Black Technology Matters and More Importantly, it's Accessible
She designs software, she writes code, she is a mother, she is black, she is queer and she is a Chicagoan who takes pride in the ability to build a platform with and for those who are looking to activate their ideas right in the neighborhood her family once lived.
Tiffany “TJ” Mikell is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of ZaMLabs that houses The Media Lab: Chi. which sits right on the corner of 79th street and Woodlawn Ave. (7857 S. Woodlawn). TJ currently serves as the active curator for the space.
“The Media Lab is exclusively focused on building tech and media enabled solutions that make the lives of marginalized people a little bit better”, said TJ.
Fully equipped with a podcast studio and live-streaming lab, The Media Lab comfortably and conveniently sits right over The Woodlawn which is a pop-up cafe as well as a community hub used for events. TJ has already collaborated with the owner of The Woodlawn by offering technical infrastructure support including a website and booking/scheduling tool. Additionally, they negotiated a revenue share agreement on studio and streaming services, which contributed to compensating a portion of ZaMLabs’ lodging space.
“The Woodlawn owns the building and actually when I met [the owner], he had this space listed on Zillow so I [told the owner that] I want this space for my office. I’m a technologist I will help him with his website. I know tech’ people and we’re going to help him do his site.”
She said she appreciates how genuine the leasing process has unraveled so far especially after looking at some spaces in River North and The Loop area. She takes pride in being from the south side of Chicago and seemed honored to be working in the area.
“The thing I like about this space is that I feel like it gives us a good place to grow. Up and down this strip there’s a lot of empty commercial spaces and I feel like I like this area. Its mixed-income, the 79th street bus runs all night so yea I’m happy about it,” she said.
As she continues to grow her other start-ups, her plans for the lab are gradually unfolding. Many of the artists who have already rented out the podcast studio have put TJ to work. She realizes that having access to space is one thing but some people also need assistance operating the equipment and drafting their plans for a solid show.
“The idea for having a media lab is because we build live media software and we’re just kind of really emurst in this live broadcasting space. We know that people need a space to do their broadcast from so all the times people are on their phone, in the car or in the bathroom, it’s just because they don’t have a physical space to go to [and we figured] it would be dope if we opened these spaces up for other people to use,” said TJ.
She has talked about getting a major corporation/organization to sponsor one or more of these spaces making room for individuals to come and create at a more cost effective rate.
Most of her day-to-day duties consists of building her other entities within ZaMLabs like AerialSpaces which, “is a video tool for live online events (virtual content), visual podcasts, live tv-like experiences in the browser.” With some of her earliest customers being Microsoft and a digital literacy training led by The White House using Aerial Spaces to include individuals from 28 different cities.
“Basically we operate as a software company so we spend a lot of our time building software, testing it and selling it. I write code, I’ll build an app (or part of an app) test it to make sure there are no issues and then I figure out how to monetize it in some way”, said TJ.
There is much planning being put into place at The Media Lab: Chi, it’s the perfect set up Chicago, get on it.