Back when Tierany Griffin-Purdie lived in Raleigh, where she was born and raised before moving to Charlotte two years ago, the idea of launching an inclusive co-working space where black entrepreneurs and artists could feel at home rather than tokenized or set aside was always bubbling in the back of her mind.
Little did she know, 130 miles away in Charlotte, Dupp&Swat founder Davita Galloway had a similar vision, though she hadn’t yet found the time or space to carry it out.
About three months ago, Griffin-Purdie answered Galloway’s call for an intern, and as the two discussed their goals for the coming year, the idea of an inclusive black-owned co-working space made its way into the talks.
Galloway hired Griffin-Purdie, who also runs a boutique consulting firm called Suite Spot, and let her run with the idea. Those efforts will come to fruition in August, when the two open the iNCubator, a co-working space within the existing Dupp&Swat studio at Camp North End.
We visited Dupp&Swat recently to sit down with the two local entrepreneurs to talk about why the iNCubator is needed and where they hope to take it.
Queen City Nerve: How did the idea for the iNCubator come about?
Tierany Griffin-Purdie: The iNCubator has always kind of been in the back of my mind, and doing more research I recognized that out of the 4,000 co-working spaces and growing in the United States, only 56 are owned by blacks. So what we wanted to do was create an experience that will allow people to come in and be able to work in a space or an environment that is culturally inclusive. If you go to a lot of spaces, they’re either extremely high-priced or it’s a situation where sometimes it can be a little stoic and not really welcoming, and so, how does it feel to walk into a working space where you can come and create or make and you hear 2Pac in the background and you might hear Barry White, you know what I mean?
So it’s really one of those experiences where I knew it was something I wanted to create. So when I came here with the idea, when Davita and I started working together, in true Davita fashion, she was like, “What do you want to do? Great, let’s make it happen.” In conversations we came up with the idea for iNCubator, which basically will be a hub or a haven to allow us to provide support and resources as well as information to the urban community — makers in the community — and just extend the support that Dupp&Swat has already provided to them over the 10 years that they’ve been here.
Davita Galloway: This is her vision. Initially, when we were in The Plaza we wanted to do something like this, but we didn’t have the capacity to do it, so when she came with the idea, things just aligned, so we’re allowing her to run with it. I want her to run with it.
How will iNCubator differ from Dupp&Swat as it exists now?
This is just an extension, so I think that the only difference will be this will be a more structured way of housing the creativity. It’s nothing for someone to come out with their laptop already and be able to drop by and work. So we’re just creating a situation where we’re now adding into the programming and making it more structured in a way to still be able to provide that support, where we are right now, but then hopefully be able to extend it so it’s not just a Charlotte thing. It will eventually become in different markets, and then out of state. So it’s really no different, it’s just the visual representation of what Dupp&Swat has been doing all of these years. It’s just bringing community and people together to get them to work and create in a unified fashion.
We will be adding seating, as well as additional space for people to come and create, some lounge areas, printing station, things of that nature. So all of the space will be upfitted for members to come and enjoy the iNCubator.
What will the technical aspects of the iNCubator look like, as far as hours, memberships, etc.?
Griffin-Purdie: It will be open Sunday through Fridays. Sundays, we’ll open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., and then Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. It will be membership-based — affordable membership. We’ll offer monthly, quarterly as well as annual membership options. We also have benefits here, like the ability to be able to come access the space, incentives for renting out the space for your own events, as well as the opportunity for people to come and not just co-work with a laptop like most co-working spaces, but if you’re a maker, if you’re a podcaster, if you’re an artisan, if you want to come and make your Christmas wreaths during the holidays, whatever it is, we just want to create a space for you to be able to come and be a part of that. Also, we have membership benefits that we’ll discuss more at our soft launch event.
Galloway: And being able to leverage Camp North End and the other businesses that are here, so we’re working to form partnerships for our members.
Griffin-Purdie: I’m reaching out to other businesses in CNE as well as inviting other businesses into CNE to be able to extend the visibility that the space already has. Food trucks, hopefully, member events, things of that nature.
