Photos by Brian Addison.
In the two months since Markus Manley died, his friends, family, colleagues and collaborators have struggled to pick up where Long Beach's most serial motivator left off.
As a longtime promoter of music and the arts—and more recently, the founder of WE Labs, Long Beach's first co-working space—Manley devoted his life to encouraging, elevating and fostering partnerships among the endless talent in his city. He believed in working together, that achieving the bigger picture was always possible as long as everyone was connected; and no matter what time of day it was or how tired he was, Manley always took that meeting, always gave his advice and always made the introduction with no expectation for the outcome.
With dozens of in-progress projects, stacks of notebooks with future ideas and several hundred people whose small businesses dreams wouldn't exist without the community he fostered at WE Labs, Markus Manley's unexpected passing from a resurfaced auto-immune disorder on March 18 left impossible shoes to fill.
But through sadness and strength, those who knew him best are picking up his projects, scouring his notebooks and reaching out to those he inspired to forge a new future for WE Labs, itself a culmination of his life's work. Manley might be gone, but thanks to his supportive family and a new WE Labs executive team, the local visionary is still working, still hustling and still connecting people—all in the name of helping further Long Beach’s finest creatives, tech wizzes and budding entrepreneurs.
“He left us a lot of clues for where he saw WE Labs going,” says Robbie Brown, who co-founded the space with Manley in October 2012 and is now serving as WE Labs' CEO. “We had a lot of extensive conversations with him before, but also Markus was really big on writing things down longhand. So there's a foot-high stack of papers, scrap papers, graph tablets, binders with loose leaf papers in them—all random notes in long hand. We've scanned everything and we kind of have a playbook for WE Labs for the future.”
The first order of business, Brown says, was changing WE Labs from a sole proprietorship to a corporation, something that Manley had wanted to do so they could establish a board of directors and eventually move the operation into B Corp status.
A "B Corp," or Benefit Corporation is a relatively new invention. Established in California in January 2012, it maintains a corporation's for-profit status, but blends it with a nonprofit's mission for social good. As a B Corp, WE Labs will be required to make business and financial decisions not only in the interest of the bottom line, but also in the interest of their mission, which is to foster connections between business and creative individuals and to increase productivity and enhance the credibility of its members.
“WE Labs definitely has a mission that's dedicated to affecting social good,” Brown says. “We're trying to help small business grow in a local ecosystem. We're trying not so much to bring big business into Long Beach, but we're trying to grow big business in Long Beach. Long Beachers have a really strong local spirit and I think—and Markus thought—that's how Long Beach will really put itself on the map in the business world, by growing big things here with the local people.”
As part of its incorporation restructuring, WE Labs has also made two important additions to its executive team: Manley's mother, Mary Charles, will serve on the Board, and Ted Sieving, a lawyer and WE Labs member with business acumen who will serve as COO.
Ted Sieving (left) and Robbie Brown (right).
As soon as Manley passed away, Charles came in to WE Labs and assessed the situation; no matter what, she was dedicated to ensuring the space continued to thrive. Her history as a community organizer in South Los Angeles clearly had an impact on her son's ability to bring people together and her energy and passion for Manley's vision helped Brown and Sieving find the footing necessary to move forward in his honor.
“It's not the way anyone wanted it to happen, but the way he passed and so suddenly, it forced people to come together and collaborate and make WE Labs a success, which is what WE Labs is all about,” says Sieving. “His mom said she couldn't have his dream die along with him, but we now know that we can help see his dream through, do this thing that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs and at the same time grow his company in his legacy.”
So what does the future of WE Labs hold?
In addition to signing a three-year lease on their 8th floor space on the corner of Long Beach Blvd. and Broadway, WE Labs has created a new pricing structure for members, which will be unveiled at this Saturday's “We-Opening,” an all-day open house featuring tours, book readings, food and music where people can come in and explore the concept firsthand with no obligation to sign up.
Before he passed away, Manley was also contacted by several other cities who were interested in exploring the possibility of having their own WE Labs, conversations now being revisited by Brown, Charles and Sieving. The possibility of more of these inspirational workspaces in other underserved communities could be even closer to reality now that the company's B Corp status opens it up to funders looking to invest in that realm.
“WE Labs is always in Beta mode, that's something Markus always said. So whatever WE Labs is right now is not exactly the same as it's going to be a year from now or two years from now or five years from now,” says Brown. “Markus was someone who changed with how things developed and that's built into our name. We are Work Evolution Laboratories—constantly evolving, never the same.”
WE Labs is located at 235 E Broadway #800. The Grand We-Opening will take place Saturday May 17, 11AM to 11PM. For more information, visit the Facebook event page facebook.com/events/643678049053457/
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