La Create Sp_ce provides support to local entrepreneurs, businesses and creatives

By Elizabeth M. Johnson

La Create Sp_ce is a membership-based, co-working community in Inglewood that hopes to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs and creatives.
PHOTOS BY LUIS CHAVEZ

As more and more people have discovered this past year, dining room tables and bedroom corners were never meant to be office spaces. Neither were coffee shops. Yet, for many creatives, entrepreneurs and small business owners in South LA, those were their options—until Terell and Marisa Johnson opened La Create Sp_ce: a modern and vibrant co-working, production and meeting space in Inglewood.

La Create Sp_ce launched in 2018 after the Johnsons, who had moved to LA’s South Bay from San Francisco’s Bay Area, were unable to find any co-working spaces like the ones they were used to. Johnson, a former Cisco and Snapchat engineer currently working for Facebook, and his wife Marisa, a senior marketing producer and project manager with her own consulting company, needed a place to work and meet with clients outside their apartment, especially with a baby on the way.

“We couldn’t find that in Inglewood; we saw a need for a place for entrepreneurs and small businesses that were under-resourced,” Johnson said. “We, and they, needed a place to meet clients, a place to work, to create, to collaborate.”

La Create Sp_ce offers many such places, from individual offices to large conference rooms, all equipped with the latest technology. The idea to include production studios for audio, video and photography was a natural addition, since Johnson was used to friends and colleagues constantly asking to rent his personal production equipment. La Create Sp_ce members use the production facilities to record podcasts, host webinars, shoot promotional videos, take product shots for e-commerce websites, and even to produce comedy shows.

Members can reserve the office and meeting spaces and production facilities through the La Create app, which makes it simple to check availability and secure a spot when needed. There are different membership types and tiers available including co-working, creative, business, and now, virtual.

Serving a need in South LA

When the two-story, 2,600-square-foot space in Inglewood’s Market Street district opened, it became a hub to help build and empower the entrepreneurs, small business owners, and community members of Inglewood and surrounding areas predominately made up of black and brown communities. Where before, these creative professionals had to drive to Hollywood or Burbank to connect with needed resources, now they had a local community with the modern technology and production facilities readily available.

“For Inglewood, this is huge,” said Rashidi Jones, executive director of TEC Leimert, a nonprofit focused on highlighting careers in the digital economy. “There is a bubbling up of new offerings in Inglewood, but nothing like this exists. It serves a need that’s great. A lot of entrepreneurs aren’t able to afford office space, so having a place to co-work gives a big advantage that as an entrepreneur you’re not usually afforded.”

TEC (Technology Entertainment Convergence) Leimert is in Leimert Park, LA’s epicenter of African American arts and culture. The three-year-old startup has a client base similar to La Create Sp_ce: urban creatives and entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur himself, Jones was excited to connect with Johnson at a networking event at Vector90, another co-working space. Jones’ wife had visited La Create Sp_ce so he had heard the name, but when he had the opportunity to visit himself, he “fell in love” with the vibe.

“As a creative space, it’s great,” Jones said. “We’ve done podcasts, Instagram Live sessions, group meetings. When we needed to shoot a video for a digital marketing boot camp we are marketing to college and high school students, we shot the video there. We did everything in-house at La Create Sp_ce. I didn’t have to go around, get this, hire this. We brought our own camera crew and La Create Sp_ce provided the equipment. It was an easy lift, a one-stop shop; they had everything we needed.

“As fellow entrepreneurs, Terell and I have been able to connect on a very positive frequency,” Jones explained. “My intention is to support his endeavors as he supports mine. We understand the principle of rising tides. By adding a service to the community that’s not currently there, La Create Sp_ce is a great model of what community building looks like.”

La Create Sp_ce was founded by former Cisco and Snapchat engineer Terell Johnson and his wife Marisa, a senior marketing producer and project manager with her own consulting company.

Pandemic pivot creates new virtual opportunities

As 2020 began, La Create Sp_ce was thriving. The space had an active community of members. Johnson noted that the business had started to turn a profit, they had several big events and activities planned, they had added staff, and everything was going strong. Then the pandemic shut everything down.

“Our place was a space where people came together, had meetings and did productions; not being able to come together hit us hard,” Johnson said. “The pandemic stopped us completely for three months. We had to cancel and refund memberships. It affected us greatly.”

During this time, he and his wife also welcomed a second baby, and Johnson was able to take two months of parental leave. This gave the couple time to take a hard look at their situation, rewrite their business plan and focus on self-development.

“We had to figure out how to get through this,” Johnson explained. “We had to look into ourselves as creative business owners.”

