When Jessica Strong transitioned from a full-time position into freelance grant writing, she quickly discovered how difficult it was to manage childcare when working at home. It was tough to find a flexible childcare option that was affordable and she often ended up juggling her grant writing between naps and snack time.
She started meeting monthly with other Pittsburgh freelancers and discovered they shared the same concerns. “Of the 80 or so freelancers in the group, 95 percent are women,” Strong explains, “and 90 percent of the women in the group have kids.
“It became this thing; we’d say ‘If we just had a babysitter, a copier and a coffee machine, we could do amazing things,’” Strong says.
So Strong found some space for all and is calling her new venture the Whetstone Workgroup. Like its namesake tool used to sharpen knives, Whetstone Workgroup aims to keep freelancers’ skills sharp while providing a distraction-free workplace. And the Aspinwall coworking space is the first-of-its kind in the Pittsburgh area to provide childcare on-site.
With the idea in mind, Strong started working with a realtor to find the ideal location, which proved to be difficult.
“I had this idea of what it could be, but I knew I would only know it when I saw it,” Strong explains. When she walked into the Aspinwall office space several months into her search, she knew that was it.
The single-story building has two distinct areas; one half serves as the child care area and the other hosts private and communal work spaces with desks starting at $125 per month. Strong took it as a good sign when she discovered La Dorita, a dulce de leche manufacturer with a coworking commercial kitchen space, is located behind the office building.
Strong hired a manager to handle the childcare side of Whetstone. Come December 21st, the childcare space will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Members can bring their kids with the flexibility to work a few hours or the full day.
The rates rival a babysitter at home—$6 per hour for one child and $4 per hour for each additional child. Freelancing parents, all of whom have their state and federal clearances, provide the childcare.
On the work side of Whetstone, members can rent out spaces for client meetings and workshops or use the communal workspace. In the lounge, Strong set up an HIPAA-compliant private network so therapists, doctors or lawyers can meet remotely with clients on Skype.
For $100 per month, members can access shared software, including the Adobe Creative Suite, invoicing software and project management programs. Members can network online in the private group, and receive discounts to future workshops and events. The digital membership can be paired with a desk rental, or purchased on its own.
Whetstone also provides mailboxes, administrative support and freshly brewed Commonplace Coffee.
It has only been open for a few weeks, but the space is already gaining traction. Whetstone Workgroup took second place in the Coro Women in Leadership’s Invest in Her pitch competition earlier this month.
On Thursday, entrepreneur Alan Martello will lead a roundtable discussion on how to set goals and grow a business in 2016.
Starting in January, Whetstone will hold free “Wordpress Office Hours” to help freelancers troubleshoot or improve their websites. And on Feb. 5th, the group will host a new freelancer workshop at the Union Project in East Liberty “It’s the kind of workshop I wish I’d had four years ago,” Strong says. The event is designed to give freelancers the tools to successfully start a business.
With the opening behind her, Strong is thankful for a quiet space to get work done. “It’s just nice not to have dishes, to not have laundry around. You come here and feel productive.”