For Natalie Ghidotti and Erin Hohnbaum, the creation of a space in central Arkansas designed for women, by women, has been a long time coming. In November, Ghidotti and Hohnbaum will open the doors of The Nest, a women’s coworking space and social club located on Daisy L. Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock’s SoMa district. Ghidotti and Hohnbaum said they wanted to create a “very specific opportunity for women in this city to talk consistently” — a space for women to get work done, make connections with other members and work together to improve their lives and their communities.
“We have a lot of different women-focused things [in Little Rock], and I’m probably involved in half of them,” Ghidotti said. “But there is nothing that is women-specific [and] is all the time, ongoing, fostering women to talk with each other and to network and to come up with big ideas.”
Ghidotti is the founder of a public relations and content marketing agency. Hohnbaum is the owner and founder of E.Leigh’s Contemporary Boutiques and co-founder of PowHer Players, a women’s community group, which launched in 2018 with live events for women in Central Arkansas.
“We wanted to talk about women’s issues, we wanted to talk about mental health, we wanted to talk about leadership — all big idea things that women in Little Rock didn’t have a place for,” Hohnbaum said. “We ended up seeing a lot of success with that. We would have over 300 women register for our events, so I saw this as a missing part of the women’s community here.”
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum said they became “fast friends” in 2018, when they were the only two women in a Vistage CEO peer group. They traveled with the group to a conference in Nashville in 2019 and, over drinks at a rooftop bar, discovered that they had both been dreaming of creating a women’s coworking space in Little Rock.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, Ghidotti and Hohnbaum were both focused on the health of their own businesses. Hohnbaum was pregnant with her first child. “[Natalie] looked at me and verbatim said, ‘Listen, I know you’re about to pop this baby out in a few weeks, but I really think we have to do this,’” Hohnbaum said. “And me being me, I said yes.”
A little over a year later, The Nest is set to officially open in November, and Ghidotti said they are “on their way” to meeting their capacity of 200 members.
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum began the process for creating The Nest by researching similar spaces throughout the country — dedicated places for women to work together in person.
“The whole idea was that we wanted a physical space,” Ghidotti said. “Not just a network of women but a physical space, where it was truly just women meeting and having these unique conversations in a space that would completely foster them.”
Their first source of inspiration came from “the mothership of this concept,” The Wing — a women-focused coworking space founded in New York in 2016 that has since grown to include offices in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. Ghidotti and Hohnbaum spoke with the founder of The Nelle, a women-focused “urban social club” and coworking space in Kansas City, Missouri, who gave the pair a virtual tour of the office space, and with Jade Terminella, who founded The Company Club, a women’s coworking space and social club in Bentonville, which opened in early 2019 and closed later that same year.
They also conducted a blind study of women in Central Arkansas to help them better understand what potential participants might desire in a physical space — different types of comfortable seating, warmer room temperatures set to women’s preferences, designated quiet zones and outdoor seating. Important to them, too, was to find out how women wanted to be treated within that space.
“One thing that really stands out to me is it needs to be a ‘come as you are’ space,” Hohnbaum said. “I really want it to be a space where you can show up in your [leggings], no makeup on, hair in a bun, ready to get some work done, or you can show up in your heels and your full on power suit and feel equally as comfortable.”
Participants of the study also emphasized the need for a “mixture of learning” — both from speakers or experts and from each other — as well as networking events, exercise classes, podcast-listening series and book clubs.
Since announcing the launch of The Nest on social media in early August, Ghidotti and Hohnbaum have purchased a soundproof booth for members to record podcasts, take phone calls or host virtual meetings.
The Nest offers three tiers for individual membership: the Executive Membership — at $325 a month or $3,510 annually — offers unlimited access to the coworking space during its general hours, “preferred” access to tickets for special events, “complimentary” happy hours with other all-access members, discounted room reservations for spaces within The Nest, and discounted day passes for guests; the Boss Membership, at $175 a month or $1,890 annually, offers eight day passes to the space per month and early access to special event tickets; and the Side Hustle Membership at $99 a month or $1,070 annually, which offers four passes to The Nest’s space per month.
All three membership tiers offer the use of the soundproof booth, access to weekly and monthly member programming, access to wellness and fitness classes, a complimentary coffee and tea bar, wifi access, the ability to use The Nest’s address as one’s mailing address, and member-only discounts with local partners, such as CliqueCycle and Pure Barre. Locker space is only available to Executive and Boss level memberships, upon availability and at an additional charge. Founding memberships, which offer the founding member’s name listed inside The Nest among many other perks, are also available for a $1,000 fee plus $285 per month for 12 months. Corporate memberships are also available for businesses that want to offer access to the space to their employees.
