Editor’s Note: The Commercial Broker Roundtable is a quarterly look at the issues affecting the commercial real estate market and their ramifications for residential real estate.
Deena Zimmerman, Vice President, SVN Chicago Commercial
Felena Hanson, Founder, Hera Hub, a spa-inspired, shared workspace and business accelerator for female entrepreneurs.
Diane K. Danielson, Chief Operating Officer, SVN International Corp.
Joy Lutes, Vice President of External Affairs, National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
Alicia Driskill, Founder & CEO, EvolveHer, a creative workspace for women
Michael Ellch, Vice President of Development, Related Midwest
Deena Zimmerman: Here in Chicago, niche coworking is the wave of the future. There’s a coworking incubator for musicians, and several just for tech. Now, we’re seeing coworking spaces specifically designed for women. These spaces set female entrepreneurs up for success as they can figure out how to operate their business before investing in a brick and mortar space, and are opening up new opportunities for real estate professionals. Alicia, what kind of entrepreneurs are gathering in these spaces, and how do you see coworking opening doors for women?
Alicia Driskill: EvolveHer’s community is a very diverse group of women ranging from 25-75 years old. The career spectrum is just as broad in range: videography, design, pediatrics, retail, coaching. We believe in creating a robust ecosystem; it’s important that we have a home base for women to not only work, but to connect with other women personally and professionally.
Felena Hanson: I believe that women are instinctively more collaborative in their approach to business. Several of the identified gender differences in a Kauffman Foundation study indicate that support and encouragement from key people can especially benefit women in their efforts to found successful companies. Many women feel more comfortable in a female environment and typically get to a point of trust much quicker, especially in a safe, supportive environment. Our members have access to professional space to meet with clients and to collaborate with like-minded business owners, thus giving them the support they need to be prosperous.
Joy Lutes: Entrepreneurism can be a lonely path to pursue. It’s important for women entrepreneurs of all sizes to have a network that supports them as they grow and scale their business. Our organization was actually founded because, at the time, there were no other business organizations open to women business owners. Finding no place to network, share ideas or support each other, the founders of NAWBO started their own.
DZ: According to forecasts from the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC), the number of global coworking spaces is expected to grow from 14,411 in 2017 to just over 30,000 in 2022. That’s a lot of open opportunity for commercial real estate developers. Diane, how is the coworking trend impacting things in your market?
Diane K. Danielson: Like in many markets, in Boston, the coworking space WeWork is fast becoming one of the largest tenants of commercial space. They are no longer just picking brick and beam space next to transit; they have inked deals at first-class office space in the financial district. The commercial real estate industry has to realize [coworking] is here to stay and they have moved beyond Class A markets to secondary markets, and eventually, they will hit tertiary markets. People want flexibility and community. Office building owners are going to have to deliver that even if they don’t have WeWork as a tenant.
DZ: What was it like finding your coworking space?
AD: I looked at 8-10 other places but knew this was our home as soon as we walked in the door. I wanted a loft with a lot of natural light, exposed brick and timber and industrial flooring. It was really important that we didn’t reflect a traditional office vibe and that we were able to design a creative environment that captured the energy of our brand.
DZ: Coworking is also trickling into the residential world. Currently, I’m seeing a wave of high-end residential buildings opening with coworking spaces included, like the Living Library at the Landmark West Loop in Chicago. Do you think a coworking space will be the new norm for high-end buildings?
Michael Ellch: It depends on the location and the demographic. It certainly makes sense in burgeoning neighborhoods like Chicago’s West Loop, which has attracted leading employers like Google and McDonald’s. Today’s renters want amenities that feel like extensions of their homes and that align with their lifestyles, which include working remotely. The Living Library at Landmark West Loop was designed to bring the coworking experience to residents’ front door, with an added level of convenience and privacy.
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