Women in Business ’13: Jenifer Ross

A couple years ago, Jenifer Ross of Sleepy Hollow was sitting laptop-to-laptop at Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown with a freelance-writer friend. That’s when she first realized there had to be a better way to be productive as a freelancer than by working at the local café or on one’s own dining-room table. “My friend belonged to a writers’ co-working space in Manhattan,” recalls Ross. “I remember thinking that there had to be other places locally like that where we could work off each others’ energy.” But, after researching, Ross found there actually weren’t any in the County. So she and her husband, a graphic designer, decided to open their own shared workspace so other area “solo-preneurs” could enjoy working in the loft they never had. 

“I knew that co-working existed in the City and found 1,500 spaces globally,” says Ross. “So I thought, ‘I can do that! I am a connector in my life. I can have my own freelance space and help revitalize my town and bring 30 new people into town who’ll go into the local stores and restaurants. And,” she adds, “‘it’ll be eco-friendly and lessen our collective footprint by sharing a copier, coffee maker, and electricity. Plus, it’ll be cost-effective, sharing the costs of general overhead and just paying for what you need.’” 

With five desks scattered throughout a previously undeveloped 1,600-square-foot space, W@tercooler launched on June 1, 2011, with a half-dozen members. The business was profitable within six months, growing to 30 members. Continuing its growth, it now has 65 members, whose involvement ranges from just coming in to pick up mail to working there every day. 

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“Jenifer has created a home for the region’s entrepreneurs,” says Zak Shusterman, her equity business partner, “and nourishes their development by organizing workshops and networking events to help them thrive.” He notes that Ross also offers free or discounted space to nonprofits and community organizations and sponsors complimentary “unemployed Mondays” to help neighbors get back to work—one early participant now operates a successful W@tercooler-based travel business. 

What’s next for W@tercooler? A second, larger location in a 4,700-square-foot-space in White Plains to open in the spring of 2014, and potentially a third outpost in Yonkers after that, with additional sites the following year. And, says Ross, “I’d like to become a thought leader in the co-working arena, advising others on their own spaces.” 

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