Client Profile: Urban Market Exchange A mixed-use community space with a purpose

January 12, 2023

Local artisans tend to have two choices when just starting out – either they can travel to shared maker spaces on the north side of Chicago, or they can work from their own basements and kitchen tables. Quandra Speights, a Chicago native who has supported nonprofits and entrepreneurs both personally and professionally throughout her life, wanted to change that. That’s why she envisioned the Urban Market Exchange, a mixed-use community space with a purpose.

The Exchange was created to fill an urgent void for a cost-effective makers-space where south side artisans, makers, and creators could grow their business. The makers-space allows entrepreneurs on the South Side to grow their business in a collaborative and supportive environment.  The Exchange, a $2.4 million, 9,700-square-foot facility in Woodlawn, is scheduled to open later this year and will include private studios and workbenches, open work spaces, and specialty rooms for members working on podcasts, photography, printing and sewing.

A long-time advocate for entrepreneurs, Quandra was no stranger to the challenges of starting up a small business. But that didn’t mean she could do it all alone. That’s why she turned to Community Desk Chicago, which helped the Exchange with the following:

  • Accessing grants, including a predevelopment loan from Chicago Community Trust and a Chicago Community Development Grant
  • Finding an architect and owner’s representative to help design and build out the unique space
  • Securing a loan from an area lender to close a financing gap
  • Pressure-testing a business plan, as well as creating a pitch desk, development budget and revised operating pro forma
“I acquired the property through my personal investment, but then it was difficult to secure the additional funding I really needed. Real estate development is very challenging for BIPOC individuals and even harder for women,” Quandra says. “Community Desk Chicago was the wind beneath my wings. They provided me with the right amount of support at the right time. And the grant I received from Chicago Community Trust was the heartbeat that sparked life back into UME.”

If interested in supporting The Urban Market Exchange, Quandra can be reached at or 708-581-6822. Local artisans are also welcome to complete an interest form to be notified when membership enrollment is open.