By Tawnya Panizzi
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Jess Strong, A Pittsburgh area mother of three who was inspired to open a co-working space after experiencing her own “home office” chaos. Strong said, “You try to answer three emails and you turn around and the kids have dumped cereal all over the floor.” Her goal is to improve freelance careers by offering support, administrative needs and networking for women in business.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Jess Strong worked as a freelance grant writer from her home in Stanton Heights, with her three young children often clamoring for her attention.
“I thought that I could be productive, and that was sort of lunacy,” said Strong, who in December opened a co-working space in Sharpsburg called Whetstone Workgroup. “You try to answer three emails and you turn around and the kids have dumped cereal all over the floor.”
Like its namesake tool that’s used to sharpen kitchen knives, Whetstone’s goal is to improve freelance careers by offering support, administrative needs and networking.
The space at 2310 Main St. has private meeting rooms, a 14-seat training room, free Wi-Fi and available child care services. Strong employs a child care manager and an office manager.
Whetstone Workgroup currently has 11 members, and has capacity for 22.
Co-working space is a trend that is gaining a lot of traction and interest by entrepreneurs, said Mary T. McKinney, director of the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center.
There are several such spaces that are operating in this region, McKinney said, and they provide benefits for their occupants, which typically are growing businesses but also are sometimes independent professionals such as sales reps, insurance agents and travel groups.
“In addition to more reasonably priced rent, the space provides networking and brainstorming opportunities, and shared common areas such as office equipment, conference space, mailboxes, vending and oftentimes office support,” McKinney said. “In the spaces designed for entrepreneurs, mentoring by professional business experts as well as successful entrepreneurs is an added benefit. Data shows that businesses that receive a support system and counseling in their early stages outperform the typical business.”
Strong said she wanted to invest in the growing number of professionals who work outside of a traditional work space.
“When you work as a freelancer, there’s the risk of losing professional contacts or not keeping up with technology,” she said.
“Here, you have people to share ideas and to problem solve, and there’s a network of professional support.”
Strong said she chose Sharpsburg after looking for space in several neighborhoods. She said she found friendly neighbors, affordable rent and close proximity to the East End and other Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
“There’s an energy that’s happening in Millvale, Etna and Sharpsburg,” she said.
Whetstone Workgroup has women’s blogger meet-ups and monthly training sessions on business-related topics. Members are involved in providing training.
Graphic designer Terese Jungle said the co-working suites allow her to set her own rates and schedule. She rents space weekly to run her consulting business, The Brand Clinic, through which she helps startup businesses.
Last week, she met with client Ursula Lesic, who is starting a business coaching entity in the North Hills. They brainstormed ideas in a small space equipped with a whiteboard, couches and a table.
“The cool thing with this is that it allows for an organic growing of businesses,” Lesic said.