From Race Street, it's just like any other building. Large windows, exposed brick and bustling conference tables are the norm in Old City, after all. As I open the door to walk inside, I'm greeted with a floral scent and the sound of keyboards clicking. Hard-working women are hunched over their MacBooks, cold brew in hand and an undeniable air of camaraderie between them. Despite its tall ceilings, it's not threatening in the least bit. In fact, it's quite welcoming. I instantly understand what sets this space apart from the rest.
The softly-illuminated tapestry reads "The Hive" but it's so much more than that. The brainchild of entrepreneur Melissa Alam, this female-only co-working space is just a small part of a much larger vision to bring a sense of community and empowerment to Philly's working women. She noticed the lack of such a commodity after attending a conference for start-ups in the city. "All of the speakers were tech-guy inventors. There was nobody there to be inspired by." While she noticed a definite lack of women entrepreneurs, she didn't expect to be the one to do something about it. "I just wanted to do something to test myself. I didn't want to be restricted." After years of freelancing web design and curating an online magazine, it seemed like a natural next step. "A lucky niche," she says.
"There are dishes in the sink but it smells nice and we have tampons!" she joked as she told me about the space and the women who fill it. Like her, these women are from a generation without a lot of strong female role models, at least not in an entrepreneurial sense. "The only woman I could relate to as a brown girl was Bend it like Beckham!" she laughed. "The women who come to work at The Hive love the mission behind it... They like having a place that's by women, for women." Melissa has built so much more than just a working space. The women who come to The Hive network with each other, trading services and building both business relationships and friendships. "We're all supportive of each other, we go out for drinks. It's a healthy balance between being a professional and being a woman."
As for Melissa herself, this new venture has been a nonstop growing and learning experience. "It was so difficult being young. I had so many expectations and not a lot of worth." she says of her experiences in a traditional workplace. Owning a business and being in the press has given her a huge confidence boost as well as a whole new take on her own maturity. In addition to more clarity in discernment, she's learned about the preciousness of time. "I don't want to waste time with somebody if it's not a good partnership [or] if they're just trying to use me." It's proven to her just what she's capable of. "I have my tabula rasa, my clean slate. I'm building a reputation." Coming to Philly gave her an opportunity to rebuild herself from the ground up and The Hive has refined her a blossoming business owner. Better communication, stress management, and and self-representation are valuable traits she's picking up along the way.
"I've been learning how to rely on other people and how to ask for help when I need it. Also, to always have a backup plan." She told me the importance of knowing how to "pivot your business plan." In her words, "The Hive that I envisioned last August is not The Hive it is now." For aspiring entrepreneurs, Melissa says "keep working hard at your dreams. This all started with my freelancing in a cold apartment... "I always wanted to be known for my own hard work, not my parents or anything like that... I want to be known as a constant innovator."
Check out Melissa and The Hive. You can also catch her over at Femme & Fortune (her other baby!) and follow her on Twitter.
So what do you guys think of this new series? I want to share the inspiring stories of women who encourage me and I'm thinking about making it a monthly-or-so thing. Stay tuned to see who's next!