There's another new option for entrepreneurs looking for shared office space in downtown Chicago. But not if they have a Y chromosome.

Adding to a flurry of co-working outfits that have popped up around downtown Chicago in recent years, former entertainment and media executive Alicia Driskill last month launched EvolveHer, a collaborative office space in River North meant to offer the same workplace flexibility touted by industry giants like WeWork, but for women only.

Tucked into an open concept, 5,000-square-foot loft at 358 W. Ontario St., the office is a different spin on the co-working trend that Driskill is betting will attract female entrepreneurs looking for shared space that comes with a community of other women in business.

"We really wanted to create a space that fosters collaboration," said Driskill, a 39-year-old former vice president of global partnerships at entertainment agency WME-IMG, who is funding the venture on her own. "We want this to be the members' space. This is about building it together."

The idea isn't the first of its kind. Looking to differentiate from what some perceive to be a sector of the office market that caters primarily to men, women have launched female-only co-working spaces in other major markets like New York and Los Angeles. In Chicago, a group within the Coalition Impact co-working office last year launched a version called "The Ladies Room."

The idea is to build a niche among a crowded field of shared office companies which, in Chicago, more than doubled in the amount of space occupied between 2014 and 2016 to 1.5 million square feet, according to real estate services company Newmark Knight Frank. That figure is on track to increase to more than 2.5 million square feet this year, NKF estimates.

But unlike industry giants like WeWork, EvolveHer doesn't offer a series of private office spaces butting up against each other among communal areas. With accents that Driskill said are designed to make it feel like a "second home" and encourage members to interact, the office is almost entirely open with the exception of a few conference rooms and a place to make a private call.

Building a community of women in the office—"we don't allow people to just drop in off the street," Driskill said—is meant to help women entrepreneurs who may be intimidated by a male-dominated environment.

"One of the key pieces of being an entrepreneur is that vulnerability side. It's important for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, saying 'I don't know how do this, can anybody help me?' " Driskill said. "We're providing a place where women feel comfortable to talk about that."

 

EvolveHer founder Alicia Driskill - EvolveHer
Photo by Anna Zajac EvolveHer founder Alicia Driskill

Memberships at EvolveHer come in three tiers, ranging from $100 per month for a membership that includes access to EvolveHer events and educational resources to $389 per month for a membership that includes unlimited use of the workspace.

Driskill said she has 35 members so far after recruiting through local women's business groups.

Building the business will require a robust membership and periodically renting out the office as event space, she said.

Link to original article - Crain's Chicago

Crain's Woman Up Project is a yearlong effort to tell the stories of women in Chicago business. Find out more here.

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