When you think of a coworking space, diversity, equity and inclusion may not be the first things to pop into your head. But they’re top of mind for Shervonne Cherry, director of Spark Coworking, a subsidiary of Baltimore-based Cordish Cos.
When new creators and innovators step into the Spark Baltimore office in the Power Plant District, “you’re seeing women and brown faces. That’s a very direct sort of thing,” said Cherry, who describes Spark as “a unique place to effectively network and build your company.”
Among the ways Cherry has ensured all Spark Baltimore members feel included: creating a designated mother’s room so breastfeeding moms can pump at work in a comfortable space, establishing gender-neutral restrooms and generating a pipeline of underrepresented candidates for members’ job openings.
Hustle and grit
Cherry cut her teeth in the startup world as employee number five at Baltimore-based Mindgrub before moving on to DreamIt Ventures, a venture capital and seed accelerator that focused on health tech companies when it came to Baltimore. Passionate about tech, she co-founded Baltimore Womxn in Tech to help develop local talent and serve as a space to share ideas, questions and events.
“There’s good things happening in Baltimore, and this group is just one example of people collaborating, supporting each other, and breaking down the silos of communication within the tech industry,” said Cherry.
“It plays into a larger conversation that Baltimore is having now about showcasing that yeah, we hustle and have grit here, but they call us Charm City for a reason.”
Cherry wants to do more than support those already in the tech field. Spark Baltimore has partnered with organizations like Code in the Schools to bring computer science education to elementary and middle school students. That work is building the talent pipeline locally and helping to ensure that students looking for internships in the future are already plugged into Baltimore’s tech ecosystem.
“Entrepreneurship is an equity builder, and in that space, we can level the playing field for a lot of communities,” Cherry said.
Expanding beyond Baltimore
Since opening in 2016, Spark Baltimore has grown to include more than 150 companies and 500 members. And Spark Coworking is now replicating its Baltimore success in communities in other locations, opening a branch in Kansas City in 2020 and in St. Louis in 2021. Since she doesn’t have roots in either Kansas City or St. Louis, Cherry prioritized hiring community managers who know the cities well and have existing ties to the entrepreneurship scene – another way to ensure Spark Coworking stays true to its values.
“From our community managers to our operations managers, they are not foreign to the ecosystem, they’re not foreign to the needs of capital or the trials and challenges that come with launching your own business, because many of them have done that or are striving to do that themselves,” Cherry said.