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Utah Business

The entrepreneuer behind The Wave, a coworking space for women, is carving out space for others to build their successful businesses.

Reimagining The Social Club

Tucked away in the middle of Salt Lake City’s historic Exchange Place sits a very special building, rich in beauty and historical significance. Erected in 1909, the Commercial Club building was the headquarters of the Salt Lake Chamber’s predecessor, the Commercial Club.

The Commercial Club building was the meeting place for Utah’s businessmen for nearly three decades. It housed many significant events including a visit by President William Howard Taft in 1911 and a luncheon for President Warren G. Harding in 1923. Designed to resemble the New York City Athletic Club, the Commercial Club contained a lounge, banquet room, game rooms, hotel-like accommodations, and a ladies parlor that overlooked the main dining room. It was the ultimate social club.

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Today, the architectural detailing including the fluted columns, mosaic tiles, and ornamental lion heads remain but long gone is the ladies parlor. Instead, the entire 17,000 square feet at 32 Exchange Place is now dedicated to women. What was once a business and social club exclusively for men, has now been reinvented as a coworking space and social club for women and marginalized genders.

Joanna Smith, founder and CEO of The Wave explained, “One of our goals was to create a company that was built by women for women and to have only women and marginalized genders head up every aspect of the project all the way down from branding to brokering to project managing and construction, architects, everything. I was told that it was absolutely impossible to do that in Utah because there just weren’t enough women who want to work. I’m happy and proud to say we’ve done that, and every aspect of this is lead by women.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Ms. Smith saw a need and wanted to provide the solution. But unlike her male counterparts, Ms. Smith says, female entrepreneurs in Utah face different obstacles when trying to get their businesses off the ground.

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“We own 65 percent of the small businesses in Utah, but only 30 percent of the funding. Why? We’re not at the tables. We’re not getting meetings with the people making the decisions and dolling out the money,” says Ms. Smith. “So it became very apparent that we needed to create those tables and make other people want to be at our tables.”

“I was told that if I would put it all in my husband’s name, I’d get funded,” she says. In the end, Ms. Smith and her business partner would fund their venture 100 percent themselves, putting up their homes and even their retirement accounts to make their dream a reality.

She also traveled to Sweden, New York, Seattle, and Canada to research similar businesses and see first-hand how different communities are connecting to solve this problem. “Other people are building these places,” says Ms. Smith. “What does it look like? What would make Utah women feel seen, heard and successful?”

Ms. Smith found that part of the solution has been practiced in social clubs for decades —the power of connecting, networking, and finding support from like-minded individuals.

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“Women thrive in environments where we get to take care of each other,” says Ms. Smith. “We thrive in environments where we feel like our creativity isn’t hindered and in environments where you feel like you are on equal footing with the people that are around you. Creating that space in Utah became our number one priority.”

Now, the old Commercial Club―once an exclusive club for the businessmen of our state―is a gathering place for women who are breaking barriers and bolstering Utah’s ever-growing economy. Carving out space for themselves, the women of The Wave are rejuvenating Utah’s business landscape by taking a piece of the past and propelling it into the future.

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