In June, we held our We Got Issues Celebration: Issues 13 & 14 at Soma Vida. The turquoise building and corresponding courtyard was a place I have come across many times, however one that I realized, I knew very little about.
All that changed in the process of planning, as we worked closely with Liz Deering from The Un.Inc and met Laura Shook Guzman, the owner of Soma Vida. I knew immediately that I had a lot to learn from these two powerful female founders. So, I sat down with them to talk about how they have combined coworking and self care, pulling the focus in business off of the finances and putting it back on the individual.
It Starts with the Founder
The Un.Inc – Liz Deering
Liz Deering, co-founder of The Un.Inc, started her career as a graphic designer, working in the tech industry in Boston. Her dual love of writing and design is encompassed in her passion for storytelling, a skill which she practices as a freelance consultant to help build brands.
How did The Un.Inc come to be?
Liz: Though I’ve had four startups, it didn’t even occur to me that I was a founder until the third one. I went through the incubator programs and was usually the only woman in the pitch meetings or sometimes, the program itself. I started thinking about what was missing in the incubator scene. It was frustrating because there was no softness to any of these spaces. The whole process is meant to beat the sweetness out of you.
In 2015, I finally grew sick of this environment. I needed something more holistic, more feminine. Everything changed when my friends asked me, “What are you going to do about it?”
So I left my startup, and started Haven which eventually morphed into The Un.Inc. It was originally founded to support female founders and I partnered with coworking spaces to run different pieces of the curriculum. At the same time I was piecing this together, I met Ben (Gibson). He was running a filmmaker space in East Riverside trying to do the same thing. So, we went in on a space together in Hyde Park and began developing the curriculum.
It came down to this: What if we unravel the incubator program, and rebuild it the way we think it should exist?
We’re super passionate about creators and we want to help people understand the impact of their endeavors. People don’t think that they’re a founder, but we want to help them realize this and build their dreams.
Soma Vida – Laura Shook-Guzman
Laura Shook-Guzman, the founder of Soma Vida, is a native Texan that found inspiration in the collective spirit she witnessed while traveling in Europe and Canada. This passion, coupled with her background as a psychotherapist and experience in the nonprofit sector, led her to open Soma Vida, the first coworking space in Austin in 2008.
Why did you start Soma Vida?
Laura: My background is in advocacy for women and children, and while I was working in the nonprofit sector, I didn’t see shifting opportunities for women that were running their own businesses. Women were leading the entrepreneurial scene, but they didn’t have the support they needed. I wanted to create a shared space that focused on work and wellness. I wanted to break down the barriers that keep us separate.
I remember reading an article in The New York Times about the coworking model at a company in Manhattan. It was a model of work based around community. It was about sharing resources and putting collaboration over competition.
This model along with my advocacy and work as a mental health professional are the natural core of Soma Vida. Eleven years ago I opened Soma Vida in East Austin as the first coworking space. Our model is based on wellness, and the space is used for yoga, psychotherapy and natural and alternative doctors. We have also incorporated an art gallery as a part of wellness.
Openness, Sustainability, community, accessibility and collaboration. These are our core values.
Collaborating for Community
Liz and Laura had been working along separate yet strikingly equal paths for years before they finally met. After only one coffee date, they felt an instantaneous energy from discovering how similar their passions are.
How did the partnership develop between Soma Vida and The Un.Inc?
Liz: Ben and I were talking about Soma Vida as being the ideal space for The Un.Inc programming. We kept saying “wouldn’t it be cool to be in that space?” So when Laura needed a new manager, we thought it would be the perfect way to partner.
Laura: We had so many overlaps in our passions. We wanted to focus on the person. So we crafted a way to manage and revise how Soma Vida’s systems worked, finding the overlaps between our members and their participants. From that came the concept of a campus schedule and classes.
How do you envision creators and entrepreneurs using Soma Vida and The Un.Inc programming?
Liz: We are both bringing the missing piece to the other person. We want to take what’s best of both programs – education and wellness culture.
Laura: We want this to be the place people come when they want to start their venture in wellness or creative fields. It’s human centric, founder-focused entrepreneurship.
What can women offer the incubator/entrepreneurial sectors?
Liz: The way women connect work and community is something that needs to be modeled more for everyone. And to see it demonstrated in a physical space and program is a part of that.
Laura: We need female perspective leading the conversation and execution of business. We want to amplify women not at the cost of leaving out men, but to get an equal chance to contribute. When we build things, we build them for inclusive access.
What makes The Un.Inc curriculum (specifically The Cohort) a good fit for creative entrepreneurs?
Liz: Today more people are going outside of the traditional path. The Un.Inc is experiential learning based inside a place (Soma Vida) that is built to support you. We know founders often come from pain and struggle and they have so much to give. These experiences are what gives The Un.Inc value.
People often look at the financials to predict the outcome of a healthy business, but you need healthy founders and teams.
We want to reverse that thinking so that the human comes first. Our measure of success is the longevity of the founder in their work. Every founder that we invest in goes out and has more impact on people they are serving and working with.
Step into Wellness
Both Soma Vida and The Un.Inc have created an atmosphere that focuses on the individual, from the founders to the teams to the creators themselves. It’s a kind of support and emphasis on wellness that is often left out of the traditional models of coworking and incubators.
Liz and Laura know that these are the tools that will help everyone thrive. To truly succeed as a business owner, you need to factor yourself into the equation.
Find out more about The Un.Inc curriculum at Soma Vida and apply for The Fall Cohort, their un.incubator program by August 1st!
Written by: Natalie Earhart
Photo Credit: Alejandro Hernandez, @alejandrohernandezphoto