Coppin State University is basking in the spotlight as the first historically black college and university to collaborate with a nonprofit maker space. The university and Open Works have joined together to operate a maker space inside a 34,000-square-foot space on Greenmount Avenue where entrepreneurs can make products and build companies.
And, while the national media has taken notice of the collaboration, officials say the importance of it lies in building trust within the hardscrabble community of West Baltimore.
“We’re all excited about the accomplishment to date,” said Dr. Ron Williams, a professor at Coppin State who leads the university business school’s Center of Strategic Ingepreneurship.
Williams says the partnership with OpenWorks is built around three primary efforts.
“We have our business students who can direct younger people in the community in the Open Works space if they have an innovative idea that they want to test out,” Williams said.
There is also the ability to use a research facility and space can be used as a starting point to build up externship program opportunities with local businesses, according to Dr. Williams.
Third, the Center for Strategic Ingepreneurship was created to address the many roadblocks minority entrepreneurs face when they’re not “in a social or economic position to access the resources that can help their ideas flourish,” Williams said.
“Families, religious institutions, financial institutions, community organizations, and businesses are necessary to build an environment that will nurture the potential of emerging ingepreneurs,” Williams said. “We can help by developing a trust framework between Open Works and the black community.”
The diversity of membership, leadership, and board members is also unique. Open Works reportedly has a 54 percent female clientele, and 43 percent people of color.
Scholarships are available along with programs designed to make the space affordable and accessible.
Dr. Williams quoted Open Works executive director Will Holman who said, “You have to model the behavior that you want to see. Before we had members, our staff and board were the examples we could point to.”
At Open Works, residents have access to seminars about small business development, and social events that can help put entrepreneurs in touch with others interested in starting their ventures— all for free. The overall goal is to reduce the barriers to entrepreneurship in the African American community.
In the three years since the partnership began, the maker space has helped create approximately 138 new jobs in the state. The collaborative effort has “been intentional about making sure to have a diverse and inclusive space,” Williams said.
Open Works now produces $8 million in direct economic impact annually in Baltimore, and $9.9 million in Maryland each year, he said.
The maker space currently supports more than 55 small businesses and at least 118 jobs— including those who work at the space and use its micro-studios.
“It’s had an unquestioned impact, and it’s exceeded my expectations,” Williams said. “I knew good things were happening, but when you do the work and see the data, and see what’s happening; it’s mind-blowing that we have this right here on Greenmount Avenue in the toughest part of the city. And, they never lock their doors.”
“This has the potential to become the model to many spaces around the country, and it starts with trust,” he said. Williams said the one thing he hopes everyone takes from the effort is trust. “The power of community and trust is so important because you have a collaboration. It’s what we’re all about, and trust plays a huge role.”
For more information about Open Works, visit https://www.openworksbmore.com/.