Brooke Ferry wasn’t sure the Her Corner accelerator was right for her at first. The co-owner of a design company with two other business partners, Ferry had just ramped her work schedule back up after having a baby when she started going to coffee meet-and-greets put on by D.C.-based Her Corner, which launched in the city last year. Interacting with founder and CEO Frederique Irwin and COO and President Kimberly Berger left her feeling inspired, so she sat in on a three-hour mini-accelerator session to see what it was like.
“I just took away so many ideas and so much inspiration at that point I couldn’t avoid it any more. It was staring me in the face," Ferry said. "This program would bring the growth we needed and it would help me to not just be a designer who owns a business, but a business owner.”
About a year after Her Corner, a membership-based organization, first announced it would expand its accelerator program to Philadelphia, Ferry said she now feels like one. She’s reported an increase in business stability after the accelerator — which costs either $499 per month or $699 per month for additional personal coaching and gives participants hands-on work to establish a framework, set goals and make plans over six months — helped her proactively plan jobs months ahead, stick to a production schedule and set revenue goals. She’s just about to hit one of those goals, she said.
The first Her Corner Philadelphia cohort began last September, another one began in January and a third will begin in April. All six members of the first have signed onto another round of peer-support meetings where they gather every other month instead of monthly.
About 50 to 70 women show up to those coffee meetings that first drew Ferry in each month, Irwin said Tuesday. Her Corner set up shop in the city with the help of Benjamin’s Desk, which merged with D.C.-based incubator 1776 last fall, and the University City Science Center, she said, stressing the warm welcome they've gotten in the city. They also hoped the group’s presence in city coworking spaces sends a silent message.
“For other women working there, it’s inspirational. Those are role models in many ways, and if you’re a guy, it’s kind of resetting the whole paradigm of what’s normal,” Irwin said.
Like Ferry, many of the accelerator participants didn’t start their own businesses for the sake of it, they were driven by their passions, and might not have set solid business processes or financial goals. Ferry said the accelerator was a way for her to set aside time to work on her business, and be accountable to a facilitator and a cohort of other ambitious women.
“Revenue was increasing year after year but I was stalling out a bit,” said Sarah Holmes, who owns her own law practice focused on small businesses. She’s tried business coaching programs in the past, but was drawn to Her Corner for its academic-like approach.
“It was the closest thing almost to MBA principals without going to school. It wasn’t a lot of mindset stuff … it was more the nuts and bolts. Here are the metrics you need to track, here’s how to back into these numbers, here’s how you make a plan,” Holmes said.
As a result of the accelerator, her monthly income has been more consistent and at a higher base level than it was before.
Amandine Liepmann turned to the accelerator to help her chart a course forward with her children’s clothing company Mitz Kids, which she started when she made a dinosaur-themed dress for her dinosaur-obsessed daughter. After launching on Kickstarter and creating more clothes that blended kids’ interests and gender-focused style, she wasn’t sure what direction to go in next to grow the company.
Through the accelerator, she learned to zero in on digital marketing and wound up quadrupling monthly sales.
The average participant in the accelerator increases revenues more than 40 percent, Her Corner says, but Berger and Irwin also stress the intangible benefits of forming a tight-knit network of supportive female business-owners. Many in the first cohort share their networks and business — Liepmann hired Ferry’s design company to redo her logo and branding, for example — and work through hurdles together.
“It’s amazing,” Liepmann said. “I haven’t felt that much female unity since my peewee league floor hockey team won the championship in 1991, to put it into perspective. It’s the most altruistic, supportive environment. When you’re an entrepreneur, a wife, a mother, you don’t really have these opportunities. Here you’re surrounded by these really ambitious, driven women.”
She believes the expense of the accelerator delivered a strong return on investment, but do Irwin and Berger feel the same about their Philadelphia expansion? They say they do, and feel great about the early demand and their ability to spark new business growth. The anonymous feedback they’ve received has also been what they’d want to hear back “in a dream scenario,” Berger said. They plan to continue to launch a cohort in Philadelphia every September, January and April, and if demand increases, they’ll add on more small cohorts each season to keep up.