Detroit’s Practice.Space Incubator Offers an Urban Redevelopment Trial Run

There’s a new business incubator in town called Practice.Space, and it’s targeted to mid-career professionals, new graduates, and others who are interested in playing a part in Detroit’s revitalization but aren’t sure where to begin.

“The people we have in mind are maybe architects, lawyers, or graphic designers who want to make a pivot in their career toward urban development,” says Practice.Space’s founder, Justin Mast, noting that a 20-hour-per-week commitment is required.

The idea is that incubator residents pay $500 per month to work on bringing brick-and-mortar businesses to life that will have a significant impact on neighborhoods outside of downtown. Through this work, residents will ostensibly forge connections with Detroit businesses, activists, and government entities so that at the end of their one-year term, they’ll have the connections to launch their own businesses if they so choose.

“I had the observation that, in Detroit, we have all this underutilized space and all these entrepreneurs, and programs helping people with investment, but there’s a gap between the raw materials and taking projects to completion,” Mast explains.

The inaugural practice year starts in September, and Mast says July is the final month for residents to apply to be a part of the program. (Click here for details.) The first class will have four residents working on the North End Food Hub project, where they’ll transform an empty convenience store attached to a two-family house into a shared prep kitchen, café, library, and “multi-purpose food dwelling.”

New projects with another class of four residents each will be added in January and May, so that by the end of the practice year there are 12 residents working on three projects. The ultimate goal is to provide the business owners (who are being assisted by the residents) with architectural planning, business planning, and brand and communications materials. In return for having the residents work on their project, business owners pay $2,000, which includes a dedicated room at the co-working space on 14th Street in North Corktown and weekly sessions with advisers.

Mast has been in Detroit for a year. He came to the city after finishing a Master’s degree in architecture from the University of Michigan. A Grand Rapids native, he never had much interest in Detroit until he visited a few times and realized the “amazing” potential the city had for allowing him to marry his two passions of entrepreneurship and architecture. “I thought that I might go to New York—or any other city, really—but I was excited and surprised to find it right here in my home state.”

With its wealth of glorious but often empty structures, Mast thinks Detroit has the potential to be one of the hottest destinations in the world for architects. “In Silicon Valley, where you see an interesting marriage between entrepreneurship and tech—I think the same opportunity exists in Detroit for architects.”

In fact, he says, it’s already starting. There’s a huge interest among architects, but to come on their own and get launched independently is a daunting task in Detroit, where there are only a few big firms left and no clear paths to on-the-ground work. That lack is partly what inspired Mast to form Practice.Space.

He mentions a friend from grad school who moved to San Francisco to take a job with an architecture firm but who dreams of opening a restaurant one day. After talking to Mast, he’s considering coming to Detroit to try his luck here. “There may be a bit of a myth to it, but I do think there’s an opportunity to do things here that can’t be done in other cities,” Mast adds.

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