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Joshua Graves enjoys helping people who have a passion for their work and their art. The Davenport man is owner and founder of Underground Economy (UE), a business that provides people with workspace to get their business and creative work done. Underground Economy, located in Suite 201 in the Redstone Building, 129 N. Main St., Davenport, offers space to musicians, artists and anybody who needs an office desk. It offers a recording studio, podcast studio, and workstations with computers. The UE website describes the operation as: “Thoughtfully curated boutique work environments that provide an unmatched experience. … Whether you just want to drop in for a couple of days or if you want to have a dedicated desk waiting for you each morning, you can come to the UE and know you’ll have a creative atmosphere.” The UE offers a variety of membership options – all listed on its website – including day passes, weekender plans and more. “There is a hunger for people who want to learn and build their careers on their passions. … I created this so people have a place to call home for their office,” said Mr. Graves, who moved his business into the River Music Experience (RME) inside the Redstone. The Underground Economy owner said he likes to help “passion people in the gig economy.” He refers to many of them as “artrepreneurs” – a combination of artists and entrepreneurs. Those “artrepreneur” have been keeping the downtown Davenport workspace very busy in recent months. Mr. Graves called February one of his best months ever as the UE helped groups such as the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, the RME and Tapestry Farms. “Every month, we get a new non-profit client,” he added. But like many of the people and businesses the UE has helped, his business has gone through some challenging days during the pandemic. In fact, the UE, which was formed about four years ago, moved to its current location during the pandemic in the spring of 2020. Mr. Graves admits that his timing for a big move wasn’t great. But it all worked out because the pandemic forced him to make big changes in order to survive. “I scrapped everything about my business and took the opportunity to rebrand. … It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he added. In fact, the leader of a local organization that assists startups and small businesses – including UE – calls the business’ transformation remarkable. “Josh has made amazing progress as an entrepreneur and small business owner during extremely difficult times,” Tom Trone, chair of the SCORE Quad Cities chapter, told the QCBJ. “When we first met, Josh was struggling to find a viable position in the QCA market for his digital media and studio services. His ‘Graveyard Studio’ business was active but not sustainable. Josh enhanced his studio offerings to include support for creative entrepreneurs needing a place to work as well as business guidance. The Underground Economy concept emerged to meet the need that Josh saw just as COVID became active,” Mr. Trone wrote. “Today, UE is alive and well thanks to Josh’s persistence and resilience,” he added. The SCORE leader adds that Mr. Graves is no longer a SCORE client today, but a digital media subject matter expert helping others start and grow successful, sustainable businesses in the region. Mr. Graves has these tips for people considering starting a business or just getting into business:
- Take inventory of your resources. Know what you have and know what you need.
- Do your research or find resources available in the community. He suggests turning to places like SCORE Quad Cities and Eastern Iowa Community College for information and assistance on starting a business.
- Do your networking. “People who know you are the people who will help you,” he said. Mr. Graves added that about 90% of his business comes from word of mouth from people within the network.
- Finally, “Don’t put yourself in a box,” he said, adding that new business owners need to be flexible and willing to change with the times and the business environment. “I’ve rolled with the punches and I’ve rolled with the community,” he added.