Originally published October 17, 2013 at 6 a.m., updated October 18, 2013 at 4:57 p.m.
Enter Hera Hub's large open workspace in a Sorrento Mesa office complex, and you'll notice some things that seem out of place in an office: There's soft lighting, relaxing music and fountains trickling water.
Hera Hub is one of the few women-only shared office spaces in the country. It operates under the idea that women work better when surrounded and supported by other women.
Then, something else becomes apparent. Everyone working in this office is a woman.
Felena Hanson started Hera Hub two years ago as a co-work space, which is like a gym membership but for an office. Members pay monthly dues to work in the space whenever they want, but Hera Hub has a twist. It's one of the few women-only shared office spaces in the country. It operates under the idea that women work better when surrounded and supported by other women.
"Hera Hub is focused on serving female entrepreneurs," Hanson said. "We really find that women are looking for that sense of community and connection."
More than 300 female business owners, employees and students are now members, which means they can use the office's locations in Sorrento Mesa, Mission Valley and Carlsbad.
As Hanson sits at a laptop in the Sorrento Mesa location, she looks impeccably put together, her blonde curly hair cascading over a bright pink blazer. She had been working from home for eight years and opened Hera Hub because of her own needs.
"Women are natural collaborators," she said. "We love to build community. Stick somebody in her spare bedroom, staring at a wall, talking to her cat for eight years, and it's really hard to be productive and creative and be inspired to really grow your business and take it to the next level."
While the company can't outright exclude men from joining, Hanson said no men have been interested.
"Men have inquired but no one has actually applied," she said.
That's maybe not surprising, considering Hera Hub's female-friendly environment. Hanson said it's modeled after a spa, with pretty decorations, art on the walls and exercise balls to use as chairs. It also offers women-oriented mentoring, networking and training events.
"Members are collaborating on a daily basis, whether it's bouncing an idea off somebody who brings a different perspective, or participating formally in one of our weekly educational workshops," she said. "Just that opportunity to connect and to ask questions and be open to finding new answers to things."
You might think these offices are for homemakers looking for a little time out of the house. But Hera Hub attracts scientists, tech entrepreneurs, lawyers and other successful business owners.
One of them is Lana Feng, who used to work for the biotech Genoptix until she started her own company seven months ago. It's called Personalized Diagnostics and works to build partnerships between American and Chinese biotechs in personalized medicine.
Because Feng was going from a big company to working by herself, she knew a shared office would be a must.
"I know myself. I think working from home is very challenging for me, and just too many distractions, and I miss the camaraderie, the intellectual interactions with coworkers," she said. "Hera Hub really brought that piece for me. I get to come to Hera Hub and interact with all the wonderful women entrepreneurs and get ideas."
Feng spends four to eight hours a day in the office and sometimes brings in clients for meetings. This can be a startling experience when they realize everyone in the office is a woman.
"I had a business meeting with a billion-dollar company, one of my clients, that was here," she said. "These 50-year-old guys showed up with their briefcases, and then they were like, 'This is really exciting, this is interesting, we've never seen it before.'"
"Here I just kind of come where I need the space to decompress and have my moment and really focus on something very specific that I want to accomplish," she said.
Membership fees for Hera Hub range between $130 and $370 a month. That can be a steep price for a new business owner, but Ringgold said she evaluated the costs and benefits carefully.
"Looking at what I pay and what I receive, the return on investment far outweighs the cost," she said.
Now Hanson is gearing up to spread Hera Hub far beyond the San Diego region. She wants to open 200 more hubs across the world in five years.
In some ways, Hera Hub sounds like a nonprofit, but it isn't. Hanson runs it as a profitable business in part to provide a model to her female members.
"We have a slogan at Hera Hub to 'Go big or go home,' really inspiring women to think bigger, how can they take their business to the next level," she said.
If Hanson succeeds, Hera Hub will be a good illustration of going big and not going home.