Female entrepreneurs welcome new professional hub in Schenectady

Gabby Fisher of Schenectady talks at Palette in Schenectady on Wednesday.
Gabby Fisher of Schenectady talks at Palette in Schenectady on Wednesday.

SCHENECTADY — After graduating from college, Gabby Fisher labored away at an unfulfilling job before quitting and spending several months traveling throughout Europe in search of inspiration.

Conversations with fellow travelers led to the Colonie native eventually starting a tourism marketing company.

Now Fisher has come full circle.

The 28-year-old returned home, bought a house in Schenectady and is now part of an emerging generation of female entrepreneurs using a new downtown co-working space as a launchpad.

She sat at a counter at Palette Schenectady last week working on a project designed to brand the Capital Region.

Fisher said she thrives off the energy of being around other strong women, particularly those who have navigated the challenges of launching a business, a process she said can often feel like a roller-coaster ride.

“Being an entrepreneur can be lonely,” Fisher said. “Being part of a co-working space is not only good for being social, but it’s good to work with other entrepreneurs going through the same thing you’re going through.”

Palette Schenectady opened last month in the Foster Building on State Street in the space that formerly housed Liza’s.

Fisher is among the 60 or so members of the female-focused cafe and co-working space.

Visitors can work in an open, living room-type setting, replete with plush chairs and inspirational messages dotted among the rose-hued ambiance.

The downtown space marks the second location for owner Catherine Hover, who opened the first venue in Saratoga Springs last year, Palette Cafe on Broadway.

Hover, founder of the Saratoga Springs Paint & Sip Studio, wasn’t dissuaded by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted widespread shutdowns just days after she signed the lease in early March.

“I had no doubt that when COVID hit, it would be a blow to women,” Hover said.

After all, child care and schools are intrinsically linked.

Hover, who partnered with Denise and Steve Gonick on the project, immediately began thinking of how Palette could adapt to the new normal, not only at the Saratoga Springs location, which quickly pivoted to online events and programming, as well as the upcoming launch of the new venture.

“I never doubted for one moment our community wouldn’t be OK during this storm,” Hover said.

The Palette concept is designed to be more than shared co-working space where women can drop in with their laptops.

Events, training seminars and other professional services are all designed to provide an immersive experience, a model pioneered by the Wing, the co-working space founded in 2016 in New York City by two women seeking to replicate the women’s clubs of the suffragist movement.

“We want them to join and use Palette to level up their business, career and life,” Hover said as the Schenectady space buzzed with people making phone calls and typing away on their laptops on a recent weekday morning. 

A key player in harnessing that energy is Kate Alois, who as the space’s “resident unicorn,” greases the skids for whatever members need, from troubleshooting tech problems, helping with event planning and creating synergy between members.

“Everyone’s pretty motivated to do things and support each other, and that’s what we’re all about,” Alois said.

While the cafe is open to the public, access to the co-working space is membership-only.

For $3,000 annually, members have access to events and services that Hover says constitutes the heartbeat of Palette’s mission, including “Creatives Collaborate” on Friday, a weekly writers workshop and other themed events — including true crime digital meet-ups.

Member Sarah Boink will host a weaving workshop next week.

Boink aims to attract middle-aged women, a market she believes is untapped in the region.

“I think Generation X is overlooked when it comes to marketing,” said Boink, 46.

Some members have refocused their energies on providing classes despite setbacks.

One of the hundreds of employees laid off by the city school district, Jacqueline Tyo, 52, offers literacy classes for kids, among other programming in the space. 

“It’s tough, but I’m not the type to sit and wait around for things to do,” Tyo said.

The community, she said, has been terrific.

“I call them my Palette pals.”

The pandemic has virtually upended all aspects of life, including an almost-instantaneous pivot to working from home.

For many, the experience has been isolating and disorientating, and Palette is a chance to break that routine.

Weaving by its very nature is solitary, Boink said.

“You spent a lot of time alone, which I do prefer,” she said.

Yet at the same time, the pandemic has had a surreal, time-shifting effect.

The communal environment provides an opportunity to receive valuable feedback, and is a chance to be a part of something bigger.

Rotterdam resident Chelsey Friedrich agrees.

“Coming here gives me a chance to reframe my mind back to work,” said Friedrich, co-founder and president of a brand design and social media management company. 

Like many members, Friedrich, 30, is a working mom attempting to balance professional development with raising small children.

Working from home can provide a never-ending series of distractions, Friedrich said, and finding the co-working space was a “godsend.”

“You walk away from work and it’s a continuous distraction,” Friedrich said. “Coming here gives me time to reframe my mind back to work.”

And the space also provides a sense of professional structure and feedback, the metrics for which aren’t always clear while working independently.

“Talking to people about what you’re going to do gives you accountability,” Boink said.

Other members are hopeful that the space will help them dial into local professional networks.

Kim Blair left a corporate job in New York City two years ago and relocated to Niskayuna with her young family, where she launched a wedding photography business.

Blair, 38, acknowledged it was difficult to meet people and tap into professional networks.

“I was looking for a community that you would easily be able to find in New York City and I struggled a bit in this area finding like-minded individuals and women in business who understood the challenges of building up their businesses,” Blair said.

Blair shopped around, but other programs felt dated, and she believes Palette Schenectady checks off multiple boxes — including a child care space if she wants to bring one of her three young children to work.

Palette Schenectady’s location puts it firmly amid a whirl of downtown development.

It’s across the street from a planned four-story apartment building that officials and developers hope will ignite a wave of development along the Clinton Street corridor.

The influx of young people moving downtown is inspiring, Fisher said, and is a far cry from a decade ago when her parents avoided the city.

“It really sets Schenectady apart from neighboring areas,” Fisher said. “Especially as a young entrepreneur, this is a place where I want to be.”

Hover pledged that members will “absolutely” be a critical part of the emerging downtown ecosystem.

“It’s going to be impossible to not include us in the conversation,” Hover said.

Members believe their presence and activities generated from the downtown hub will also give them a chance to actively mold the neighborhood’s trajectory, roles not possible in larger cities with more established downtown ecosystems.

“Getting in early will help us to shape that,” Blair said.

With Proctors temporarily shuttered, Boink said Palette has already helped fill the void in providing a community anchor.

“This is a beam of light,” she said.


Categories: -News-, Business, Schenectady County

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