When self-employed Katy O’Gara works from home, there’s always something that can distract her. A mother of four kids 12 and under, O’Gara might see a pile of dirty laundry or smell something festering in a trashcan in one of her child’s bedrooms.
“At home, maybe I’ll catch up on my Bravo while I’m doing work and it’s just not effective,” said O’Gara, who runs a startup that organizes dining tours of walk-able towns like Bryn Mawr, Ardmore and Media.
But in November 2015, O’Gara found a better option: a new, 2,600-square-foot, women-only co-working space started by Bizzy Mamas — a group made up of mostly young, working moms that own their own businesses. Located above a cafe in Ardmore’s commercial district on Lancaster Avenue, the space has workstations, meeting rooms, a kitchen (yes, there’s coffee and alcohol) and even a photography studio.
With the closure of The Hive in Old City a few weeks ago, the Bizzy Mamas may very well be the only co-working space in the Philadelphia area that’s just for women.
For O’Gara, it’s a godsend. “I am a thousand times more productive coming here. I just bang stuff out,” she said.
It all started in May 2014, when Tina Nerelli (a photographer) and Stephanie Gambescia Seal (an event planner) began getting the networking bug, but realized that most of the meet-ups didn’t fit their new mommy schedules.
“So I thought, was there a way to make those connections online?” said Nerelli. “Can you do it in your pajamas anytime you want, rather than being at a certain place at a certain time?”
So they created Bizzy Mamas, originally a Facebook group where they posted interesting news stories, inspiring quotes or a “question of the day.” It spread quickly, leading to a few physical networking events and lots of interest in starting a new co-working space.
Two-and-a-half months ago, the Bizzy Mamas moved into their own space, which is now home to 17 people. Meanwhile, the Facebook group surged to an impressive 900 likes, and a private Facebook group has 130 members.
“Before, everywhere was a boy’s club,” said Gambescia Seal. “Women assume a lot of the childhood responsibilities and household responsibilities, so since we work differently than a lot of 9-to-5 people getting a paycheck, we have to make different hours. We support each other because we understand that we’re driving our businesses and also driving our households.”
But make no mistake about it, the Bizzy Mamas aren’t sitting around talking about the best ways to raise their kids. They’re working hard as photographers, real estate agents, graphic designers and lawyers. There’s even a fashion designer in the group.
“It’s not like we do a lot of mom stuff, we just understood the mom schedule,” said Nerelli.
Once school is finished for the day, the space is probably crawling with kids, right? Wrong. Kids are not allowed. Most of the women work at the co-working space while their children are at school, while others will drop their kids off at Lulu’s Casita, an hourly indoor play space across the street.
What does it cost? There are three tiers. For a dedicated desk, unlimited access to the space and a place for storage, it’s $350. For 50 hours per month, it costs $250. For 25 hours per month, it’s $125. Members of the private Facebook group can also get an hourly day pass.
Aliza Schlabach, a self-employed photographer, is the mother of a six-year-old and nine-year- old and says that co-working allows her to separate house and work — as well as collaborate with adults all day “which is good for mental health.”
“It’s really isolating. I spent a couple years, like a decade ago, working for myself as a website designer and I just didn’t feel healthy. I didn’t feel mentally healthy,” said Schlabach. “I like being my own boss. I like running my own business, but I still like the social aspect of being around other people. So co-working, for me, is a perfect balance.”
Alison Altman Gross, a lawyer with three children, was shocked to find such a space on the Main Line — and happy to find like-minded women to collaborate with.
“These co-working spaces are becoming so popular, but there really isn’t anything like this in this area,” she said. “And yet, so many people work for themselves or work from home and need flexible office space.”
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