December 2020

Company Venture Suite looks to get resources to Mount Vernon community with coworking space

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Earl Hopkins
December 24, 2020

Having grown up on the city’s South Side, entrepreneurs Branden, 35, and Bruce, 35, Jones have seen the effects of Columbus’ “innovation deserts,” which they describe as local neighborhoods plagued by a lack of resources and opportunity.

But the two brothers are looking to pour back into the Mount Vernon community with Venture Suite, a new initiative centered on providing a co-working space for aspiring creatives, start-up founders and tech professionals in an area that’s been largely been overlooked.

Under Venture Suite, residents will have access to computers, rentable conference rooms and educational programs, giving them the opportunity to collaborate, expand their businesses and gain the necessary skills to obtain in-demand tech jobs. The building, located at 780 Mt. Vernon Ave. is set to open its doors in January.

“This community has been historically underserved, and the people in this neighborhood deserve a shot and we want to be able to extend that shot,” Branden said.

After launching Blk Hack in 2016, a monthly event series designed to help minority professionals get into the local tech and startup industry, Branden said he and Bruce knew they wanted to provide a more inclusive and collaborative workspace.

With each event under the organization, Branden said he and his brother were forced to use predominately white programming spaces or establishments. As “roaming entrepreneurs,” they worked out of local coffee shops, cafes, and anywhere else with quality WiFi and a cheap drink. But these spaces often lacked a sense of inclusivity, Branden said.

The interior of the new Venture Suite location.

After realizing other young business owners and freelancers wanted a place to set up shop, the two brothers began looking for a location to house their businesses operations, as well as for other established and budding entities.

“For us, we wanted to make sure we not only created a space that represented that,” Branden said. “Our space is inclusive to all, but it’s built by us and for us. So, intentionally, we have our people in mind first.”

Before settling in the Mount Vernon neighborhood, they looked for nearly a year around the city’s South and Near East sides. But once the two founders found a location and began seeking community partners, the Columbus Urban League (CUL) was at the top of their list.

“We wanted it to be in an opportunity zone, where we consider an innovation desert,” Bruce said. “In an urban neighborhood like this, there’s a bunch of deserts.

The Urban League provided space inside the Huntington Empowerment Center building – owned by the nonprofit – and helped fund the $300,000 needed for renovations.

Organizations under the Partners Achieving Community Transformation (PACT), which includes the City of Columbus, The Ohio State University, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority and Near East Side stakeholders, also provided capital for the space’s redesign.

Columbus Urban League President Stephanie Hightower said the partnership with Bruce and Branden was an ideal match, one that aligns with the nonprofit’s aim to support minority-owned businesses and close the digital divide.

“We want to expose our folks and families to the new world of technology and how they can be a part of it and experience it because it’s an educational piece for us,” she said.

Hightower said it’s important to have an entity like Venture Suite in the urban core, especially one connected to a trusted organization like CUL, to give people of color opportunities in the tech space industry.

With the newly renovated space, Bruce said Venture Suite will push for collaboration among Black and Latin professionals through the use of shared conference rooms, presentation monitors, computers and other related devices under a monthly membership that ranges between $30-100.

While Venture Suite is using a co-working model, Bruce said the company will heavily rely on “programming, incubation and workforce development.”

As part of the membership, the company will offer the Venture Combine and Color Coded Labs, 12 and 16-week programs aimed at assisting founders and small business owners and educating residents interested in seeking in-demand tech positions.

Hightower said Venture Suite members will also have access to resources provided by the CUL, like the organization’s Minority Business Assistance Center, which will occupy the second floor of the building.

The exterior of the new Venture Suite location.

Council President Shannon Hardin, who helped fund $100,000 for the renovation project, said the forthcoming success of Venture Suite will be driven by Bruce and Branden’s commitment to build an ecosystem for Black and Brown professionals.

In time, Hardin said he expects other local organizations to forge additional capital and time toward the initiative. And within two years, he’s hopeful that other similar spaces are formed around the city’s barrens.

“For that kid who lives off of St. Clair and Mount Vernon Avenue, to know and feel the energy of Black and Brown innovation and have that building so close to their neighborhood, they will have the jumpstart that the Jones brothers didn’t have,” he said. “Hopefully, that will build something more.”

Once Venture Suite is established, Bruce said he and other founders Kevin Lloyd and SyrJulian Jones will work to inspire other organizations across the state to spearhead similar initiatives to aid underserved communities and provide further avenues for people of color.

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