You mentioned the upcoming launch event. What can folks expect to see there?
Griffin-Purdie: It’s a celebration and information session. We’re going to offer information about the iNCubator, allow people to come in and experience Dupp&Swat for those who haven’t been in the new space. We’re going to be able to work together a little bit, so bring your laptops if you want to, and pull up and plug up, as well as the opportunity to be able to come and experience the community. We feel like that’s not something you can tell somebody about, you’ve got to come and be a part.
Galloway: And for those who are there and choose to sign up then, we’re giving discounts for the month. We’ll be ready to sign you up then and there.
A lot of white people who haven’t lived your experience might not understand the need for inclusive co-working spaces. Tell me a little about your experience and why this is necessary for those who don’t get it.
Galloway: You got time? [laughs]
Griffin-Purdie: I can only speak from my own experience. I’ve been in co-working spaces where I’ve gone just to get information and I never made it past reception. Or if I didn’t look a certain type of way, or I didn’t talk a certain type of way, I wasn’t really welcome in those spaces. So for me, even though, in your mind, you might not have been exclusive, you weren’t being really inclusive either.
For me, as a black woman, as a black entrepreneur, as a black creative in Charlotte, North Carolina, I am tired of talking about it. In the words of Davita, now it’s time to do the thang. My whole thing is, I could go out and start petitions, I could go out and try to teach and educate as much as I can — which I’m sure that’s something that we’ll do — but instead of doing it through words, it’s time for us to do it through actions. I can tell when I’m not necessarily wanted.
To be clear, even here, it’s a situation where it’s something for us, by us, but regardless of who walks through the door, you will be welcomed. It’s not going to be a situation where the world is going to stop, the music gonna turn off, and everyone’s going to look at you like [makes a sound like a tire screeching to a halt]. But it’s also one of those things where you’ll understand the difference. So that’s my whole thing is just to create that experience where, to those who have been in the situation where they’ve not necessarily been excluded but they haven’t been included, to be able to come and know, this is home.
Galloway: The thing is, I’ve been in conversations with several black entrepreneurs over the last few years, and while they’re a part of these other working spaces, they feel uncomfortable walking in. They get stared at because of what they look like, what they have on, how colorful they are, all the things, you know? And it’s because of that need that Dupp&Swat has always existed, because we fill a void. So we recognized that there was a void in the co-working and co-creating space so we decided to fix that, so to speak.
Being relatively new here, Tierany, what’s your experience been like in Charlotte’s black arts scene during this period that I would say has seen some rapid growth?
Griffin-Purdie: Being in Raleigh and just being knowledgeable of what’s going on here, maybe a little bit envious, I wanted to be a part, but to actually be down here, it’s amazing to see the opportunities that are being afforded and awarded to urban creatives. I think that if nothing else, the time is now for us to be able to do that because we do have businesses like Dupp&Swat that are in the field to be able to provide the opportunities for us to be able to do so. Whereas maybe a few years ago it was just kind of talked about, now we see more motion and I think that’s very important.
You have artists that are coming out of the woodwork. Not a day goes by that we don’t have somebody walk through the doors like, “Hey, how do I become a part of this?” So I think now it’s just one of those things where, with social media, with new developments like Camp North End coming up, it’s just beautiful to see that community being embraced, and I’m excited to be a part of it and to see where it goes, because it’s only up from here.
We’re starting to see more spaces like Be Social pop up, that are not just willing to host black creatives but are run by black people. How important is that for the scene?
Griffin-Purdie: It’s integral to our community to be able to see that. Truly, spaces like Be Social, spaces like iNCubator, if you would have looked five to 10 years ago you wouldn’t have seen that. So to be able to hold space for creatives to come, for entrepreneurs to come, just to have an opportunity for somebody, these are things that people would have never thought about. I love that Be Social highlights certain people in business and entrepreneurs to be able to come and show their crafts. They had a whole program behind DJing, so how awesome is that — that black DJs, that black artists, that black writers, that black entrepreneurs have the opportunity to have spaces like Be Social as well as the iNCubator to come thrive and grow? That’s awesome, and I think it’s very important. And anybody who is considering it, get into it. There’s room, there’s space for everybody to thrive.
