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Women-focused coworking space opens in Downtown Pittsburgh

| Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, 12:36 p.m.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Coterie founder Joanna Bailey poses for a portrait inside the Coterie office opening in downtown Pittsburgh. Coterie is a women-focused working space that caters to working women.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Coterie office space on the top floor of the Frick Building in downtown Pittsburgh on Dec. 11, 2016.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Coterie founder Joanna Bailey poses for a portrait inside the Coterie office opening in downtown Pittsburgh. Coterie is a women-focused working space that caters to working women.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Coterie office space before its furnishing on the top floor of the Frick Building in downtown Pittsburgh.

Joanna Bailey walked around the top floor of the Frick Building on Sunday in Downtown Pittsburgh, marveling at the view. She was preparing the space for Monday's official opening of Coterie, billed as the first coworking space designed by women with women in mind.

“The coworking industry is 10 years old,” said Bailey, a Charlotte, N.C.-based event designer and business strategist. “It was started by men to serve the tech space and the maker space. Ten years later, it's still the same thing. It's time for some evolution.”

Bailey plans to open 40 Coterie coworking spaces over the next four years.

“We like to say we help women clear the three hurdles of business: networking, resources and opportunity,” said Bailey, who also founded a nonprofit publicity firm, Women Who Rise.

The Pittsburgh location, which will occupy the top two floors of the Frick Building, is the first Coterie to open. Bailey said it costs about $150,000 to launch a Coterie community, not including a lease. She has invested $120,000 of her own money so far, mostly to handle the company's infrastructure costs.

The density of women in the city and how well the region's infrastructure supports innovation convinced Bailey to locate here, she said.

“We also look at the bedroom communities because there are a lot of highly educated, talented women sitting in those bedroom communities, running PTOs and nonprofits and HOAs, and we want to ignite a little bit of fire in them,” Bailey said. “Reconnect them with the city, with what's going on in their communities.”

Rebecca Harris, executive director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, said the Coterie model is “right on target.”

“We are delighted to see more dedicated opportunities for women in business to form cohorts, work together, do business together and support each other,” Harris said. “The entrepreneurial ecosystem is providing a lot of new opportunities for working spaces.”

Bailey said the idea for a women-focused coworking space came from her 10 years in corporate America.

“I really got a taste of how women treat each other and what a competitive environment it was,” she said. “I couldn't wrap my head around why we were competing.”

According to Coterie's website, locations in Orlando, Fla.; Chicago; Nashville, Tenn.; and Charlotte, N.C., are in the works and scheduled to open within the next year.

Coterie's 10,000-square-foot space in the Frick Building will include a large communal space with work tables, a shared kitchen stocked with fresh food and coffee, a VIP suite and event spaces, including an outdoor patio.

On the 19th floor, Coterie will have meeting spaces, a developers' lounge, library, writers' suite and lactation suite. No children are allowed.

In addition to monthly lunch networking events, Bailey has two larger events planned for Coterie Pittsburgh: a black-tie, Gatsby-themed New Year's Eve party that will benefit the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and a Valentine's Day event to benefit Dress for Success.

Membership prices are on the high end compared to other coworking spaces in the Pittsburgh market. They start at $45 for a drop-in day pass and go up to $595 a month for a VIP founder's membership. That top membership gives access to most of Coterie's amenities and events and to Coterie's other locations once they're open. The founder's rate increases after Saturday.

“We are designed to self-fund once we're up and running at full tilt in three locations,” Bailey said. “Until then, every membership and event reservation moves us forward.”

The goal is to create an inviting space for women to collaborate, but Coterie is not exclusive to women, Bailey said.

“There is a margin of the male population who are just as underserved as we are,” she said. “They don't want to go sit in a lime-green space with an orange sofa and a ping pong table, which is the standard guidebook to opening a coworking space. These are polished male professionals, and this is where they fit.”

Bailey declined to say how many members she has signed up in Pittsburgh, but she said her goal is 1,000 members within a year.

“I pray that Coterie helps eliminate that whole girl thing: ‘She's so busy I won't bother her.' I think that's one of the hurdles with women growing their networks,” she said. “They identify someone that they respect and admire, and they want to emulate pieces of their success but don't reach out. I'm hoping we can help make some of those connections.”

Kim Lyons is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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