECDI also brought its Small Enterprise Education and Development (SEED) program to The Dealership, which includes 12 classroom hours over four weeks covering organization, customer relations and other instruction culminating in graduating with a business plan.
“These are groups that ECDI has brought in that are providing training and resources to both the tenants and members here and the broader entrepreneurial community,” Fedor says. Other spring session hosts include SEA Change, an initiative that provides coaching, connections and capital to those with ideas on how to improve their community; and member Aviatra Accelerators, which aims to inspire and support female entrepreneurs.
A welcoming environment fosters Global Classroom
With about 60 percent of Yolanda Hamilton's YDH Consulting business revolving around education and training, virtual office space was never going to suit her needs. Membership at The Dealership includes access to a conference room as well as more opportunities to showcase her brand to her market — other businesses. Having emerged from the now-or-never decision that many entrepreneurs with a dream ponder, not needing to worry about overhead was the biggest selling point for Hamilton.
“It’s a really welcoming environment,” says Hamilton, who has been a member since January. “I think that’s a little different than traditional offices, where people go to their offices, close the door behind them, and you don’t really get to know who’s working amongst you.
“For me, that’s the atmosphere that I thrive the most in,” she adds of The Dealership's community feel.
Hamilton’s business strives to make workplaces just as welcoming. YDH offers training and development to help companies prioritize diversity and inclusion in their operations. Examples of YDH programming include workshops on diversity and equity in education, health care disparities, strategic planning and recruiting diverse populations. President Donald Trump’s attempts at a refugee ban and discussion about building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border inspired Hamilton to create the Global Classroom, which is billed as "a cultural immersion program that equips participants with cultural competency and cultural literacy."
“It really boils down to having an understanding and being intentional about forming relationships with people from backgrounds that are different than yours,” Hamilton says.
“When it comes to privilege and power in the workplace, really challenging that organizational culture, it causes the leader or executive to really have to do an evaluation of the culture they’ve created. Oftentimes that can be uncomfortable for them because you have to acknowledge the realization that the company culture is this way for a reason, and it’s the leaders that shape this company culture.”
Hamilton says she considers herself a disruptor of narratives that blame a lack of inclusion on a lack of qualified candidates.
“That goes back to strategy — what kind of groups are you connecting with? There’s no way you can ever tell me ‘we can’t find a group of qualified Latinos or African-Americans for this position,’” she says, adding that it depends largely on where employers are looking for potential candidates. “I coin that as a silo mentality because if we only go back to professional groups to recruit where there are only people that look like us, then we’re never going to be able to engage diverse candidates. I challenge that.”
Joining The Dealership boosted YDH’s clientele and Hamilton’s collaborative opportunities to learn best practices while saving money.
“If you’re in an atmosphere where you can build clientele, that’s going to work for you and also reduce the cost that you might have to spend on marketing efforts or elsewhere,” Hamilton says.
“For my business, it’s really been a blessing.”
‘All walks of life’
In The Dealership’s front area you might find Hamilton teaching one of her workshops in a conference room or companies like BudgetEase and LaunchArts Media working with clients. The activity in the back is a bit different.
During a recent week, the Cleveland Makers’ Alliance hosted a small team working to refurbish a DIY 3-D printer, a father-son duo setting up a new Raspberry Pi computer and an individual receiving instruction on wood carving with a resident CNC machine.
“There have been all sorts of people from all walks of life,” says Sam Harmon, a Cleveland Makers’ Alliance board member and weekly meetup host. “Usually if someone has an idea of what they want to do, someone else in the group will either have some experience with that kind of project and can get them pointed in the right direction, or it might be the kind of project that someone hasn’t tried before but really piques their interest.”
Attendees of the group’s weekly open house at The Dealership are free to use the Alliance space, which is divided into two halves: an electronics/digital fabrication area, which has 3-D printers, CNC machines, a wide-format inkjet printer, and more; the other side serves as the workshop with woodworking and metalworking tools.
Aside from the meetups, the Alliance also took part in the Shaker Makers event in April at The Dealership with the city and Ingenuity Cleveland. Harmon says the Alliance also holds occasional, small-scale events and classes on Saturdays. Future plans include classes on how to solder and employ rain barrels.
Fedor says other Dealership businesses might tap the Alliance on tasks such as 3-D printing, which is just an example of the kind of convenient relationships the space creates.
“It’s really just a variety of different professional disciplines that really help build intellectual capital here to make it a very collaborative and inclusive entrepreneurial community,” Fedor says.
While the community is encouraged to try The Dealership out on Free Wednesdays and Lunch & Learn events, co-working space at The Dealership starts at $125 per month, while furnished offices are $500 per month. Training and conference rooms are $50 to $100 per month, depending on size.
To complement the experts and office hours, The Dealership has also formed unique partnerships with various groups, including the Cleveland Friendship Farm, a social enterprise and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) service that typically comes to Lee Road on a Tuesday or Wednesday in the third week of each month from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The no-commitment CSA employs young adults with varying “diffabilities” in an effort to improve their vocational skills.
Of course, the CSA is just one component of this thriving Lee Road ecosystem.
“If it doesn’t draw people here initially, the variety of activities and diversity of businesses and people here is what really keeps people coming back,” Fedor says.
“We found that people who are here are pretty pleased with the offerings.”
The City of Shaker Heights is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support network.