Meet The Urban Collective: New Haven’s First Black-Owned Collaborative Space

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After forging a friendship as Yale University employees, Randi McCray and Merieta Bayati began envisioning a working space equipped to meet the community’s professional needs.

It became clear to them that sharing their business expertise and technological resources had to become the foundation of their next business venture. That vision came into focus in August when they launched The Urban Collective, a collaborative working space geared for budding entrepreneurs.

Located in the East Rock neighborhood in the Marlin Business Center, the 1,225-square-foot open floor at 85 Willow St. has enjoyed rapid success as the first black-owned collaborative space in New Haven.

“We want to bring people together to put together their resources, to support each other, and to partner if they can,” said McCray.

“We wanted the space to be flexible for a variety of uses,” Bayati added.

McCray, working in the technology department, and Bayati, in the human resources department, became close friends at Yale as members of the university’s African American Affinity Group.

A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Bayati earned a bachelor’s degree in business management at Albertus Magnus College. She has also worked as a social media consultant, established an accessory boutique (Camp Girlie Girl) and even worked as an author.

Meanwhile, McCray has lived in the area since she was five years old. She attended New Haven public schools and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Bridgeport in addition to a graduate degree from Albertus Magnus College. She is currently working on a doctoral degree from Union Institute & University in public policy analysis.

Working as a team, the friends wanted a facility with an open area to host their events and offer remaining hours for public use at affordable rates.

That model is working, as two nonprofit organizations are the main occupants of The Urban Collective, including Woman I Am: Women’s Empowerment Group and a Saturday academy program. The space has also been used for a web series launch, photo shoots and a food entrepreneurship event scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 6.

Some evenings are available, but, for the most part, the space is booked through May, said McCray and Bayati.

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“We have gotten so much great feedback from people about how much [the space] is needed,” Bayati said. “We are offering something a little different from a regular coworking space.”

The Urban Collective also provides many resources to its occupants, including Mac computers, private internet service, and audio, visual and AV equipment. Plus, McCray and Bayati offer low-cost assistance with web development and small business and social media management.

“[The Urban Collective] is intended to be more than people stopping by—it’s really a place for people to pull resources together and collaborate with each other to pursue the same work they are trying to do for their community,” McCray said.

For future development, McCray and Bayati are considering adding a partner to their project to enhance an academic enrichment program while McCray supports technology programs and Bayati assists mentorship programs.

“As we grow, we wanted to secure a larger space to grow more partnerships,” Bayati said of leasing the Willow Street site. “That was the goal from when we started.”

Lead photo courtesy of The Urban Collective

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