Aliza Torok Schlabach loves her kids.
But after experiencing the semi-coworking environment at the DreamIt Startup Accelerator last fall she realized she couldn’t be the only suburban tech professional working from home who could benefit from a little quiet time to get work done or some slightly more adult conversation.
That’s when the web designer and user experience architect decided to start Coworking for Parents, a space for suburban entrepreneurs and telecommuting professionals who still want the familial advantages of working from home with the social advantages of working with other adults.
“I just kind of had that light bulb moment one night,” said Schlabach. “I want to start this but really want to support the family entrepreneurs who are telecommuting or just trying to start their own business, but they have little kids running around.”
Schlabach says she’s done her background research. After DreamIt, she checked out Indy Hall in Old City and participated in a coworking session at the Wegman’s in Collegeville. Visiting Indy Hall, she said, also inspired her “aha!” moment.
“That was the eye opening experience of,’ Wow, this is where I want to be. This is the kind of experience that I want, but I have kids,'” said Schlabach, who has a two-year-old and a five-year-old. “That is just such a different demographic. I mean I felt both at DreamIt and at Indy Hall, it was a little more of a younger boys club, though there were some girls there. Not exactly the family friendly kind of setup.”
To test the idea, she started putting feelers out on the Philly Startup Leaders listserv, she launched a Meetup group, and a bi-weekly newsletter, and a Launchrock website. The feedback has been positive, she says.
She has also been holding mini-coworking sessions at the Gryphon Cafe in Wayne, where this reporter met her. There were a handful of people in attendance for that afternoon co-working session she organized, but she told Technically Philly that she had around 70 people interested in the permanent space.
“People are just really having trouble being productive when they’re home,” Schlabach said. “And it’s isolating. Humans are social creatures. We need other adults around.”
That’s a familiar call to action for coworkers around the world for years.
Now Schlabach has recently announced a collaboration with The Center on Central, a community art school in Paoli. The Center will allow her to host coworking sessions for parents, while the kids are supervised. The program will begin next week and is scheduled to run until June, when Schlabach hopes the permanent space will be just about ready.
“I’m hoping to be up and running this summer,” said Schlabach. “This is my full time project. I’m not doing any other work right now, so I’m fully committed to it.”
Schlabach is still on the hunt for a property and says she is looking at properties in Manayunk, Havertown, Chesterbrook and Devon. Even without the final space nailed down, she has a pretty clear vision in mind of a two-room or two-story space where adults can cowork in one room and kids can play interactive games with top-notch child caretakers in the next.
“I really want to make it less of a daycare and more of an exploratory environment like the Please Touch Museum, so I’m thinking of hiring some set designers and making a little mini village,” said Schlabach. “I’d have something like 3,000 square feet for the kids and really make it a cool place where the kids are asking their parents to bring them.”
At the moment, Schlabach is planning to underwrite much of the initial start-up expense herself, but she is also actively looking for funding, she told Technically Philly.
Schlabach, who has never launched a business before, was thinking of going nonprofit, but is now planning to go with a type of standard desk-based membership plan, used at Indy Hall. Childcare will be charged by the hour, she says, with discounts for full-time and part-time members.
“It’s not a high profit business model,” Schlabach said. “I was thinking of going nonprofit, but I got advice from [Indy Hall’s] Alex Hillman that you lose the agility to make changes quickly based on what the community needs. So it’s going to be for profit so we still have that control, but low revenue.”
Schlabach, 34, lives nears Valley Forge Park, but she says she’s heard from interested family-oriented professionals all over the western suburbs and into Philadelphia. She put out a survey so she can learn more about the types of working environments people really need.
“Some people have expressed interest in on-site massage,” said Schlabach. “I’m trying to balance it all.”
In the meantime Schlabach will keep hunting for a permanent space and making plans, she says. To keep tabs on the development of Coworking for Parents, you can join the bi-weekly newsletter here.
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