Working with an entrepreneurial incubator in South LA that empowers black and brown businesses, they were able to find the resources they needed to get back on their feet, and in doing so, help their members get back on their feet as well. Johnson realized that while La Create Sp_ce offered services to help their members succeed, as owners they also needed help. The pandemic gave them an opportunity to model receiving as well as giving.

“Sometimes we have to ask for help—we are also a small business,” Johnson said. “As we learn, we teach our members. As we figure something out, we tell them. We can be resources, be that hub, take what we learn and spread it to the rest of the city.”

The Johnsons used the expertise they had gained through their careers with Apple, Cisco, Facebook and Snapchat to begin offering digital consulting and helping their members to use social media platforms and virtual resources more effectively. They began presenting virtual training sessions and finding ways to connect members with each other and with outside professional resources.

“Lots of people want to do podcasts, they want to expand to video, or have online events—we help them do that,” Johnson explained. “We can also provide infrastructure for small companies by helping them with marketing campaigns, production services, creating a quote system, even something as simple as ensuring they have a business email.”

Some examples of digital business activities the Johnsons have helped their members with include:

• Helping a local religious author expand her website and develop a way to host a weekly prayer time with her readers

• Assisting an NBA athlete to implement online forms (registrations, waivers, sign-up sheets) for his training service for kids

• Creating gift cards for a barbecue restaurant, resulting in thousands of dollars in additional revenue

“Entry-level and small business sometimes think things are extremely difficult, but they just need someone to show them the possibilities,” Johnson said.

One business that has benefited from La Create Sp_ce’s consulting services is Stakely’s Barber Salon located inside the Ladera Center in Ladera Heights. Daria Stakely, who co-owns the barber salon with husband Tyrone, is a La Create Sp_ce member who has used the space to meet with clients for her real estate business. She turned to Johnson when the state of California released new rules governing the reopening of barbershops and salons during the pandemic.

“Our salon had been mostly walk-in business, but when COVID-19 hit, we had to operate by appointment only for the safety of our customers and barbers,” Stakely explained. “La Create Sp_ce helped us transition to an online platform so our customers could book online appointments. Terell was able to point us in the right direction. He made it happen.”

Stakely added that customers were thrilled to have the ability to go online, click on the barber they want, click on a time and schedule their appointment. She notes that the new system is good for the barbers, too, since they know who they will be seeing each day.

“Some of our barbers have been cutting hair for 15 or 20 years, so this is new for everybody, but it’s a good new, it’s fresh,” Stakely said.

Getting ready for the rebound in 2021

While La Create Sp_ce continues to allow members to work in their physical space on a limited, appointment-only basis while observing strict COVID-19 precautions, members like Stakely are looking forward to the day when they can once again mingle, meet and network as they did in the early days.

“I’ve met a lot of new people networking at La Create Sp_ce, it was very good for my business because my business is built on relationships,” Stakely said. “Marisa and Terell have built a refreshing community at La Create Sp_ce that is vibrant, full of energy, where people are alive and welcoming. I’ve always been able to meet someone new, learn about them and connect.”

Johnson noted that people have been patiently waiting for a return to normalcy, but that may not be happening any time soon, and it’s up to places like La Create Sp_ce to help businesses and entrepreneurs prepare to work in new ways.

“Not only in black and brown communities, but all throughout LA, small businesses are suffering,” he said. “I read that up to 40% of businesses are failing right now. I wonder how many of them are brick and mortar? They are going to need a space to go to.”

He noted that as we move into 2021, there will be more digital-based business, more telecommuters and those he calls “digital nomads,” people working from home who need somewhere else to work. La Create Sp_ce can be that space and also teach them how to use all the technical resources available to help them move forward. 2021 is about being comfortable being uncomfortable, Johnson stated.

“Now it’s about executing to the best of your ability,” he said. “People have had a year to figure out what they want, given the current situation. People have gotten rid of excess baggage, people have decided this is what I want. They are ready to be self-taught and self-resourced, to go out and find what they need to be successful.”

In sports terms, said Johnson, businesses are “getting ready for the rebound” and La Create Sp_ce wants to be on their team.

“We’re empowering people, working with different types of businesses and creatives to help to see them grow,” he said. “We’re going to be successful with our members, with our community.”

Stakely said that the Johnsons, as a young couple with a black-owned business, are bringing significant value to the Inglewood community through La Create Sp_ce. For Johnson, that value is personal as well as professional.

“La Create Sp_ce is a legacy for my family,” Johnson said. “I want my children to grow up in this community, which is why I invest in this community.”

La Create Sp_ce Address: 401 E. Hillcrest Blvd., Suite I, Inglewood Phone: 424-312-1026 Website: lacreatespace.com Email: info@lacreatespace.com Instagram: @lacreatespace

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