Alumna Amanda Lewan, who graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Arts & Letters with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing, is the co-founder and CEO of Bamboo Detroit, the first co-working space in Downtown Detroit.
When did you start Bamboo Detroit?
I started Bamboo Detroit in August of 2013. At the time, we were the first co-working space in Detroit. We were four friends who wanted a place to work on ideas together. There were not many options for that yet, other than coffee shops, so we started a space and invited others to work with us. One of our partner’s, Mike Ferlito, had family owned property downtown that had an empty floor of space (2,300 square foot). We asked his dad if we could use it temporarily to test the idea, and if it worked, we would start paying rent while he continued to try to lease the space. Then it started working and gaining traction. It is funny because looking back, we were naive and tried to start a variety of companies out of the space, not realizing the opportunity in co-working, until we started to get traction. I think Bamboo’s space and community resonated well because we were diverse, young, and had a welcoming and collaborative atmosphere that was missing from downtown Detroit at the time. We frequently hosted community events and invited others to be a part of the revitalization of Detroit.
Where did you get the inspiration for Bamboo Detroit?
I worked as a freelance writer and marketer, so I was able to gain inspiration from that. I had been working from home, so I understood how it could get lonely and distracting. I drew inspiration from meeting my co-founders as well. I also loved being in Detroit; there is a creative and innovative energy in the city. I started spending all of my time in Detroit, and when we opened Bamboo, I was able to do my freelance work there too.
What do you see as the most beneficial aspects of shared workspaces?
One of the greatest aspects of workspaces like Bamboo is the sense of community; you join a network of people that are in it together with you. Whether you are freelancing, growing your business, or working at a satellite spot for a national nonprofit or corporation, you get the benefits of being part of a diverse community. It also starts to feel like home when you work with us at Bamboo. There is always someone there to support you, connect you, or offer you fresh coffee and cookies. Seriously, our manager bakes the best cookies and always shares, and that is so much more inviting and supportive than camping at a coffee shop or sitting alone at home. The second biggest benefit is flexibility. Co-working allows you to easily scale-up or down. You can get a virtual membership and just drop-in and use the community events, conferencing rooms, a desk, an office, or a team office, and then back down as needed, which is far easier than getting a lease of your own. This is especially beneficial for those wanting to test opening an office in Detroit and expanding and growing teams.
What does a typical day look like for you at Bamboo Detroit?
It really feels like no day is typical. An ideal day for me is to wake up early, write creatively, or reflect at home for an hour or two in the morning and then head to the office for the day. Sometimes, I stay later in the evening if we have a special program at Bamboo or if there is an event in Detroit. The other week, we hosted a special guest speaker from Silicon Valley. I balanced most of my time between welcoming the speaker and overseeing that our 100+ event went well, reviewing design drawings and orders for our new 10,000 square foot sixth floor that we are kicking off construction on any day now, and working on paperwork for a second location. Right now, I oversee our growth, operational teams, and programming, though I will start to pass off more programing to each local location and oversee larger growth partnerships and opportunities that add value to the network of spaces we are building. Having an active space with events sets us apart and is a value that we add to our community. It has become a primary way for us to invite new people in, connect members, and keep the space fun and exciting for all.
Do you think you will grow your business and open future locations?
Yes, we are actively expanding in metro Detroit now. As a company, we believe in regionalism and are looking to build a network of spaces that connect residents and creatives across our region.
You will be speaking at Michigan State University on December 4 for the Social Entrepreneurship panel. Can you tell us a little more about that?
I am not completely sure what it will entail yet, but I am really looking forward to returning to MSU. When I was a student, I had no idea I would run a business. I studied Professional Writing and loved all of my time on campus. I learned creative thinking skills and communication skills, which are crucial to building companies and leading teams, and I still write almost every day. I look forward to sharing my journey and discussing more about Detroit’s social entrepreneurship scene.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time at MSU?
I have a ton of favorite memories from when I was a student at MSU. I really branched out on my own on campus as I studied, started writing, and built a network of friends who I still keep in contact with. I had an amazing time during my four years at MSU, and I am grateful to have spent my college career there.
How has your Professional Writing degree helped you in your career?
It taught me creative thinking and strong communication skills, which, as I mentioned before, are necessary when leading a company or a team. You are constantly telling a story and bringing others together to build with you.
What advice do you have for students who want to pursue an entrepreneurship path?
I advise those students to keep following their interest as that will lead to their passion. If you are passionate about starting a company but do not know what to begin, work at a startup and gain operational experience, or work under a leader you admire. When you have an idea or a company you want to start, surround yourself with other founders, and find mentors and peers to support you along the way. It is not an easy and glamorous world as it may seem on the outside. It is a long and winding journey, just like any path, so having support will make it a bit easier and more fun.