Women’s coworking startup The Wing has launched a new initiative to support female founders. The program, aptly called The Guild, kicked off on International Women’s Day and will provide 13 female business owners, including a jeweler, baker and doula, the opportunity to partner with The Wing’s new location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for one year.
“The mission of The Wing is advancement through community,” says Lauren Kassan, cofounder and COO of The Wing. “As we expand into new neighborhoods, we want to support local women-led businesses by helping them utilize The Wing as a platform to grow.”
The Wing will offer custom programming and mentorship opportunities to The Guild’s inaugural class of business owners throughout the year. Ultimately, the goal is to roll out the initiative in all of its markets and build a network of female entrepreneurs around the world.
“When we open a space, we’re very conscious of the location and its surrounding ecosystem,” Kassan says. “The purpose of a program like this is to localize us and support women within our four walls—but also outside of them as well.”
Since founding in 2016, The Wing has capitalized on the zeitgeist of the modern feminist revolution by creating a community where its members—or Winglets, as the company calls them—can work, eat, network, shower, breastfeed and even “stage a small coup” if needed. Celebrities such as Serena Williams, Kerry Washington, Megan Rapinoe and Lena Dunham are among its founding members and investors, and Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Maggie Haberman, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Mock, Hillary Clinton and Christiane Amanpour have spoken at its member events.
The company scaled quickly, raising $75 million in a Series C round led by women partners at Sequoia Capital and Upfront Ventures, with additional participation from Airbnb, NEA and WeWork, in December 2018.
But hyper growth in a volatile market comes with its own complicated set of challenges, including cultural growing pains and a discrimination lawsuit. In early March 2020, WeWork sold its stake in The Wing, a move that slashed the startup’s estimated $375 million valuation nearly in half to approximately $200 million.
Even so, The Wing is still one of the fastest growing and most well-funded women-led startups in recent history, raising a total of $117.5 million in just over two years. As such, it is well-positioned to make this new vision a reality. With 12,000 members and counting in 11 coworking spaces in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles and London, with plans to open six more spaces by the end of the year, The Wing is quickly becoming one of the most influential women’s networks in the $26 billion global coworking market. “We didn’t anticipate this level of growth so quickly,” Kassan says. “The growth was a function of the demand and people really wanting us to bring The Wing into their cities.”
Its leaders growing influence—cofounder and CEO Audrey Gelman made history last fall when she became the first visibility pregnant CEO to appear on the cover of a major business magazine—as well as their seemingly effortless ability to make things happen is, perhaps, a significant part of The Wing’s allure.
“Our business is just one block away from The Wing Williamsburg,” says Corinna Williams, cofounder of eco-friendly modern laundromat Celsious and member of The Guild. “We’ve been following the buildout process and anticipating their opening for the last few months. At the launch party on Valentine’s Day this year, we bumped into Audrey and instantly agreed that we had to collaborate. That night, she connected us via email. About two weeks later we received an email with an invite to join The Guild.”
Christina Viviani, cofounder and creative director of lingerie lifestyle brand The Great Eros, was also invited to join The Guild. While she’s managed to secure retail partnerships with Bloomingdale’s and Net-a-Porter on her own, not to mention celebrity clientele including Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlet Johannson and Zoe Kravitz, she is looking forward to receiving business guidance. “The biggest pain point I face as a founder is isolation,” she says. “There’s no playbook on this journey of entrepreneurship. You don’t always know if the decision you’re making is the right one. You learn from experience. With a network as dynamic as The Guild we will all be able to share our stories and benefit from our collective experiences.”
Women-owned businesses are a critical part of the U.S. economy. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses climbed 21% to nearly 13 million and revenues rose 21% to $1.9 trillion, according to American Express’ 2019 State of Women-Owned Business report. Still, female entrepreneurs face many obstacles that their male counterparts do not, including a $189 billion funding gap, according to new research by Crunchbase.
By launching The Guild, the Wing may have tapped into a huge economic opportunity to help even the playing field for women. “Realizing the economic potential of women-owned businesses requires changes in policies, business practices and attitudes,” says Geri Stengel, research advisor to American Express. “For example, $981 billion in revenue would be added to the U.S. economy if the average revenue of minority women-owned firms matched that of white women-owned businesses. Mentorship and training programs provide advice, build skills, shift mindset, as well as provide access to markets and funding.”
Dan Wang, associate professor of business and sociology at Columbia Business School agrees. “It is true that women founders receive disproportionately less VC funding than men . . . Organizations like The Wing and Chief can be highly productive in this area by making sure that women founders, who might otherwise be overlooked, receive a greater share of resources,” he says. “Ultimately, however, I think the entire VC ecosystem—which includes men and women—have to dedicate themselves to reversing their biases together.”
For some of the women participating in The Guild, however, fundraising isn’t the focus. “I am proud that Mociun has no outside investment and we have no plans to seek funding,” says Caitlin Mociun, founder of her namesake jewelry and homegoods company. “Figuring out how to grow my business in a sustainable way that holds true to my values and my business values is what appealed to me the most.”
At its core, The Guild’s mission is about helping women business owners feel seen and recognized. “If you’re a founder from a creative background, you tend to be overlooked in a community dominated by VCs and MBA backgrounds,” Viviani says. “But something you can’t overlook is that creatives have an ability to storytell, to have vision and to see opportunity that isn’t a recipe found through CACs [customer acquisition cost(s)] or spreadsheets.”
Whether intentional or not, The Wing has found itself at the center of a movement, and Gelman and Kassan have become proxies for the female founder community, not to mention a source of inspiration.
“Broadening the impact of The Wing is an important reminder that we need to address opportunities for women on all fronts—businesses supporting a local community and opportunities to reach the C-suites and boardrooms of Fortune 100 companies,” says Katia Beauchamp, cofounder and CEO of Birchbox. “We must heighten the awareness and the resources to address the entire playing field if we are going to accelerate the balance that we know will serve us all in creating the world we want to live in.”