Female Co-Working Spaces Encourage Community and Collaboration
March 9, 2015 | Focus on Women
By Lisa Wirthman
Some successful women credit an all-girls education with giving them the confidence to shoot for any goal. Can female work spaces offer professional women the same advantage?
After eight years of running a marketing business out of her home, the need for a professional networking space drove Felena Hanson to create Hera Hub in 2011, a shared workspace for female entrepreneurs named for the Greek goddess of women.
“Women crave community,” said Hanson, who said she felt isolated and distracted when working from home. According to an internal survey, Hera Hub members say they are 60 percent more productive in the shared workspace than when they work at home.
With three locations in San Diego and its first franchise set to open in Washington, D.C., next month, Hera Hub provides access to professional meeting spaces, networking opportunities with other business owners and educational workshops.
Hanson’s goal is to help more than 20,000 women launch their businesses over the next five years by opening 200 franchise locations in the U.S. and abroad. Hanson already is in talks with potential franchisees in Las Vegas, Phoenix, St. Louis, Raleigh/Durham and London. She also hopes to expand to Canada, Western Europe and South America.
When exploring franchise opportunities, Hanson looks for bigger cities that have a strong focus on female entrepreneurs. To find those populations, she seeks out female business organizations such as the National Association of Women Business Owners that already have structures in place but lack physical space for meetings and events.
“Thinking big is important,” said Hanson, “because life is too short to do anything else.” It’s a difficult lesson she learned in her early twenties following a car accident in which she broke 27 bones. After recovering, Hanson got her MBA and started her own business.
When she decided to open Hera Hub, Hanson did her research by touring co-ed workspaces on both coasts. She found many of them to be colder spaces with a lot of concrete and brick that tended to be loud, competitive and male-dominated. “I didn’t feel like I necessarily fit into those cultures, so I decided to go build my own space,” she said.
Unlike the other spaces she visited, Hera Hub features spa-like settings with fountains, candles, and soft music in what Hanson calls “a safe and supportive setting.” Men are welcome—Hera Hub has one male among its 300 members—but the space is decidedly female focused.
“It’s about creating an environment that is attractive to women but also builds a strong sense of collaboration and community,” Hanson said.
“Sometimes when you’re in a co-ed environment … women won’t speak up or ask questions because they don’t want to be seen as not knowing what they’re doing,” Hanson added. In an all-female environment, “women are much more open and candid and really ask for help.”
The space also provides networking opportunities that are often lacking for female entrepreneurs. “If you’re going to build a highly scalable business, you need a team,” she said. However, many female business owners are either solo-preneurs or too busy juggling work and families to attend after-hours events. Hera Hub creates networking opportunities within work hours.
Hera Hub members also serve as role models for each other by celebrating each member’s successes: “Seeing other people grow their businesses and achieve their goals is just contagious,” Hanson said.
One of Hanson’s top tips for female entrepreneurs in any location is to be confident. “When we are by ourselves, we can get caught in a cycle of thinking and questioning ourselves,” she said. “So it really is so important to surround yourself with strong, amazing and motivated people.”
She continues to look forward: “A lot of folks think that opening 200 locations in five years is crazy,” she said. “But if I open only 100 locations, that’s still 98 more than I would have if I had set my goal at only two.
“Life is fleeting,” she added. “So go for it and dream big.”
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.