The Nest Big Thing Local entrepreneurs develop co working space for women

June 6-12, 2022

By Dwain Hebda  

 

Erin Hohnbaum and Natalie Ghidotti are the embodiment of “been there, done that,” when it comes to launching and growing one’s own business. Now, the two Little Rock entrepreneurs have partnered on a new coworking space, The Nest, specifically designed to give other women the environment and support they need to do the same.  

 

“The physical space creates a sense of belonging; it does something for your confidence, it does something for the community that’s residing within the space,” said Hohnbaum, founder of E.Leigh’s Contemporary Boutiques. “For women in Central Arkansas, we have not had a space of our own. I think there is something really special about showing up to a physical space that was quite literally built for you and meeting your needs.” 

 

Billed as a coworking clubhouse and social community, The Nest (thenestlr.com) opened last fall in the South Main neighborhood of Little Rock, offering workspaces, a conference room and a variety of perks such as free Wi-Fi and free coffee. While not the first coworking space in the city, The Nest distinguishes itself in its focus on female entrepreneurs. 

 

“The focus is on women in our community and bringing together a physical space where all of these women throughout the community can come and learn from each other, network, grow together, build things together,” said Ghidotti, president of Ghidotti Communications and Public Relations.  

 

“There are aspects of the coworking model that are the same as you’d see in a tech park or a coworking space, but the real difference here is we’re trying to create a community among these women.” 

 

Coworking spaces grew out of the traditional small-office leasing format that has been around for a long time, and where tenants share certain common functions such as a copy room, reception and meeting spaces. The coworking concept takes that a step further by introducing elements that encourage networking and even collaboration with fellow tenants. Coworking in its current form is relatively recent, with industry watchers pointing to the early 2000s for the establishment of the first true coworking space. 

 

The concept grew globally and fast, even spawning national chains such as WeWork which just this year went public. But with the onset of COVID-19, the industry almost went extinct overnight as people stayed home out of health concerns. Ironically, the same pandemic that nearly put coworking spaces out of business has now made such spaces very hot commodities as people enjoy more freedom over who they work for, including themselves. 

 

According to data compiled by The Business Research Company for the Coworking Space Global Market Report 2022, the global coworking space market will grow from $13.60 billion in 2021 to $16.17 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.9%. What’s more, that growth is expected to remain fairly steady in the near term, growing at a 17% CAGR to $30.36 billion in 2026.  

 

The concept has been embraced most widely in America from a volume standpoint. Coworking Resources reports the U.S. has more than 80 million square feet of flexible workspace, 20 million more than the second-place United Kingdom. According to smallbizgenius.com, in 2019, there were more than three million coworkers globally, 40% of whom were women.  

 

As the coworking industry became more mainstream, certain variations on the concept have begun to emerge, including those focusing on specific segments of the working population. And as the partners behind The Nest contend, that makes their venture particularly well-timed. 

 

“Natalie and I both had an idea for a concept like The Nest separately,” Hohnbaum said. “I started a women’s community group back in 2018 called PowHer Players. My co-founder and I would host free events for women, and we would talk about all kinds of women’s issues — mental health, confidence, building a business.  

 

“We would host these free events around town, and we would have hundreds of women show up to the events. My first inclination was ‘whoa,’ there is definitely a space for this here in Central Arkansas that is really needed. Wouldn’t it be incredible if there was a physical space for like-minded women seeking growth and seeking to better themselves or their careers?” 

 

The Nest reflects this with a calendar of programming that goes beyond the officing aspects of the venture. Ghidotti said the various presentations and events — focused on members’ whole selves and not strictly on business topics — set the space apart from others in the market.  

 

“The programming, that’s a whole key piece to this,” she said. “Frankly, when we started, we started changing the tiers of membership and changing some price points because we were realizing that there were a lot of women that couldn’t even necessarily use the coworking space but were very interested in the programming piece.” 

 

Being in the presence of other women also helps members seek help in navigating the common opportunities and pitfalls of female entrepreneurship. The founders said that many members find and sharpen their own voices in such environments, making them more assertive in the numerous situations where they are the only woman in the room. 

 

“We’ve definitely witnessed that, especially at our Nest at Night events where we’re tackling larger subjects,” Hohnbaum said. “Our March Nest at Night event was all about female entrepreneurs and we talked about funding. We were talking about money which usually is a taboo subject to talk about among women.  

 

“We really talked through how men look at financing and money and how their confidence has floated them along in a certain way. I think we wouldn’t be having those conversations if we weren’t creating a space where women did feel more emboldened to have those larger conversations.”  

 

“Being all women, members do feel free to talk about things that you wouldn’t necessarily talk about in front of men, because we want to learn from each other and talk in close circles about how to deal with the things that happen out there in the world,” Ghidotti said. “Within these walls, we can have very honest and authentic conversations about how we tackle something with a male. I do think that is important and I think that there’s a lot to gain from that. 

 

“It’s not to say that we don’t have amazing relationships with men out there. But there are different issues for us in professional and career path settings than there are for men and that’s just a fact. That was the reason we wanted a space for us, to be able to talk about this stuff.” 

 

Memberships in The Nest start at $49 per month for programming only to $179 per month for all-access privileges. The space is located at 112 West Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive. 

 

1. Local entrepreneurs Natalie Ghidotti and Erin Hohnbaum are stirring up "The Nest" with a new downtown coworking space for women. Ghidotti (left) is president of Ghidotti Communications and Public Relations, and Hohnbaum is the founder of E.Leigh’s Contemporary Boutiques.

 

2. Located at 112 West Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive, memberships in The Nest start at $49 per month for programming only to $179 per month for all-access privileges.

 

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