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“It’s kind of now or never.” Pandemic, remote work give rise to Ambition Center, Milwaukee’s newest Black-owned coworking space


On a Saturday afternoon in early March, Marcell Jackson is giving a tour of Ambition Center MKE to entrepreneurs Kayla Lewis Allen and Usher Williams. They’ve arrived early to set up for a workshop at the one-and-a-half year old co-working space on the north side of Milwaukee.

The event is part of the center’s “Collaboration Corner,” a peer-to-peer learning opportunity for the business and entrepreneurial community. Allen, co-founder of Madison-based Full Circle Television, is the day’s featured speaker. The title of the workshop on building brand pillars and targeting your audience is “Build A Community and Boost Your Sell.” Williams, who owns Usher Williams Photography, is here to shoot photos and videos of both the session and the space. He’ll use it to create digital marketing content for the Ambition Center, as well as to build his professional portfolio.

“Throughout the building you’ll see a lot of orange,” says Jackson, a cybersecurity technical project manager, social entrepreneur, educator, and the founder of Ambition Center. “Orange is the color of ambition and innovation so we’re playing off the psychology of people.”

While he readily admits that orange is not his favorite color, Jackson’s resume shows no shortage of either ambition or innovation. A Milwaukee native, Jackson is a 2012 graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, one of 100-plus Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) throughout the country. Jackson works virtually, and after co-working at a few other spaces in Milwaukee without finding the right fit, he decided to look for a space of his own.

“I actually had this idea back in high school,” he says. “You see business parks with all these businesses on the outside. I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if they were all inside.”

And then, life happened—college, followed by a career that enabled him to work from home while also nurturing his self-described “complete extrovert” personality in other ways.

“I like talking to people, meeting people, shaking hands,” he says.

But once the pandemic hit and the work-from-home order was put in place, “I was not my most productive,” says Jackson. “My wife and I had a dedicated space to work, but I was reading stories of people working in their closets or taking meetings in the bathroom because that’s the only quiet space.”

It was during the first year of the pandemic that Jackson, feeling restless and a sense of lowered productivity, began thinking about that old idea of building an indoor space where businesses intersect, interact, even collaborate.

“If I’m feeling this, the rest of the world is feeling this,” he says. “While working from home has its perks—I love the option—it’s not always the best thing. So I was like, it’s kind of now or never to really get this dream off the shelf.”

Read more about getting the dream off the shelf at Blueprint365.org.