Interview by Breanne Thomas
Hi Eva! Can you tell us what inspired you and the 13 other parents who launched Women’s Business Incubator (WBI)?
I knew I possessed valuable talents as a software engineer, and I always expected to be a full-time working parent. But like many mothers, my life turned upside down when my children were born. The only thing I knew for sure is that a 40-plus-hour corporate job was not working for me anymore.
I started a freelance software consulting business, and fell into a group of like-minded parents who were also looking for a more flexible work life without paying the financial and emotional toll of full-time childcare. One visionary member of our group had been trying to start a for-profit coworking space with on-site childcare, but the startup costs for a childcare business were prohibitive and did not offer a good return on investment. So together we pivoted, and created WBI as a non-profit organization with an expanded mission to help women in business and working families face some of their major challenges — including childcare, access to funding, mentorship, networking, and education.
We now operate a coworking space with a flexible, drop-in preschool in Seattle, along with monthly networking events and business workshops. Any parent can use our space: entrepreneurs, small business owners, freelancers, new parents gradually transitioning back into their full time jobs, or any parent wanting to send a few emails in peace.
What has been the most challenging part about forming as a non-profit tech company?
Fundraising! WBI’s success depends on being able to raise the funds it needs to operate, and being on a non-profit board means you’re constantly looking for funds.
As a previously introverted software engineer, finding ways to reach out to potential donors is a unique challenge for me. At first I was totally stymied by even having to explain the concept of coworking with on-site childcare and why it’s important. But realizing that people get it right away, especially parents, has given me the confidence to hone my pitch and to reach out to everyone I know!
Another fundraising challenge is reaching the right people at the right places. I believe there are corporations out there that want to be inclusive, support working families, and retain employees returning from parental leave; yet reaching the corporate decision-makers in charge of philanthropy presents a variety of challenges. I know a lot of corporate software engineers, but they are not often able to introduce me to the person at their corporation that would champion our cause. We’ve got a long way to go to spread the word, but the team and I are getting better at it every day.
In a dream scenario, where do you see the incubator in the next few years?
In the more practical near future, WBI will be self-sustaining through memberships, including hourly punch cards, monthly memberships, and employer-sponsored WBI memberships.
We’ll continue with events and workshops and we’ll connect small businesses with funding. The incubator will operate in a larger, dedicated space adapted to both business support and childcare. We’ll have a salaried executive director who manages the daily operations of the coworking space, and the licensed, on-site and drop-in childcare for infants through pre-kindergarten.
Ultimately, I want to see coworking and childcare become as common a childcare option as daycare centers and nannies. People will wonder how we ever got along without it. I want to see the WBI expand to multiple locations in multiple cities, partnering with existing coworking businesses, and inspiring other businesses and government to offer creative, flexible, and affordable options for working families.