Pump it up

This growing Houston company is revolutionizing the way new mothers pump in the office

Houston-based Work & Mother is rethinking how new mothers pump in the office. Courtesy of Work & Mother

A new mom returning to work is probably dreading her new daily inconvenience of taking the time out of the workday to pump her breast milk.

While some employers provide a wellness room to us, but the more likely scenario is that she will have to pump in your car, an empty conference room or the bathroom. And once she is done pumping, she'll have to wash her equipment in the kitchen sink, alongside her coworkers' coffee mugs or dirty Tupperware containers.

One newly launched company mission is to make that scenario a thing of the past.

Work & Mother is a boutique pumping and wellness center that opened its first location in downtown Houston in 2017 and is planning its second downtown location. The 600-square-foot space opened on the first floor of 712 Main St. and offers memberships to companies and individuals, regardless of whether they work in the building.

Abbey Donnell founded the company after speaking with friends who recently returned to work after giving birth.

"There were constant stories about [women] being told the use the IT closet, or the conference room, or the bathroom or their cars," Donnell says. "Some of them were pretty big oil and gas firms companies that should've had the resources and space to do better than that."

Work & Mother offers its members several private pumping rooms, private pumping office spaces, a kitchen area, member lockers and a small retail section where members can buy pumping and wellness equipment. The company's pitch to individual mothers is simple: come to us for privacy and community. But its pitch to companies is more rooted in regulations.

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act Section 7(r), companies with 50 or more employees are required to provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." Companies that aren't in compliance with Section 7(r) — and lack the resources to do so — can either purchase individual or company memberships to Work & Mother.

"The reception from moms has been incredible," Donnell says. "I've gotten a lot of support from women who are older in their fields, who talk about how [pumping in the office] was a horrible experience for them."

Work & Mother is planning its second location, which will also be in downtown Houston, but Donnell declined to share additional details. When she started the company in 2017, she took minimal investments from friends and family, she says. But in anticipation of the company's second location, Work & Mother will likely launch a pre-seed fundraising round this summer, Donnell says. No financial figures have been finalized, but Donnell says the tentative plan is to raise roughly $1 million.

The company is also hoping to open in cities such as Chicago, New York, Austin, and Dallas in the near future.

Work & Mother isn't targeting companies that are solely concerned about meeting Section 7(r) compliance, Donnell says. Rather, she's hoping to show companies that investing in the well-being of new mothers is essential to running a successful business – and it's the right thing to do.

"If there's an employer who really only cares about the compliance, then they're not exactly a good fit, because they'll convert a closet and check that box," Donnell says.

But what Donnell says she's found refreshing is that most of the companies she's interacted with have had great feedback for her. They're trying to recruit — and retain — top female talent, she says.

More soon

Courtesy of Work & Mother

Donnell has plans for a second Houston location, as well as an expansion to other major United States cities.

The MKT expects to revolutionize the live-work-play model with everything from retail and restaurant to office and coworking space. Courtesy of The MKT

On a stroll or a spin down the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, you might not notice a complete transformation is eminent. The MKT — a mixed-use renovation and build out project — is getting ready to break ground.

The five-building, 200,000-square-foot project will bring 30 retail and restaurant concepts, and 100,000 square feet of office space together along with four acres of green space, parking, and an outdoor venue alongside 1,000 linear feet of the trail between North Shepherd Drive and Herkimer Street. The MKT name comes from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad — later known as the Katy Railroad — that was transformed into the Heights Hike and Bike Trail.

The architect behind the project is Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, and Houston-based Radom Capital, which is behind Heights Mercantile down the street, is overseeing the retail aspect. JLL's Houston office is coordinating the office leasing space.

"There's nothing in Houston that's like this that's upscale creative office space with a huge retail and restaurant component that's located on a major hike and bike trail right in the city," Russell Hodges, managing director of agency leasing at JLL, tells InnovationMap.

Ultimately, the project, which will break ground in the next 60 to 90 days, is a renovation, as the five industrial buildings that make up The MKT currently exist and were built in the '70s. The transformation will include redoing the facades of the buildings and incorporating green space.

The creative office space, which will be in three of the buildings, is doing something a little different than most office buildings in Houston. Originally, Hodges says they expected interest from TAMI tenants — which stands for technology, advertising, media, and information companies — but the interest they have had so far has been diverse.

"The project caters to the tenant that's looking for something different — looking for, honestly for lack of a better word, cool space," Hodges says. "Someone looking for something to help differentiate their business to leverage their office space to recruit and retain talent."

Another unexpected interested party — coworking tenants. Hodges says the project could house anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet of coworking space if the right coworking operator comes around.

"I don't think we were necessarily looking for coworking, per say," Hodges says. "But, we've had significant interest from coworking operators. Based on that level of interest, we think that there's demand for coworking in the area. We're looking for the right operator who's brand aligns with the brand of the project. I don't think that's every coworking brand, necessarily."

The team behind The MKT are also planning a second phase of the project for a large space just east of phase one. That concept has yet to be designed, and there aren't any specifics currently available.

Big picture

Courtesy of The MKT

On the project's website, this rendering can be interacted with to see 3D designs and before and after shots.