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Why Work + Learning Spaces for women?

The data and rationale for pursuing Prosperity Co + Lab.

Have you ever looked around the business community and wondered “where are all the women?”

We’ve acclimated to the low number of women in tech businesses, but where are the women in other industries? In Bend, we asked our community this question and invited women in the Bend startup community to share their thoughts with us. We were curious if there was more to the story, or if we simply had low numbers of women in business.

Where my ladies at?

The evening was casual, and gathered a range of women from owners to executive team to service providers who cater to startups. We heard several things that evening.

  1. There is a need for connecting with resources, finding out about events, and asking questions. This need is strongest for those at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey.

  2. There is a desire to show up in solidarity together at the larger community events such as Bend Venture. We could show up stronger if we facilitated introductions & organized around these events.

90% of Women-Owned Firms Don’t Have Employees

Simultaneously in January, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a wake-up call highlighting the gap between the number of women-owned businesses and their revenues. I didn’t know the gap was so wide until I attended Circular Summit in Houston. The stats are staggering. Women own 9.9 million U.S. firms representing 35% of firms and generating $1.4 trillion revenues annually. 70% of women-owned firms have less than $25,000 in revenues annually. Only 10% have paid employees. Yet, women are starting businesses 2.5x faster than the general population. The report even included data for Oregon. Women own 123,015 firms in Oregon (36.25%) generating $16,771,680 in sales receipts (5.04%).

Recently, the Census Bureau released a tool to assist small businesses with market research and business planning. I looked up Deschutes County. There are 16,143 non-employer firms in Deschutes County and another 6,260 with paid employees. Women own 20% of the employer firms (1,252) and 36% of the non-employer firms (5,811). For an area with a population of 163,141 at time of survey (2014), that seems pretty good.

So, how do we address this gap? Elizabeth Gore and 80 CEO’s have some suggestions on #whatWEneedtosucceed from the next president.

One of the startling statistics Elizabeth referenced at Circular Summit is women put $.90 of every dollar they earn into their communities and families, compared with $.35 for men. If we could increase the sales receipts of women-owned firms equivalent to our male peers, it would add $10 TRILLION TO GDP.

Difficulty finding Spaces to Meetup and host clients

Over the last year, we’ve been hosting meetup groups for digital marketers and freelancers to come together and learn, as well as work in a change of scenery at #FreeRangeFridays. It is HARD to find space to meet in! Most of the time we’re able to use an employer's conference room or a local business generously donated their space, but there aren’t many public meeting spaces for groups over the size of 6. The ones that do, started charging $100/hr in the spring to meet.

If you consider that 90% of women-owned businesses don’t have employees and 70% are making less than $25,000 in revenues, you can see why women aren’t signing up in droves for co-working spaces. Most have a home office until they can no longer keep product in their homes, or have a need to meet clients in a more professional space. What if you had access to those resources so you could grow into a bigger company that can afford co-working offices?

One of the strengths of Central Oregon, is that we still have the small city face to face accessibility within our community. We aren’t so large yet that it’s impossible to cross paths or find time to meet face to face. Where we struggle is pairing that with national or global resources that expand our customer bases and learning opportunities to stay competitive.

The Case for Prosperity Co + Lab

One of the most important factors in group dynamics and team learning is the foundation of psychological safety. In other words, a shared belief that it’s safe in this environment for interpersonal risk taking. When psychological safety is present, team members feel accepted and respected.

This was hinted at in our January chat locally, about a safe space for women to grow their confidence privately, to show up more confidently in public.

Rationale #1: Environment is Everything.

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn

The biggest benefit of co-working spaces is curating the right environment for growth, as well as increasing your support network to people who understand your journey and can support it. If this is your first time venturing into entrepreneurship, you may not have the built-in network to help you navigate the first or second year in business.

The cost of co-working spaces might be a deterrent from full-time membership for women-owned businesses. Chances are you still want a place to host meetups, or workshops, or clients, and want to tap into the braintrust of women on a similar journey. If we democratized the cost of the work space by charging a more affordable fee, focused on giving access to spaces needed on infrequent basis and curated value added events, we could flip the revenue model on its head rather having a majority of revenue come from renting the physical space first.

