Bilingual coworking space offers opportunity in Southwest Detroit

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My Southwest Office is a co-working space geared toward Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs. It will hold monthly events like tax preparation workshops. (Photos by Marvin Figgins)

Walk into My Southwest Office, and you’ll see beautiful terrazzo floors, a conference room, built-out cubicles and a kitchen stocked with soda and water bottles. It’s got all the must-haves of other shared workspaces like Bamboo Detroit or Green Garage, except this one is explicitly targeted toward the Spanish-speaking community in Southwest Detroit. 

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After years of planning, the new co-working and office space recently opened on the Corner of Michigan and Livernois avenues. Elias Gutierrez, owner of My Southwest Office and founder and editor of Latino Press — a widely recognized Hispanic publication in southeast Michigan — developed the space to support entrepreneurs looking for a place to work, share ideas and start new businesses.

“Society teaches you to be an employee, to work for others,” Gutierrez said. “Immigrants are naturally suited to be entrepreneurs, and they are quite capable of being a boss and making money.”  

According to Gutierrez, Latino immigrants often want to start businesses in Southwest Detroit but are afraid to make the financial commitment of opening an office and taking on a lease.

He’s right. Commercial rents have gone up across the city, and Southwest Detroit is no exception. At roughly $13 per square foot, the cost of office space is out of reach for many new business owners. 

Greg Mangan is a real estate advocate at Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA). Part of his job there is to help business owners find retail space in the community and help landlords find tenants.

“If you’re looking for affordable to moderate office space, it’s pretty difficult to find right now,” said Mangan. “We often get calls at SDBA from a one- or two-person business looking to have a physical address that isn’t their home. But at roughly $1,500 a month in a commercial-type building for office space that just doesn’t fit, you know, it’s not a good subset of people’s needs.”  

The high cost of having an office isn’t just the rent, it’s insurance, internet, printers, inventory and furniture. Gutierrez’s aim is to simplify the process of getting started. 

Though the affordable monthly cost is a primary reason to rent at a shared workspace, it’s the sense of community, the networking, and the convenient location that drew Bridget Espinosa to set up shop at My Southwest Office. 

For years, Espinosa, owner of Puente Cultural, a small business consulting firm who works primarily with women and immigrant-owned, Spanish-speaking businesses, had been meeting with her clients in public spaces, sitting down with them to conduct business in places like bakeries and taquerias. She says she loved the one-on-ones in the community, but she still needs essential business services. 

“I often needed to make a photocopy or to print something off, or I needed to scan something, and there was no way to do that sitting at the taqueria,” Espinosa said. 

She rented a private cubicle at My Southwest Office and is fully set-up.

“There’s an attorney and a real estate agent in the office, and there’s also an insurance agent, Espinosa said. “It’s been a great place to make connections.” 

Elias Gutierrez said the space is ideal for Latino immigrants who want to start a business and keep the costs of overhead low. (Photos by Marvin Figgins)

Gutierrez and Espinosa have teamed up and are developing programming. The first is virtual bilingual tax workshops with plans to do something monthly. 

According to a study by Stanford University, Latino small business owners are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. “immigrant and Latino business growth has bolstered the small business sector. Immigrants constitute 15 percent of the U.S. workforce yet  they account for one quarter of U.S. entrepreneurs, and that share has grown over time.”

Mayor Mike Duggan understands the impact immigrants’ businesses have. He attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and said that “for me, this is very personal, this vision, that immigrants can come to this city and start companies.” 

Duggan has committed to making Detroit a welcoming place for immigrants, adding that he is the grandson of immigrants who started small businesses in Detroit. 

“In the 1800s, my great grandfather came from Ireland and opened a men’s shop right down the street on Michigan [Avenue] and 31st Street, and he married Lina, who was an immigrant from Germany, and right across the street, she opened a shop, and was one of the earliest female business owners,” Duggan said. “I am here today because this was a neighborhood where immigrants could come with dreams and could find support. But one thing I’m sure my great grandparents didn’t have is a My Southwest Office office with all this business support on how to start your company.” 

After delaying the opening for about a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gutierrez is happy to have finally opened My Southwest Office. In the future, he plans to reach out to high schools and open a My Southwest Office incubator for young Latinos who don’t necessarily want to go to college but want to start a business. 

“I think (My Southwest Office is) much needed in the community,” Mangan said. “It is the first dedicated coworking space that caters to Southwest businesses and residents.” 

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Bridget Espinosa’s business. Bridget Espinosa is the owner of Puente Cultural. Alianzas is a project of Puente Cultural. 

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