Founder Shalonda Lee's hope is that Blackspace Columbus eventually will include a communal workspace and business development program.

Shalonda Lee yearned to make an impact. While forced to stay home during the height of May’s anti-police brutality protests Downtown, she fell into a research rabbithole, diving into Columbus’ Black business scene after watching a video of a protester calling for greater Black entrepreneurship.

Over the next month, Lee developed her vision for Blackspace Columbus as a resource for Black business owners and artists that could strengthen their marketing, professionalism, and most importantly, their exposure. 

“We want Blackspace Columbus to be a place where you could come in looking like what you look like, where you’re from,” she says. “We’re not judging you by how you talk. We’re going to try to help get you there—to come into the room and sit at the table and be taken seriously.”

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The Black business incubator launched in July with a free-to-list business directory on blackspacecolumbus.com, connecting owners with potential patrons and providing free promotion through Blackspace’s social media pages.

“The ultimate goal is to give the people that exposure and get them to the next level, get them a few more customers, get them more dollars in their pocket so that they can actually start growing their businesses over the long term,” Lee says.

Blackspace has grown since launch. As of August, more than 100 businesses fill the directory across 13 categories, its Instagram page has nearly 1,000 followers and its inaugural event—an online bracket for lash extension businesses—garnered $500 in donations for the grand prize. 

For Lee, this is just the beginning. She hopes to receive enough social media shares, volunteers and donations to expand Blackspace’s offerings to a communal workspace, business development program and free workshops by January. As she decorates posts and the site with the colors of the Pan-African flag, a symbol of unity and liberation for the African diaspora, she also hopes to bring Black businesses and creatives in Columbus closer to her definition of freedom.

“When we talk about freedom, it’s more than not being owned by someone,” she says. “It’s more than not being a slave on a plantation. Living paycheck to paycheck, and when you lose your job because something has gone wrong, you lose your livelihood. That’s not free. That’s not being liberated. We’re thinking about liberating people financially.”

Tatyana Tandanpolie is an intern for Columbus CEO.