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum intend for the club’s programming and the relationships among its members to set it apart from other coworking spaces in Little Rock, such as those available at The Innovation Hub, the Little Rock Tech Park and the Regus coworking space in the Regions Center.
“We want [the programming] to build and solidify connections in our community, because that’s one of the big things about The Nest that differentiates us from … other coworking spaces,” Hohnbaum said. “We are a community first and foremost.”
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum said they hope The Nest’s physical space and programming events will encourage interactions and conversations among members that lead to new relationships, projects and business ventures, acting as “the hub of [Little Rock’s] women’s groups,” with whom Ghidotti and Hohnbaum plan to partner.
The founders also said they intend for The Nest to be a place where women of all ages and in different stages of their careers can connect with each other — including young women who want to “be in the circles” of women who are more established in their work, as well as “women like us, who are looking to connect with the younger generation,” Hohnbaum said. “We want to say, ‘Hey, we’ve experienced a lot of this stuff, so how can we make it easier on you? How can we bring you up? ’”
Ghidotti said the timing of The Nest’s opening has been a challenge — with COVID-19 necessitating social distancing, and with the Delta variant’s trajectory still uncertain — but she and Hohnbaum said they also look at this timing as an opportunity.
“So many women are working from home indefinitely now, and there are some large corporations in town that have said, ‘We don’t know when we’re bringing people back, and this is your life for the foreseeable future.’ Well, lots of people don’t want to just work from home everyday,” Ghidotti said. “We’re super excited about the timing because we think people are going to be looking for spaces like this, to get out of their houses and work from a different location and environment during the day.”
Hohnbaum and Ghidotti said their experiences as business owners, especially during the pandemic, have helped them both make smart financial decisions for The Nest and its future.
“I’ve owned E.Leigh’s for over 10 years, Natalie has owned [her business] for 15 years, so we’re definitely in this for the long haul,” Hohnbaum said. “After the last year, I know what the depths of COVID look like for business owners. Women’s clothing was one of the hardest hit verticals in the pandemic, so I saw things last year that I didn’t think I’d ever see in my 10 years of business. It was tough, and not just on me but on my employees and everyone else. I think Natalie and I are… really working our best to make good, healthy business choices.”
Ghidotti added that a certain level of risk is inherent in entrepreneurship and that she and Hohnbaum are “planning for this to last a long time.”
“We’re both really smart business people, and we’re not gonna fail at it,” Ghidotti said.
With membership starting at $99 a month for the lowest tier, will The Nest’s services be affordable for anyone but affluent women? A 20% membership discount is available to students, military, health care workers and educators, and the founders said they also want to offer scholarships and discounts to women under a certain age. Ghidotti added that some women who have already signed up for memberships have asked if they can sponsor a membership for someone else, which she and Hohnbaum welcome. “We both fully recognize that our lowest tier option is probably still not going to fit in the budget of a lot of people,” Hohnbaum said. “So, we will be figuring out ways to get people in community with our like-minded women.”
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum also said one of their top priorities for The Nest is “to ensure that our membership looks like our community.”
“[This will] be a constant work, because if we start seeing memberships come in online and there’s nobody of color [joining], we’re going to … ask questions of people of color that we’re friends with, who are doing amazing things in this community, and say ‘Hey, we want you to join,’ ” Ghidotti said. “If their answer is no, then what can we do differently? What does it take to make sure you’re here?”
Ghidotti said that after The Nest opens, they will establish an advisory council for the business, “because that’s the only way that [going forward], we can make sure that we are diverse and inclusive here, in that we are constantly hearing from people that are different from us.” Ghidotti said the council will include women of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, career paths and ages, and they will be routinely asked for their insight about programming, policies, and representation within the business. They’re also in the process of hiring a general manager, whom Ghidotti said would play a large role in helping to establish the advisory council.
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum said they want this inclusivity to also apply to the gender identities of the business’s members. “I really like using this phrase [about The Nest] — built for women, by women — but really it’s about people who … want to be a part of this female energy,” Hohnbaum said. “We want this to be that community space for everybody, and we do need to figure out how it can be for everybody, while still being a business,” Ghidotti said.
Ghidotti and Hohnbaum said they are excited to utilize the focus of The Nest’s members to change Little Rock and its communities for the better. “I think women, if we got our heads around it, could really change stuff in this city. And I just don’t think that we have a true mechanism [for this],” Ghidotti said. “We have bits and pieces happening in some places, but not just one dedicated true mechanism that is focused on women to say, ‘Hey, let’s be in a community together. Let’s be talking continuously about how we’re going to improve our city, our family’s lives, our workplaces, everything.”