A shared office space for female entrepreneurs, WeAct Space, opened this month in a lofty second-story space above Nature Gallery at 153 Second St. in Los Altos.
The floor-to-ceiling windows offer a surprisingly grand view of “urban” Los Altos in austere winter mode. Paired with skylights and updated lighting, the office is bright, with long, shared worktables, comfy chairs and an endearingly pink couch anchoring one corner of the modernist design scheme.
Los Altos resident Darya Shaked created WeAct Space as a gathering place for women like those she has been leading in startup delegations from Israel in recent years. The three conference rooms that can be used for meetings or calls – dubbed Hedy, Mae and Rosalind – offer the space’s most notable statement, with striking, full-wall portraits of the technical pioneers Hedy Lamarr, Mae Jemison and Rosalind Franklin presiding over their modern-day descendants. In the kitchen, mugs read “Woman on a Mission” and “Create Change.”
“We can’t be what we don’t see,” Shaked said of finding common cause among early-stage female founders and the mentors who help them flourish.
But Shaked’s flinty interest in the finer points of networking and overcoming implicit bias is balanced by a professional eye for coworking comforts.
“The first thing you need to do in an office space is get good Wi-Fi and good coffee,” she noted.
Shaked envisions a clubhouse-like atmosphere visited by women traveling from abroad on Bay Area business and anchored by regulars – men and women – who want a sleek, professional space to hold meetings and get out of the home office. Any participant is welcome, she said, who believes in building a work world that is open to everyone on an equal footing.
Shaked wants to create an environment not just of shared business interests, but also of mentorship and collaboration.
“It’s so important to have access to knowledge when you need to make decisions,” she said.
“Even if you get a seat at the right table, it’s much harder to be heard,” she said of the experiences women entrepreneurs relate as they advance through funding rounds and find new glass ceilings to shatter, floor by floor.
Harnessing power, resources
Educated as a lawyer, Shaked served in the Israeli army for three years and then worked as a spokeswoman for then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak. After another 10 years working in private equity investment in Africa, she was ready for a new professional adventure. Her husband, who invests in startups, was amenable to a change of venue.
When she moved to Los Altos from Israel in 2015, Shaked founded WeAct’s first iteration, the startup delegation, after hearing from Israeli women entrepreneurs who were finding it difficult to access the conduits of power and resources that run through Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
“They’ve done much bigger things, but if they think it’s hard to do – I can change that,” Shaked said of helping successful foriegn founders get local traction.
She started leading women on weeklong trips to the Bay Area, stacking 15-hour days with meetings at venture capital firms, tech companies and innovation centers such as Stanford University.
“People said we didn’t even have 20 Israeli women entrepreneurs, but 182 applied,” she said of the first mission.
After paying $1,100 per month for a seat in a shared office in Palo Alto, she thought she could open a space closer to home that charged less of a premium – and target a group of entrepreneurs close to her heart at the same time.
Women who are founding their own enterprise, often working from home, face unequal demands on their time. In Los Altos, many start businesses after also starting a family. As Shaked notes, a truly woman-friendly enterprise cares about scheduling important events during business hours, outside of the pickups and bedtimes that disproportionately constrain women. That’s why her opening party was scheduled at the unfashionably early hour of noon last Friday.
“Everything I do is very much focused on what will make women more comfortable in joining,” she said.
And in case any readers haven’t witnessed the grueling flipside of this, it also meant that when women founders did take substantial time away from young families for one of her Israeli delegations, Shaked made the most of that compressed, and rare, time.
“I made them work 7 a.m. to midnight – they will leave this place exhausted, but I didn’t care,” she said. “I know their challenges because I’m at exactly the same point.”
A seat at the tablePhotos by Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier Los Altos resident Darya Shaked, above, opened WeAct’s coworking space last week on Second Street.