At Heydays HQ, Keisha Mabry Haymore provides the space and support for women and founders of color to create, collaborate and grow their businesses.
Heydays feels like a place you’d want to hang out with your friends. And I do mean hang out—laugh, lounge, huddle with creative peers in one of the seating areas to wrap up final edits on a project, or settle onto one of the couches to come up with your next big idea. Both floors of the space are warm and understated, with plenty of texture and color to make the polished concrete and exposed brick feel modern and inviting. The second floor’s south-facing side opens up to a roomy, concrete outdoor space overlooking Olive Street.
“This space did not look like this on Saturday,” says founder and owner of Heydays HQ, Keisha Mabry Haymore, surveying the room. “It was a marketplace. There were booths everywhere. A few days before that, there was a whole fabricated stage out there. People are doing yoga next week. I just love the fact that people are using it as a blank canvas.”
Visitors might default to calling Heydays HQ a coworking space, but Mabry Haymore’s descriptor as a “blank canvas” is perhaps more fitting. Heydays officially opened in the Midtown neighborhood on February 9, 2023, and focuses on supporting women founders and founders of color specifically. But it’s also so much more than just a coworking space, she tells me, before launching into a laundry list of the venue’s offerings. There are the basics, of course—regular membership with 24-7 access, a drop-in option to access Heydays for the day, a virtual option for people in need of an address and mail service for their business, internet and printing, coffee and snacks. There’s even a ring light on site for local content creators.
But where Mabry Haymore’s creation really shines — and is especially suited for St. Louis — is in Heydays’ shared services program. With connections and partnerships maintained across several firms, agencies, organizations and companies in the St. Louis region and elsewhere, Heydays has a roster of support for members to choose from. The shared services program offers free legal service and client-lawyer relationships; access to accountants, human resources and operations support, and virtual sales and marketing assistants; and access to funding partners to secure personal or business loans, credit repair and financial coaching. Soon, Heydays will be launching a virtual portal where users can access 50 hours of workshops and webinars on things like business automation, making your first hire, and more.
“There are a lot of solopreneurs here in St. Louis and no one supports the solopreneur,” says Mabry Haymore, referring to business owners who are both the owner and the only employee. “People support you when you’re in the idea phase and then they support you when you have a team. But what do you do in between?”
A sizable portion of new business owners, and women of color entrepreneurs, Mabry Haymore reminds me, actually just want to work for themselves, doing something they enjoy, while making enough money to afford the lifestyle they want. They don’t necessarily want to grow their business into a corporation, or open branches in other cities, or hire dozens of people. Maybe they’ll hire one other person or have a few of contract, part-time staff to help with administrative tasks, but for “solopreneurs” satisfied with their size but still looking for some guidance, Heydays is here to help.
The region’s accelerator programs have been a game changer for countless small business owners, and research shows some notable trends in recent years that might indicate the need for even more support. A 2021 survey conducted by Gusto and the National Association of Women Business Owners, and reported by The Guardian, found that half of women-owned businesses started during the events of 2020 were founded by women of color, suggesting that demographic is the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. In one 2022 study from JobSage, as reported by Fox2Now, St. Louis tops the list as the best city for entrepreneurs of color, beating out San Antonio, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C., who all made it into JobSage’s top ten.
Mabry Haymore designed Heydays to fill a gap in the region’s dynamic and innovative small business and entrepreneurial community, and create a model for targeted support that will empower more St. Louisans to build the professional lives they want.
“At the end of the day, I believe this city is a possibility city, where things are made possible,” she says. “And I think that’s beautiful. And for me, in this possibility city, my goal is to be a possibility model, and create spaces where things are possible.”
Over the last decade, Mabry Haymore has been building that exact kind of life for herself, too. Since moving from Louisville, Kentucky to St. Louis ten years ago, she’s made it her mission to get to know the city friend by friend, connection by connection. The city can feel “clique-ish,” she recalls of that early period, but building relationships with people is the best way to counteract that. She calls her practice friend-working instead of networking, employing her strategy of meeting 100 people in 100 days to get her footing. After completing that community-building method several times — first, when she still lived in Louisville, Kentucky; second, when she first moved to St. Louis; a third time when she joined the start-up and small business community in the city; a fourth time when Mabry Haymore wanted figured out a new career direction; and finally, a fifth time in an attempt to get to know St. Louis again after the events of 2020 — Mabry Haymore published her book, “Hey Friend: 100 ways to Connect with 100 people in 100 Days“ in 2017.
“In navigating that space—just like I had to navigate St. Louis—I learned that it’s not as easy for everyone to navigate spaces here, and not all spaces accept everyone here,” she says, recalling her introduction to the St. Louis start-up and small business ecosystem. “And I didn’t think that was right. I wanted spaces that felt safe, and that really was the beginning of Heydays. I used to joke with my friends, like, I just want a house where I can hang with friends and do dope stuff. But as an entrepreneur I learned that, actually, there was more there. At the core of Heydays, I knew I wanted to create a safe place where women and founders of color could take up space.”
Those hundreds of connections would go on to serve Heydays before and after its creation; Mabry Haymore’s extensive professional network was the original reason she was shown the space before the building was even officially on the market, and that same network became the foundation for Heydays supportive services and offerings through its shared services program. But back then, when she first came across the building, the idea of renting the property herself to launch Heydays was scary—even for a WEPOWER alum, TEDxStLouis speaker and Grow With Google veteran. She saw the building in early September, just a few weeks after leaving her full-time job, and ended up signing a lease and getting the keys a month later.
“I called my husband, I called my mom, I’m like, what do y’all think?” says Mabry Haymore. “The vision was half baked; I didn’t even have a name. But you know, sometimes your gut just says move. I’ve been preparing for this for the past five years, you know?
“I did the prep work for years, but even with the prep work, you’re going to be scared. You’re gonna question yourself and you’re gonna be like, can I do this? Is this for me? Is the time right? And you just have to feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Now, it’s worth noting that Mabry Haymore is cautious about recommending that people leave their jobs in the process of launching a business. (“Your job is your first investor,” she says. “It’s the investor that allows you to continue to live without worrying about how you’re going to pay your bills. It’s the investor that gives you capital to test different pieces of your idea.”) But still, she says that St. Louis’ affordability and lower cost of living compared to other metropolitan cities makes it a unique place to experiment and take risks. Plus, the smaller size of the city, and thus the smaller size of various business ecosystems, means it can be surprisingly easy to traverse professional hierarchies, says Mabry Haymore. It’s not impossible to be introduced to a C-suite level business leader in a casual setting, or even meet a CEO willing to grab lunch with you.
“I think St. Louis really is a beautiful city,” she says. “I think it gets a lot of flack, but when people see that you are really trying and you stay consistent and committed, the support and the love is there. I’ve felt so much love, even not being from here, and I don’t take that for granted.“
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