Portland will soon join New York City; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego in being able to boast a coworking space dedicated to women.
Founder Heather Ashby says she’s launching the coworking space, called CoworkHERS, because she feels traditional coworking spaces, while not bad for women, don’t always offer a space that’s most conducive to their success.
“I came up with the idea of targeting women in the coworking movement because I felt like traditional coworking spaces were dominated by males and the ability to collaborate and grow your business, as a woman in that environment, could be inhibited,” she says. “It’s not just an office space. I’m building a community. This will be an empowering place for women to work and grow.”
She equates CoworkHERS with what Curves did in the gym space.
“I assume that Curves decided that women would probably show up more, and work out more, and more likely achieve their weight loss goals, when surrounded by other women rather than feeling intimidated or inhibited with men around,” she says.
CoworkHERS will be located on the ground level of the Portland Masonic building, next door to City Hall. Ashby plans to open Dec. 1 and has already received a large amount of interest from prospective members and small female teams.
“In CoworkHERS, women should feel the freedom to ‘come as they are’ and to not feel judged,” Ashby said. “I want them to be inspired by other women, to have a place to be heard, a place to collaborate, network and support other women and their businesses. They can get their work done in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe, but it’s also affordable, makes sense and meets their specific needs.”
The space, which Ashby describes as “a shared workspace and social club designed to support female professionals,” is the latest development in a trend toward more efforts to specifically foster and grow female entrepreneurship in Maine. Other recent examples include Bangor’s Scratchpad Accelerator shifting to focus solely on female startup founders and the work Sandra Stone, chair emeritus of Maine Angels, has been doing to get more women involved in startup funding, including the creation of the Northern New England Women’s Investor Network. A screening of “She Started It,” a documentary that follows two female entrepreneurs through the trials and tribulations of building a tech startup, attracted nearly 150 people to Cloudport on Oct. 26.
The revenue of women-owned businesses in Maine has more than tripled in the last 10 years. from $3.5 million in 2007 to an estimated $11.1 million in 2016, according to the “2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” (link is a PDF) commissioned by American Express OPEN.
“Portland is ready for this. A community to support women in their business ventures would be a welcome addition to the city,” Kathleen O’Donnell, a business consultant and vice chair of SCORE Portland Chapter, said in a statement.
Ashby, who operates a real estate firm with her husband, bought the building in 2014 for $1.6 million, according to a Portland Press Herald article published at the time. She said her initial plans are for CoworkHERS to be on two lower floors, but that she hopes to be able to expand into upper floors if her idea is validated.