In 2015, when Vandhana Ramanathan (30) and Jinal Patel (26) launched their digital marketing agency, they realised that running a business involved a lot more than just having a great idea. Initially, the two marketing professionals from Chennai only worked out of coffee shops but, as they grew in scale, they felt the need to have an office. Yet, this meant spending a lot of time and resources on administrative work, distracting them from solely focusing on the business.
“We realised there must be so many women out there who must be facing similar dilemmas and they must have given up in the process…and we thought let’s make it easy, let’s be that solution,” Patel told Quartz.
In March 2017, the duo bootstrapped and launched Wsquare, a women-only co-working space in Chennai that helps entrepreneurs and professionals focus on their work without having to worry too much about office-related or domestic chores. ”We come across people who’ve just started or somebody who has relocated from a different city…when they come into a co-working space, they’re looking for a little more than just the (office) space, so that’s something that we do,” Patel explained.
Female entrepreneurs can do with this support. Today, just around 14% of all Indian businesses are run by women, and many female professionals still battle workplace-related issues that deter them from pursuing their careers. It’s this segment that Wsquare is targeting. In the last eight months, over 150 women have registered to use the co-working facility, around 80% of whom are entrepreneurs. The rest are students, researchers, freelance professionals, or remote employees of large companies.
Gap in the ecosystem
Besides the standard fare—wifi connectivity, coffee, etc.—Wsquare offers services like delivery of groceries or chopped vegetables, home-cooked meals, and crèches. It also organises workshops on branding, social media, yoga, and life-coaching sessions. The facility can accommodate around 30 people, and includes private workstations, a lounge, a conference room for 25 persons, a smaller meeting room, and an outdoor patio. Wsquare also has facilities to meet the specific needs of women, including ergonomic chairs suitable for expectant mothers.
“The best part about this place is we get to connect with different people… we get to meet new people, new connections,” said Manisha (who chose not to share her last name), a freelance designer and owner of a gifting boutique, who works from Wsquare. Also, as someone who works odd hours, operating from a women-only office gives her family confidence that she’s safe, she added.
Arthi (who also chose not to share her last name), a remote employee of a Bengaluru-based company, prefers a women-only workspace as it allows her to be less self-conscious than she would be at any other office, and work at an informal setting like at home, but without domestic distractions.
“A women-only co-working space can be safer, to begin with… they can be built for women…there are examples of similar co-working spaces elsewhere in the world and the reason they’re women-only is so women can have their privacy,” Sairee Chahal, founder of women-only job portal SHEROES, told Quartz. “A sense of safety and community is really important, especially in professions where women are working alone and are not a part of a team or an office.”
Jobs, exhibitions, and more
Although Wsquare started out as a co-working space, it’s now trying to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Once a month, it organises a marketplace where home-based entrepreneurs can showcase their products like jewellery, clothes, and food products, and find buyers. Each month, over 50 women register to be part of the marketplace, according to Patel.
“This place has given more mileage to my business and more people have come to know of me. They (the Wsquare co-founders) promote entrepreneurs who work here. In the initial stages of the business, they give you that extra bit, that initial push,” Manisha said.
In July this year, Wsquare also launched a job-search app called Wconnect. “We started getting a lot of people asking for jobs,” Patel said, specifically citing examples of women attempting a comeback in the corporate world following maternity breaks. So, the company has tied up with recruiters who help the users find jobs.
Starting next year, Wsquare plans to launch a 12-week accelerator program called Wincubate, to mentor women aspiring entrepreneurs and women who are already running businesses. “Today there are people looking for guidance but they don’t know where to get it,” Patel said, explaining that young entrepreneurs come with good ideas but need help with shaping the ideas and learning to establish scalable businesses.
But is Wsquare itself a sustainable, and profitable business? A tightlipped Patel declined to share any details.