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Practice Space

2801 14th Street
Detroit, Michigan 48216

Justin Mast

By Amelia Kanan
June 6, 2014

Sprinkled with gems created by icons such as Mies van der Rohe, Minoru Yamasaki, and Philip Johnson, Detroit’s portfolio of historic architecture is a large attraction for modern architects. However, these architects need entrepreneurs who are building brick and mortar businesses. Detroit is far from lacking in new business owners, but they have their own issues – such as financing and bureaucratic hoops to jump through. Practice Space, Detroit’s niche architectural incubator, is the Welcome Center for all of them.
Practice Space in North Corktown is a multi-purpose company that provides physical space, resources, networking opportunities, and guidance to entrepreneurs who aren’t fully prepared to go at it alone just yet. As in most industries, contacts and legal awareness are crucial in helping a new business get off the ground, no matter how strong their business plan or financial backup. Practice Space compensates where a business is lacking.
Practice Space co-founder Justin Mast, also Managing Director and Program Director, conceived what was then a vague idea while writing his thesis for his Masters in Architecture at the University of Michigan. He was interested in finding new ways for architects to operate in a place like Detroit, and how a business could grow a new strand of architectural economy. Upon graduating in 2012, Detroit’s design buzz was quite loud alongside hungry entrepreneurs, but not much was coming to fruition. "Some of the projects we were most excited about weren’t getting off the ground," Mast recalls.
Rather than jumping blindly into a business endeavor, Mast, along with his partners Austin Kronig and Donald Hart, decided to observe the city first. Over the span of a year, the guys took day jobs and discussed Practice Space’s reality after hours. Mast comments, "It’s a good thing because, aside from the time it took to put the plan together, I think it took that long to understand the scene here in Detroit. It took that long to find out what we didn’t know."
Alleviating outside pressure, the team unanimously decided to personally invest for their first year. Mast explains, "We wanted to give ourselves the space to test our ideas and adapt quickly, so we’ve set it up this way to start."
Obviously architecture and design were important to Mast and his partners. Once they found their dream vintage location, an old gas station in North Corktown, the team began power washing. After four weeks, their oil-stained cement garage was now a raw but inventive workspace, full of handmade and personally designed walls, desks and other furniture.
In September 2013, the somewhat renovated building, with an Art Deco relief façade that complements their neighbor's sculpture garden at Corktown Studios, opened their doors.
Practice Space functions in three different ways: as an incubator, geared towards already developed businesses that don’t yet have their brick-and-mortar structure; residency, for individuals who are interested; and off-site, for professionals who don’t have an "office" to meet a client, pitch a project, host an event.
The "incubator" is a four-month program that is basically like a grad school program for a new business. If a business owner applies for the $3,000 per term incubator and is chosen, they are asked to spend a minimum of 20 hours a week at Practice Space where they have their own project room and 3-5 dedicated residents (part of the residency program) working on the business. The program aids with everything needed to get a brick and mortar business up and running with physical help for blueprints, layout, business models, financial analysis, legal structure, and branding and marketing essentials. Another key benefit for applicants are weekly sessions with the Practice Space advisors comprised of Christian Unverzagt, Brandon Weiner, Virginia Stanard, Ryan Cooley, and Brian Hurttienne. Mast even credits this team for Practice Space’s own success, saying that because of the advisors "we were able to secure the space, line-up funding and begin the design and build work."
Practice Space’s residency program is also a four-month term that costs $2,500 and is geared toward individuals who have an inkling for entrepreneurship but haven’t fully developed their ideas. This option allows the residents the opportunity to work on an up-and-coming business and observe each step that must be made to execute the plan. Residents are also allotted their own hours to work on research and develop concepts. Other large incentives are access to the space, networking opportunities, and the advisor team.
In today’s world, a brick and mortar building isn’t necessary for many entrepreneurs on a daily basis, yet a physical space is needed from time to time. "Off-site" membership provides that space and offers a number of plans with reasonable prices that include access to the lounge, library, studio space, presentation space, and the breakout rooms. Membership plans also cater to solo professionals and satellite employees who are unable to work from home, are sick of working at their local coffee shop and/or crave a working environment that is design-friendly and full of other creative entrepreneurs. Depending on the off-site plan, members have access to the 3,200-square-foot exhibit space with a capacity limit of 100 (standing) and 50 (seated), perfect for presentations, art exhibits, film screenings, workshops, or promotional events.
Memberships are quite reasonably priced; however, if Practice Space is interested in a business, project, or entrepreneur, they offer options to offset the prices. After Practice Space’s first year, they will have worked with a dozen residents, which has worked out well so far.  Mast comments, "We chose to start things unconventionally and try a few different things at once, so this first year has been a whirlwind. We’re learning a lot and we’re glad we started small because that allows us to adjust and adapt very quickly."

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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