“We want women to advance across different disciplines”

Ritah Ayebare Nyakato

31.10.2018 09:35
Laura Seifert & Estefania Tapias

WeSpace, the first-to-open women focused co-working space in Switzerland is situated in the heart of Zurich in the Bahnhofstrasse. The founders, Estefania Tapias and Laura Seifert aim to empower women by providing them a platform to grow and become part of a large community. Startupticker talked to the founders about their intensions and ambitions.

What inspired you to launch WeSpace?
We got inspired by an initiative in the United States called The Wing. After following their success, we wanted to adopt the concept to the European and Swiss context. Therefore, we launched a pilot in April 2018 as a pop-up space in the 25hours Hotel Langstrasse. We had 35 pilot membership with who we ran the concept. During the three-month pilot, we received a lot of feedback, which we implemented when designing the current WeSpace. We designed different spaces that not only provide new work experiences to its members but also that host and inspires community gatherings and events.

What makes you certain that women want their own space?
Because of multiple factors. One is that usually offices and co-working spaces are designed for men and thus, not tailored to women’s needs. We believe that women want to feel comfortable in their own space. That is why our slogan says “coworking and community space designed by women for women.” We also realized that if you take the factor of men out, women tend to collaborate more, talk more and understand each other more. That is why we also created the community idea such that women have a feeling of belonging and can support each other.

Were there complaints that women didn’t feel comfortable and happy in the current working spaces?
The main issue was that they did not feel comfortable and that they failed to find a place that appeals to them, a place that enables them to build their networks and to have a community. Most co-working spaces are transactional and lack a community feeling.

We talk about diversity and equality; is having a designated place for women not contradicting with what they are fighting for?
We only want to offer an alternative and thus do not impose that women must join a special co-working. WeSpace is also open for men! We offer different events in which all genders can participate. For instance, in the public events, men are also welcome. Men can also rent the meeting room for their meetings and the space for events. However, the memberships are only for women because we want to advance women with the power of a community. We are thus offering an option. We have several men that supported us in implementing this idea. Men facilitated some of our partnerships. These men believe that we need to support women and they also want to do so.

What are your ambitions?
Our mission is to provide a space-based community to facilitate the leadership journey of more women across a variety of sectors within corporations, institutions, and entrepreneurial ventures. We provide an inspirational space to work, socialize and network as well as a community that empowers women.

You seem to appeal to women communities a lot, are they a core target group?
Together with drivers of women groups, we hosted the first cross-women-community gathering to bring forward the idea of collaboration. As a result, we are offering a platform where they can all physically meet to discuss synergies, network and collaborate. Existing women communities have a lot of experience in the field of women empowerment and that is why we want to learn from them, support them and work closely together.

Are you afraid of competition with existing co-working spaces?
It is not about competition. There is enough room for many other similar initiatives. We focus on providing women an alternative for co-working and community. Every coworking space has a different angle and target group. Furthermore, competition is good because it makes us stronger, it helps us to improve ourselves. Having competition also confirms that there is a strong demand.

Do you know if the existing spaces are successful?
The Wing in the United States was the first co-working space for women. They set a foundation for many other co-working spaces in the market, which all have a different range of offerings and target groups. For us, we are focusing on the  Swiss women and we put effort on the design of the space and the brand.

Do you think WeSpace will be successful in Switzerland like The Wing in the United States?
We are aiming for that. Right from the beginning, we wanted to answer the needs of the local women. We did not want to replicate what The Wing created, therefore, we did a lot of research to understand the swiss context. We wanted to adapt the concept to Switzerland and with the pilot, we were able to gather information about the needs and wishes of the future members. We have managed to develop the whole concept in a different way.

What do you offer your members?
We have different types of memberships: Full-time and part-time coworking memberships and a stand-alone community membership. For our members, we offer community gatherings such as workshops on specific topics such as legal aspects, skill development, inspirational talks, etc. Additionally, we offer day-passes.

Do you see any challenges ahead of you?
The only issue that might arise is, things moving slower than we planned. Until now everything is moving fast since we started the project. The important thing is the timing and understanding the market. We will try to push as much as we can to make this happen. The market is so big and there are many working in coworking space. At the end of the day, it is about building a strong brand, having the right partners, the right network and move fast. Be in the right place at the right time.

Do you have any members in the place?
We have people that have signed up. During the open house days several people came and showed great interest, some of which have signed up as members. We hope to have more soon. We were quite positively overwhelmed about the open house, where people said they loved the place and felt inspired.

What are your plans?
We aim to expand to all over Switzerland, once we have succeeded here.

Photo: Laura Seifert (l) and Estefania Tapias (r).

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