Women take center stage at co-working companies
In the space of a month, two new co-working business opened in Portland.
The city already has a solid inventory of places that offer desk and work space rental, from companies with a national presence like WeWork to locally grown versions like Collective Agency. But the two newest arrivals, Vida and The Riveter, offer an approach that only a handful of co-working spaces in the Portland metro area previously have followed.
Both Vida and The Riveter are women-owned companies that, while open to anyone, are focused on women in business who are looking for a different environment and experience than what is found in traditional co-working spaces. In addition to the work spaces both offer, they also provide services and amenities that Tami Wood, general manager of The Riveter's Portland location, and Vida founder Melanie Marconi say are designed to all support all aspects of the lives of working women.
"(Vida) really was designed specifically for women's lives," Marconi said. "While men most certainly are welcome, there are really just so few spaces in Portland — in the country — that are actually designed specifically with ... women and their lives in mind, and that offer the kind of unique supports and services to really get it together in a way that works for them."
Marconi personally knows the challenges that women often face when trying to balance family and work and their own well-being. All too often, when something needs to be aside to find enough time, it's the self-care that falls by the wayside, as Marconi realized shortly after she moved from Los Angeles to Portland.
An "accidental business owner" at the age of 23, Marconi and three partners found themselves running a successful L.A. event company called BDI Events that eventually blossomed into a second venture called "Where Will they Stay." Marconi eventually moved to Portland to raise her daughter, Ellie, and began running the events company from her new location. But being a single parent with a growing business took a toll.
"I hadn't worked out in about a year-and-a-half," Marconi said. "I was feeling terrible. I'd gained about 40 pounds and I was like, life is just not working for me right now. I had this moment where I (realized) I just need to figure it out. I started to put all of these pieces together, which included regular self-care and regular fitness and this child-care situation that worked and this work situation that worked. And it was all very localized, in my immediate neighborhood."
At the same time, the event business was growing. With her six local employees — all women, including five who were moms — working from their homes, Marconi began looking for co-working space. However, she couldn't find any place that felt like it offered the support she and her staff needed to be able to address all of facets of their lives. It was then that she first began developing the model that would blossom into the Vida co-working and community model.
She shared her idea with the network of women entrepreneurs she had built since coming to Portland.
"I just started talking about it. Is this something you would be into. The response was a resounding 'yes,'" Marconi said.
She tapped her own resources to get her idea off the ground and then added money from a small group of colleagues and friends of friends. She also was lucky enough to find a landlord, American Property Management, willing to cover the costs to improve the second floor of the two joined buildings on Northeast 19th Avenue that were the former home of Jantzen Swimwear. In return, Marconi agreed to sign a 65-month lease for the nearly 15,000 square-feet of space that Vida now calls home, which features a layout and interior touches designed by Allyson Strowbridge of Portland-based ctrl+shift+space.
Working spaces for all
Amy Nelson, the founder and CEO of The Riveter, started her business in order to address what she saw was a lack of gender inclusivity in co-working models. With a motto of "Built by women, for everyone," Nelson opened her first Riveter location in 2017 in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood in Seattle, tapping angel investors for money to get the venture started.
A second location, in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, soon followed, and Nelson turned to venture capital to begin a major expansion. When it came to adding Portland to the mix, the local location was sought out with some specifics in mind, Wood said.
The business is in a 10,582-square-foot, ground-floor space with its own entrance in the old Washington High School building on the corner of Southeast Stark Street and Southeast 14th Avenue. The building was renovated several years ago into Revolution Hall music venue and creative office spaces.
One of the big pluses of the building for Riveter was the fact that it has its own parking lot. Another draw was the fact that there are several locally grown restaurants and pubs nearby as well as a green space where people can run their dogs off-leash. There's also a resident population that fits the description of those who need and want co-working opportunities, according to Wood.
"There are a lot of makers in Southeast Portland," she said.
Both The Riveter and Vida operate on a membership model.
The Riveter's model features tiers, defined by the amount of use per month and the type of space desired. Usage categories for example, range from for five hours of open-space access for $59 to 10 hours per month for $99. Designated desks, which come with locking filing cabinets and around the clock access, run $400 per month. Two-person offices, of which there are five, are $1,200 per month while the one five-person office is $2,600 — all offices allow 24/7 access.
Members receive credits they can use to use a main conference room. There are also two phone booths for private calls that are open to all members.
Members also are eligible to attend workshops and talks on topics that they help determine, from business-related topics to talks about current events, Wood said.
Riveter memberships also come with perks like discounts for work-related airline travel and childcare. The latter isn't set up yet in Portland, but Wood said she's in talks with some local providers to set up a childcare discount program.
Vida's membership model also offers tiers, although most of its levels offer unlimited use based on the type of work space a member chooses. Thirteen private offices, able to accommodate one to six people, start at $800 per month. Dedicated desks, which each come with a locking filing cabinet, are $600 per month. For those who just want a place to work, there are open or flexible space memberships for $400 per month as well as part-time memberships that provide 20 hours of access to any open desk, seat or counter area.
Like The Riveter, Vita's model goes beyond just offering Wi-Fi and space to type up a proposal. Vida touts its list of extras as "curated amenities," which include valet parking services at Vida's nearby surface lot, access to a concierge to help with tasks that Marconi describes as ranging from conducting research to returning a pair of shoes, and access to daily exercise and yoga classes. Monthly members also are eligible to receive an hour of life-work-balance coaching each month.
For an extra fee, all members can use an in-house day-care service for up to 20 hours per week. The drop-in daycare area is located in a big room next to an open work space area for parents who want to work but still be within sight of their little ones.
Both Marconi and Wood stress their business models, at their cores, are about building a sense of community. Both business locations, for example, feature kitchen areas with long main tables where members can gather together and share meals and experiences.
"What we're seeing, even just in this early period, it's not even just business networking but inter-personal relationships — the opportunity to hang out with like-minded people," Marconi said.
"It's really about building a support system for women," she said.
Room to Grow
Portland is the 10th location for The Riveter, but the company isn't finished growing. The company opened a Denver operation — it's ninth location — just a week before the Portland venture.
"And we have plans to expand more in the future," Wood said.
Marconi also has plans to add more Vida locations in the future. Ideally, she's hoping to make use of Opportunity Zone designations and create associated funds, both for real estate and business ventures, as much as possible.
Opportunity Zones are areas that have been selected as in need of economic infusions that come via Opportunity Zone Funds. Real estate funds allow investors to sink capital gains into constructing new structures or renovating existing buildings. Business ventures allow a similar capital gains investment in actual business operations. Investors who keep their money in Opportunity Zone projects for specific periods of time receive certain breaks on the final taxes they pay on their invested capital gains.
The Jantzen building, for example, is located in one of Portland's Opportunity Zones, though Marconi didn't tap the program for her first Vida location. She has, however, been working with both a lawyer and an accountant to establish an Opportunity Zone fund for business operations that could launch as early as September for at least three future spaces.
"It's still speculative," Marconi said. "But the business model going forward will be to open locations in Opportunity Zones."
Marconi eventually hopes to open 25 Vida-branded co-working operations over the next seven years. The plan calls for two of those — one in Tualatin and one in Vancouver, Washington — to open by the end of the year.
The fact that two different women-owned co-working businesses can open in the same month and fill their membership slots shows that there's a definitely demand for co-working alternatives from women and others who may not find traditional models to be the right fit, Wood said. She has a feeling that Vida and Riveter won't be the only women-owned co-working businesses to decide to call Portland home.
"Portland as a whole is ready for this," Wood said "As a woman, I think it's our time for really raising our voices and coming together and finding our power."
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