The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.
Shannon Sexton Potter is the founder of UpRiseHer, a new co-working space located on Hope Street in Providence that launched in 2022 and is geared toward women and working moms.
Q. Tell me the story behind UpRiseHer. How did you come up with this idea?
Sexton Potter: I am an actor by trade and studied theater for decades. That’s where I really harvested a great sense of community. After my acting exploits found themselves slowing down, I became a massage therapist and that allowed me to have a flexible schedule. (Potter opened Harmony on Hope Massage in 2012, which is located in the same building as UpRiseHer.) That’s where I started hearing stories of women having challenging stories — which included horrific work-related trauma — and how they identify themselves as women within the context of our culture and work. It became abundantly clear to me that we needed a space specifically designed for women to feel safe and empowered in their work. But it also needed to be a place that acknowledged that work and their personal lives were extremely connected.
Q. How much does it cost?
A. We have a $25 day pass. Then we have a three-tiered membership with $100, $150, and $200 monthly options. The only difference between the memberships is the price. Members get to choose which price they pay depending on their ability to pay. It’s our mission to actualize a work life that’s equitable, intentionally joyous, and empowers us to live authentically. Members have 24/7 access to our spaces.
Q. You’re 24/7?
A. Members receive a code that’s private to them that will unlock the front door.
Q. What kinds of amenities do you offer?
A. A lot of co-working spaces can be quite lofty, in old mills, and look very industrial. It can make people feel small. I’ve been in all the co-working spaces in the area, and there have been corners where I feel uneasy. They are quiet, and I felt like no one would know I was there.
UpRiseHer is designed specifically for women in mind. It’s cozy, with bright colors, art on the walls, and feels like a home that belongs to one of your childless friends instead of a clinical office space. We have nursing rooms, private bathrooms with showers where you don’t even need to bring your own towel. We also have a full kitchen equipped where you can cook, prep, and store food. And we never let members do dishes.
We also have various programs: a feminist book club, monthly women’s circles that focus on different topics that are usually not discussed, and even formal dinner parties.
Q. Only women can join?
A. No, we are gender inclusive for all women allies, both with our co-working space and programming.
Q. Is there any specific age group your members typically fall under?
A. We have young women who are in college and graduate programs. We have “second act” career women in their 50s and 60s who are pursing something new for the first time in a long time. And we’re able to connect those two groups of people.
Q. Where do you see the lack of support structures for working women in Rhode Island?
A. Accessible and flexible child care that actually meets the needs of working women. There’s a lack of generalized child care within Rhode Island, but we also face an extreme lack of child care that is flexible with different types of work schedules. We’ve seen, especially in the last few years, that this gap hinders women’s ability to pursue the work they want to in their primary working years and, as a result, women lose out on many different economic benefits and personal wellness.
We want to be good moms, and we don’t want to feel guilty about going to work. We want to bring our babies to work. Or feel connected to our children and our work at the same time. But the system we’re currently in does not allow for those benefits to happen. This is not a new issue.
Q. You said some women want to bring their babies to work. Can they bring them to UpRiseHer?
A. Right now, we’re still in our beta version where we have space for nursing, babies under 12 months, and we commonly have moms who bring in their kids to do homework after school while they finish their work. But the future of UpRiseHer is what we are currently fund-raising for, which is a full- and part-time drop-off child care. Essentially, members would continue obtaining a membership, and they could purchase credits to put toward child care.
Q. Do you have a Kickstarter, or are you reaching out to private investors?
A. We’re reaching out to private investors for an angel investment. We’re hoping to grow to that next phase within two to three years. We plan to stay in Providence, and keep our current space while expanding to a second building.
Q. Some industries have returned to the office, while others are choosing hybrid and fully remote models. How are those trends impacting UpRiseHer?
A. It’s been an interesting flow. We’ve seen an uptick in people interested. And I don’t think it’s just because we’re a new business and more people are learning about us. People are coming to us and saying they’ve been working from home and are now lonely and are in need of [adult] human connection. Some members love pajama-filled work days at home. Others need a break from their house and to go to a space that’s just for them. We’re a middle ground.