Inspired by Motherhood, Kelsey Lents Builds Coworking Business
Armed with a master’s degree in architecture, Kelsey Lents (MBA’18) enjoyed her work in the world of architectural design. Soon, however, she felt she needed more business skills in her toolkit.
“People who start architecture firms have to learn business practices on the ground as they’re working ad hoc,” Lents said. “I think there’s a lot of gaps in business practice knowledge for architects, and I was the project manager for projects that I worked on. Although a lot of my job was design, a large chunk had a management side and I really liked the combination of design and management.”
Coming from New York, Lents explored MBA programs in large cities, eventually landing in Washington, D.C., at Georgetown McDonough.
“I really benefited from being at a university in a global city where professors worked in the surrounding area, with a combination of full-time professors as well as adjunct professors,” said Lents. “I liked McDonough’s relationship with industries in D.C., the make-up of professors, and diversity in the community.”
Lents also chose Georgetown McDonough because unlike many of her peers she was coming from a non-traditional business background. She noticed the school’s start-up community, which piqued her interest. She found the McDonough community puts a lot of value on start-ups and that the school found a way to bring together students like herself, who are looking to hone their skills in other areas.
While facing the rigors of business school, Lents had another challenge come her way which would ultimately influence her career trajectory.
“I became pregnant with my first child during my first year of business school,” Lents said. “I had him in the summer between my first and second year and I have to say, it’s not particularly common for women to have babies while in business school. There were a lot more men in my program who either had children coming in or had children while we were there. It was pretty rare for the female community and historically was much more rare.”
Still, she found support within the MBA community. “Georgetown was really fantastic, both when I was pregnant and then had my son,” said Lents. “They were great about realizing that I needed things like a pump room and making sure I always felt like I had someone to talk to if I had questions or if I needed resources.”
Lents found herself at a crossroads. Not only was she figuring out her career path, but she was navigating becoming a mother for the first time as well. A piece of advice she received was to join mom’s or parent’s groups. While they proved helpful, the topics didn’t always hit home for Lents.
“It was a great experience but it was interesting,” Lents said. “For the most part those groups are geared toward people who work in an office, have taken a certain amount of time off for maternity leave, and they have a certain amount of weeks or up to a couple months of time that they’re really focusing on their child and then switching back over to focusing on their professional life.”
Being a full-time student, Lents had a much different experience.
“I never had a time where I took a step away from university life and tried to figure out what I was doing with my career, just to focus on my newborn and then switch back over again,” she said. “In that parent-group I felt a lot of the topics we were discussing were really important but not 100% aligned with my own experiences. I felt like there had to be a whole lot more people out there who are having my experience and there just weren’t groups that were specifically focused on that.”
This experience brought to life her current company, TwoBirds, which she co-founded with her classmate, JP Coakley (MBA’18), who also was a new parent at the time. TwoBirds is a childcare space for working parents who may or may not have non-traditional work schedules. The company provides childcare as well as work spaces for parents within the same building. They also offer flexible care packages for children from birth to aged five.
The majority of the framework for this company came together while Lents and Coakley were students at Georgetown McDonough. They spent their second year vetting and building out their business model — working alongside professors to plan specific courses and independent studies to participate in. This eventually helped them move away from theory and into practical application.
“If anyone has an opportunity to start a business while they’re in business school it’s an ideal time to do it because it gives you a buffer when you’re trying to figure things out,” said Lents.
TwoBirds technically started in a class called Start-Up Factory taught by Eric Koester. Something instilled in Lents during the class was to always go back to the customer. She and Coakley made it practice to interview, poll, and survey their consumers. She notes some of their best ideas have come from comments from those materials. Another professor who made an impact on their business was Sandeep Dahiya, Akkaway Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship.
“One of the places where professor Dahiya was really fantastic was when he used to pitch our business back to us,” said Lents. “He would listen to us pitch our idea, then he would pitch it back to us. The way he pitched our own business idea taught us a ton about how other people hear what we’re saying and what our priorities are. We loved this exercise so much that it’s now something we do with our strategic partners.”
As with most businesses, Lents has seen her company impacted by the effects of the coronavirus. While the virus caused her to shut-down from mid-March through June, it also has reaffirmed the need for businesses like these.
“Right now there’s a huge spotlight on child care and the necessity of having a solution in place for your child in order to keep working,” Lents said. “There’s also this concept of companies being more flexible about remote and virtual work. Those are all of the concepts that TwoBirds was built on. So interestingly, we started this business and then the pandemic came around and in some ways proved the need for infrastructure like what we’re building, and I think we’re seeing families respond.”