On that note, Davita hosted an event with Melody Gross here in this space called The State of Black Women Entrepreneurs in CLT that was spurred as a response to a recent Queen City Nerve article on black women entrepreneurs in Charlotte and how some feel neglected or disinvested in. What did it mean for you to be able to bring people together and discuss this issue in Charlotte?
Griffin-Purdee: [The event] was definitely an experience for me. It’s very important for us to be able to hold space to be able to share — right, wrong, indifferent. The article, what it did is what I think it intended to do: it sparked conversation. It allowed people to take it and ingest it, speak on it, and what Davita did is, instead of doing it in a way where people are talking in these different silos, she did something unique and put all of these entrepreneurs in a room to allow us to have an opportunity to express in a safe space, which is something we don’t get to do quite often. So for me, a participant, it was important to me that I walked away understanding the need and dynamics of sisterhood in business, and that’s something that I knew before but it just became more prevalent then. So I think that space is important and I truly hope that they continue to do it, because for me, it just gave me the initiative that I needed to want to be more a part of the community.
Galloway: Just the impact, just the fallout since [the event] has been enormous. So I’m like, “We really gotta run, run with this.” The entrepreneurs, black women, they want it to be an entity and a continuous thing, so I’m like, “OK, we can do that.” Tierany, she just created a landing page today. They’re asking, “Where can we donate money? Where can we do this? Where can we send this?” So it talks about the demand and the need for it, because again, we don’t often hold space for us.
So I have to say, the article, it shared its viewpoint and it did what it was supposed to do. The only thing that I thought was missing was solutions, like it told all the issues and challenges, but for it to be well-rounded, it’s like, “…and then what?” There’s 87 million other black women still out here getting it in the trenches, so that was the thing for me. But it shined a light for those who didn’t know our challenges, which was good. So it did what it was supposed to do. But it got us fired up, Ryan. We’re fired up now. We ready.
What do you see for the iNCubator in the future?
Galloway: I would like the iNCubator to be just an added arm to what Dupp&Swat is and does on a regular basis. We talked with Knight Foundation years ago about possibly doing something like this on the west side of Charlotte, but we were looking for a building. We got tired of looking for a building. So we have a building now, we’re going to ride what we can out of here, let’s just make it happen. Hopefully when they see the success, because it will be that, and we can take the numbers to them like, “OK, we’ve done all the work, you’ve seen our numbers, so what’s up?” Basically, in whatever market — because the idea is to have Dupp&Swat in other markets — this would just be a part of it. It’s not anything separate.
Griffin-Purdie: I like to think of the iNCubator as a gateway. Really that’s just the baseline. We see businesses being born outside but being a part of the iNCubator. We see resources being provided to entrepreneurs as a part of that. We see additional conversations and space being held for creatives and entrepreneurs in Charlotte. We see social capital being built just by being part of the incubator. We see a complete trajectory change when it comes to being a part of this community. And that’s really what it’s about.
Even though it’s packaged in the form of a co-working space, it’s all about community. And the reality is, it’s just about being there and allowing space for those who don’t typically have it to come be a part of that, and just out of that we’re looking forward to bringing additional resources. In the next five years, you never know, there might be an iNCubator Con, you never know where it’s going to go. But at the end of the day, right now, it’s all about servicing the needs as much as we can to be able to provide what we can in this space, and then seeing it go from there. My heart is open, my mind is open. I’m just thrilled to have the opportunity, and then we’ll see where it rides.
Work, Mix & Chill, a launch party for the iNCubator will take place on July 7 at Dupp&Swat at Camp North End, 1824 Statesville Ave. Since those tickets sold out in two days, Griffin-Purdie and Galloway planned a repeat for July 21 (click to register).