Rationale #2: The Future is Distributed, Inclusive + Resourceful.

One of the downsides to remote working or entrepreneurship is loneliness. It’s fun to get out of the house to the local coffee shop, but sometimes what we crave is coworkers, and people who can understand our journey.

Thankfully, the workplace is changing rapidly. Cloud computing and better communication tools have allowed more companies to adopt remote working, opening up opportunities for their employees to live anywhere and increase their talent pool to the best in the world regardless of location. And, more than 55 million Americans are freelancing contributing more than $1 trillion to the economy.

A decade ago, I worked for a software company where remote/flexible work & the distributed international team was standard. Sometimes, I would take company update calls from home in the morning with Europe, knowing we had the second update call in the afternoon with Asia and would commute to the office for the later part of the day. I had coworkers that worked in New York and across the world. We worked hard, and yet integrated work with our lives.

Think about the working women in your life. Or, a woman you know who was once working, but since made the difficult choice to stay home with her kids because childcare costs more than she was making at her last job. While she is working, is she getting the opportunities or assignments that are stretching her and rewarding her financially? Has she thought about going back to school to get more education to open the door for more opportunities? Does she have to make difficult decisions daily to balance her life with the demands of her job?

Rationale #3: The jobs of tomorrow are being invented TODAY.

We’re advocates for non-traditional type learning & skills-based hiring.

I got a degree in marketing, but everything I’ve needed to be successful was the result of testing what works with our customers, and pursuing additional learning outside the workplace. I will hire a scrappy marketer with a portfolio and audience, any day over someone with a degree. As my career in digital has progressed, more platforms have been created to bridge the actionable learning gap plaguing marketers and business owners. There’s no excuse to be an ostrich. Everyone is in the same boat. We’re all figuring this out. We know this as consumers. Our expectations from brands and retailers have shifted.

My belief was further reinforced last week at the Tech Inclusion conference when Jim Deters, CEO of Galvanize pointed out, that only 9% of Americans have computer science degrees yet that is a typical requirement in job descriptions in tech. How are we going to fill these needs with a barrier like that? Thankfully there are lots of smart and passionate people working on these issues: Galvanize, General Assembly, Guild Education, Opportunity at Work with the Tech Hire Program.

Yet, these programs target big cities at the moment. While we wait for these programs to be extended to smaller communities, what can we do today to close the access gap?

Rationale #4: Geography is no longer a barrier for success.

2016 was a defining year for women. Women are re-inventing access networks to spread resources across state lines & nationally.

In March, the SBA authorized 113 new NAICS industry groups for WOSB (women-owned small business) and EDWOSB (economically disadvantaged women-owned small business) to be eligible for contract participation in the federal contracting program. Click the links above for the full list of codes.

In April, The Circular Board (Collaborative, virtual accelerator for female entrepreneurs) held its first Circular Summit to bring trailblazing entrepreneurs together and connect them with resources for scalable, business models.

It is because of this data and need for specific resources for women entrepreneurs & ambitious professionals that we want work + learning spaces catered to our needs.

Won’t you be our neighbor?

Now is the time. 2016 has been an incredible year of momentum for female entrepreneurs and business owners, with additional resources, networks and training online. Maybe you haven’t dipped your toe in the entrepreneurial world yet, or you’ve been wondering how get your venture started, or are stalling with scaling it to it’s next level? Even if the expert you need doesn’t live in our area, we can access them. This is unprecedented. And, it’s exciting. We have the opportunity to create work environments created by women, for women. We don’t have to limit our careers because of our geography.

If you are interested in working or learning (or teaching!) at Prosperity Co + Lab starting in 2017, fill out our inquiry form. Join our community on Facebook http://facebook.com/prosperitycolab, say hi on Twitter at twitter.com/prosperitycolab.com or watch our story unfold on Instagram http://instagram.com/prosperitycolab.

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