Sometimes Holding The Space Means Letting Go

The weather has finally changed in Austin, the nights are cool and the rain has come. Every year this time I get a feeling in my bones, an urge to look forward to the future. We like to think of our years in clean organized sections, quarters or months. As if the new year will bring with it a new season - perfectly aligned with our lives. But the reality is that often we don't know when the next season will arrive. For me, a season has often closed and another opened long before the end of the year. 

In 2016 when I made the hard decision to leave my last startup venture, 121Giving, and set out to create Haven my season shifted abruptly. In one weekend I moved my life from a hill country apartment to a tiny house in Hyde Park on 35th Street. A month later, the house in front opened up and Ben and I jumped in and took the risk to open a coworking space together for Haven and YOUvolution. Each night the space was full of filmmakers and social entrepreneurs. Soon after we realized that our intent in the world was the same - to empower dreamers to change the world. And that we would be so much stronger together. So we merged businesses and The Un.Incubator was born, another season began.

We've been at 35th Street for a little over a year. It has been one of the most vibrant spaces I've ever experienced. The life in this space has been co-created by every entrepreneur and mentor who walks in the door. We've hosted countless dinners, community events and workshops. More than 50 social entrepreneurs and creatives have gone through our cohort program, the house has been full of the sound of risk and creation almost every night of the week. We've hosted our first ever residential program here, and had the pleasure of watching our members walk alongside each other towards their goals. 

My favorite part of the day often happens late into the evening, when we finish hosting a cohort and people linger. There is wine on the table and vibrant conversation. And as I walk out the door I look back through the window to see the lights on, and the sounds of dreamers sharing their journeys together. One might be giving another courage after a hard day, others are wound up in co-creating a shared dream together. Bringing this space to life has meant bringing my dream to life - this is the safe space I wished for when I set out as an entrepreneur over 10 years ago. This is where we come to be real, to dig in with each other, and to walk alongside one another. And, wine :)


I've also learned over this year that as much as I love creating a physical space and hosting it, we do not need a physical building to hold space or host our community in every season. I've had the sincere pleasure of meeting other women who are also passionate about community building in their spaces this year. Especially I want to give recognition to 4 who have shown me that I am not alone in this dream - Sarah Woolsey of Impact Guild, Laura Shook of Soma Vida, Shelley Delayne of Orange and Margaret Burke of Native Hostel. 

As I look into 2018 I see cohorts hosted in a variety of vibrant spaces around Austin, including Soma Vida, Orange, Cherry Cola Dog and Native Hostel. We'll continue to expand into the new spaces that seek our program and align with our values. I also see a growing roster of Un.Inc Studios clients. We're working with Un.Alums and impact businesses in Austin who we're honored to support in the new year. It feels right to walk alongside them for another season, whether it's marketing strategy, content, film, photography or event production work they need. 

As for my beloved 35th Street, we won't be hosting our program there in 2018. When Ben and I evaluated our goals in the next year it became clear that the financial burden of this space was too heavy. If we are to meet our goals for expanding Un.Inc Studios and developing Novo further we must close 35th Street in order to work towards our future dreams. We'll be subletting it as a residence, and stepping out into the next season without an office or coworking space of our own. This is so often what we must do as social entrepreneurs, leave the comfort zone we've created in order to create the next level of our vision. This choice has already opened up a new set of possibilities - including working from these wonderful spaces around Austin, and hosting cohorts in locations deeply embedded in the communities we want to support. 


Let's future trip even further, for a moment :) In the not so distant future Ben and I envision a large collaborative space on the East side, which houses creative space for artists, filmmakers, musicians, theater and more. And we envision a vibrant tiny home community on Novo where we run year-long Un.Inc programs with live-in residents. These are the dreams we are working towards as 2018 arrives, and we welcome (and need!) your collaboration to bring them to life. 


I'll leave you with my favorite line from our mission. This is the Un.Inc Life. 

We are here to hold a space for the creators
to walk alongside the lonely ones
who will change the world
— The Un.Incubator

Permission to Pursue it All (#MeToo)

As I've looked at my facebook feed this last week I've been overwhelmed with sadness, watching so many women I know share the abuse they've endured in the workplace or their personal life. They are brave, and they are resilient. It strikes me that there is an incredibly deeply entrenched illnesses in our culture, and I want a cultural shift to happen faster than it has - for myself and the hundreds of women entrepreneurs I know, and especially for my 9 year old daughter. 

With all of this running through my mind, I headed off to Vegas for the ABCKidsShow on Monday, with Debra Kallinikos, Un.Alum and all around badass woman founder. It's been my honor to be alongside her this week as she launches her new backpack line, Animal Packers. This is one of the best parts of my role at The Un.Incubator, being part of a founder's launch. As I've worked with her I've heard her stories of tenacity, and I've become more and more inspired by her compassion and grit. 

What I assumed might be an exhausting experience, 3 days selling at a tradeshow, has turned out to be a week where I've regained hope. In the booth next to us we met Martin, Co-Founder of Katie Clemons, a wonderful children's journal company. All week he has stood at his booth, sharing his wife's story and selling her product. On the other side of us, a family-run business called Potty Boss that was started by their late mother and continues as her legacy. Over the last few days we've talked to dozens and dozens of buyers with stores around the country. I've never met so many working moms in one place before. I've also never seen so many couples who are business partners. This is a kids product show, and lots of theses moms have little ones. Their passion is their kids, and their stores or product lines are a reflection of that. It feels seamless. Their husbands are their business partners and life partners. 

I guess as a mom and an entrepreneur I am always looking for examples of this fully integrated life. And I'm always looking for examples of men who truly partner with their wives. So often in the startup scene I see the opposite. I meet women that have kids but don't feel comfortable bringing that up in a business setting. We talk about it, but they often hide it from colleagues or investors, because it would make them seem less qualified or be taken less seriously. This is the cultural light in which so many women are seen -  we don't talk about it but it's always there. The unspoken pressure to keep your "family stuff" to yourself. Stay in your lane. Perform. It lacks all the integration of female thinking, and it sets the stage for discrimination to be a norm. 

Since we started The Un.Incubator I've always had my daughter in and around our office and coworking space. At first I did it, out of a desire to have an integrated life. Then I started realizing that it truly matters to the other women in our space. Here they can share stories about their kids and the balancing act of it all. It is acceptable, because I hold the space for it to be. This is a kind of power I take to heart, it matters. 

All week I've watched as Debra meets and chats with other women founders. They share their passion for their kids, and their work, it's all connected. Nothing is off the table. It is a reminder to me, that as women, we can have it all. We can choose to run a business where we get to express ourselves as parents, business owners and partners. We can set the tone. I envision a future were this is no longer rare, but instead it's common. It takes grit, and it takes the clarity to choose to work with men who are truly awake to the challenges and invested in co-creating that change. 

So to each of you who may be feeling as I do, saddened by the overwhelming signs of abuse in our culture, here's my reminder to you - and to myself. You have permission, to be super picky about who you work with. Permission to exit, from a partnership or relationship that doesn't match your values, or at worst takes advantage of you. You have permission to say no to investors who might offer money but also perpetuate the bullying abusive culture. You have permission to set the tone, and not put up with anything less than your vision for your life and the lives of your kiddos.