Alyssa Cairns, left, and her momHIVE co-founder Kelli Palm bonded over shared difficulties before creating their co-working space. Courtesy Aly May Photo
When Alyssa Cairns was pregnant with her second child, she couldn’t imagine trying to balance her job as an educator and role as her children’s primary caregiver, so she did what 43% of U.S. moms do and left her profession to raise her kids.
After her youngest turned 3 and was heading into preschool, Cairns started an online interior design business as a project to challenge herself beyond the tasks of motherhood.
However, she found it impossible to do the full-time work needed to scale the company, Alyssa Designs, while also parenting a toddler full time.
As she struggled with the juggling act, Kelli Palm, a business systems manager working remotely for Warsaw, Indiana-based Zimmer Biomet while living in Grand Rapids, hired Cairns to design her living room in January 2019.
The two discovered multiple areas of commonality, including the fact they both relocated here from Chicago and both had master’s degrees and experience working from home while full-time parenting two kids.
Cairns and Palm bonded over their shared difficulties and decided they wanted to take action. Cairns reached out to her network of moms on social media and asked how they approached the duality of career and mothering to see if any ideas would come out of it.
“The response was overwhelming, with people pouring in saying, ‘I don’t know, but if you figure out a solution, I’m in,’” Cairns said, laughing.
Within hours, the post had 40 or 50 comments with moms commiserating about how preschool is expensive — and that’s if you can get a spot for your child, given the waitlists at every daycare in town — and the societal pressures on moms are too much to bear alone.
“Women in my local network (were) saying, ‘I work from home and I’m going crazy’, or, ‘I feel overwhelmed, I’m lonely, I’m dying here, this is harder than anybody told me it would be,’” Cairns said.
She and Palm came up with the idea to pool together and split rent on an office where people could co-work.
Soon, that idea morphed into opening momHIVE, a co-working facility in a rented house at 1422 Wealthy St. SE in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood.
Although the space is available to any women, not just moms, Cairn said they have found that moms need the community and amenities the most. Before it even opened, numerous women were already committing to memberships so they wouldn’t have to work from home anymore.
The main goals of momHIVE are to give women time to work without distractions from home, support and community with like-minded women who boost them personally and professionally, inspiration and education to help them grow and improve through the next chapter, and care for their small children.
The center offers flexible scheduling, including drop-in co-working and different tiers of memberships; affordable child care; a professional work setting with Wi-Fi, printers, copiers and teleconferencing; networking opportunities; professional development workshops; and rentable meeting areas.
The founding partners signed the lease in June and opened for business on July 1. By Aug. 5, they had fully outfitted and staffed the child care center, which is on the upper floor of the building. The duo originally planned to keep the daycare going under a drop-in model, but within two months, all of the daycare spaces were fully booked on a regular basis.
Currently, momHIVE has 32 members with room for a few more. About 60% of the women are entrepreneurs and 40% are remote workers with employer-paid packages for co-working.
They are a diverse bunch, including project managers, copywriters, marketers, designers, software developers, online teachers, consultants, photographers, a doula, a Mary Kay regional director and a fitness coach.
“The one thing we have in common is that we can all work from a computer remotely, but beyond that, the spectrum is extremely varied,” Cairns said.
Palm still works full time at her job, serving as CFO of momHIVE on the side, while Cairns runs the co-working space as its CEO and also continues to work on her interior design business during the lulls.
Cairns said the pair is most proud of the “micro female economy” they’ve created within their four walls with members supporting and patronizing other members’ businesses.
“When you’re having lunch with somebody two or three times a week, of course that’s the graphic designer you’re going to hire. Like, ‘Oh, I know that person,’ done. ‘Oh, I know a marketer, I know a photographer.’ It becomes very easy to patronize each other’s businesses.”
Megan Dimmer, who owns the marketing agency Menuha Studios, had one client when she started working at momHIVE and now has 10 with six subcontractors working for her due to the synergy found at the co-working space. Dimmer now is helping momHIVE with its social media and marketing strategy.
Cairns and Palm have plans to grow into a new space that will accommodate up to 15 children a day and between 30 and 35 adults. The rule of thumb is that co-working spaces can accommodate between three and five times the number of seats it has, as not everyone is there every day. This would give the new place a capacity of 105 to 175 women.
On Feb. 7, momHIVE is launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise $150,000 in contributions and sponsorships to cover renovation costs to customize a larger space, furniture and child care supplies, and additional staff to better serve members’ needs.
While the contract for the proposed space still is in negotiations, their plans for the space include the following:
A 10-seat conference room
Three quiet, private phone booths
A dedicated mother suite
A full kitchen
Expanded child care facilities for up to 15 children
Dedicated restroom for child care
Workspaces suited to all work style preferences
Two semiprivate offices for rent
Open space for hosting events, workshops, trainings and conferences
More information about membership tiers and pricing are at momhivegr.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Details of the crowdfunding campaign and their plans for expansion are viewable at momhivegr.com/grow.