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Luminary Founder Cate Luzio On Why Female-forward Communities Are Important

By Ashley Salamanca

Cate Luzio is a bit of an anomaly. She hustled her way to the top ranks of corporate and investment banking, a notoriously male-dominated industry. She worked her butt off and finally claimed her seat at the table, only to look around and wonder…where are the rest of the ladies at?

“Luminary Founder Cate Luzio, courtesy of American Banker.”

For a long time, societal norms have pitted women against one another. We have been made to believe that there isn’t enough room at the table for more than one – maybe two – of us. But the tides are changing and people like Cate are demonstrating how when one of us thrives, we all can.

During her time in the financial services industry, Cate took on countless coffee dates to do her part in helping other women around her rise up. And while she could fill an entire calendar’s worth of one-on-ones, she never quite felt like they were making the large scale impact she desired to see. Fast forward to 2018: Cate leaped from her corporate job to tackle gender diversity head-on.

As a way of reaching more women and enabling them to help each other succeed, Cate founded Luminary, an all-female collaboration hub that serves as part workspace, part professional development center, and part home away from home. We sat down with Cate to dig deeper into why she founded Luminary and why it’s worth more than a million coffee dates combined.

SDS: What is Luminary and what were the driving forces behind its creation?

CL: Luminary is a collaboration hub and meeting space for women who are passionate about professional development and expanding their networks. We launched in November 2018 with a 15,000 square foot communal and social space in the Nomad neighborhood of New York City. There is a need for more spaces and places for women to invest in themselves, their careers and their self-care. We’ve created an ecosystem of programming and amenities for the modern woman and those on the go!

SDS: How is Luminary different from other shared workspaces?

CL: First, it’s not just a shared workspace. It’s about community. Women are looking for more opportunities to connect especially in this tech driven world. We aren’t about an application process or being exclusive. We want to welcome all women into our space from different backgrounds, industries, levels and ages.  Second, there is a need for more collaborative spaces for women to meet, network, develop and support each other with access to real programming and content with value (this is core to who Luminary is). Third, it’s evident that we have a lot of work to do to reach gender parity in the workplace and spaces for women are paramount to creating safe environments. Women are seeking strong communities to have complex and nuanced conversations, idea and business generation, as well as career opportunities. We are looking for ways to work together to push for social progress.  

SDS: Why was it important for you to self-fund Luminary?

CL: I have 20+ years of corporate experience and was able to self-fund, so I made the decision to do it. I know not everyone can do that but it was a choice I made. Also, since it’s a big risk, it allows me to be nimble, to pivot and to ultimately do the right thing for my company and for my members.

SDS: What was the hardest part about leaping out of your comfort zone, and what skills from your past career are helping you most in this new chapter?  

CL: After a discussion with my (male) mentor in November 2017, he challenged me and asked, “What do you really want to do with your career?” I honestly couldn’t answer, I just figured this was it, but that conversation stuck with me. I couldn’t shake some of his comments about figuring out what I wanted to do, what I was passionate about. I left banking to figure it out and three months later I was writing a business plan for Luminary. It’s been a roller coaster ever since, but one I wouldn’t trade.

One of my strongest skill sets is taking an existing idea or business, creating a better way of doing things and then executing. I’m a builder. I have purpose, passion and intent. While a great deal harder without the infrastructure of a big corporation, this project is similar. I started with a writing a full business plan in March 2018 and opened our doors in November 2018. I credit my experience in banking and 20 years in corporate America for giving me the insight, tenacity and credibility to execute – built on an extremely strong work ethic, “just do it” attitude and taking accountability and ownership at all times.

SDS: What is the most common question you get from other professional women? What do you tell them?

CL: “Why did you do create this?” My response: “For you.”

SDS: Talk about “collaboration over competition” – what does it mean to you? Why is it important?

CL: Nothing is more important than working together. We need to stop pitting one another against each other. It defeats the entire purpose of creating success and opportunity. There are more than enough women to support, serve and help so in my case it’s a top priority. Let’s help support each other’s business, generate new business and revenue opportunities and do it for the right reasons. We are stronger together and can still all be successful. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s a win-win.

SDS: Do you do partnerships? How can brands get onboard with that you’re doing?

CL: Absolutely! Reach out. We are open to like-minded companies that are focused on women, led/owned by women, and doing it for the right reasons. Authentically. We have a number of partnerships already with organizations, brands and reciprocal “sister clubs” in Minneapolis and South Florida. More coming soon!

SDS: Who’s the ideal Luminary member?

CL: Women, period. We are looking to build a membership that is truly diverse and inclusive. Those who want to invest in themselves and others. Like-minded women that are looking for a space to thrive. There are only benefits and a lot of perks to joining Luminary. I think a lot of people will try to put us in a box as another ‘co-working space’, but co-working is an amenity for us. It’s about building that community and providing the wraparound support services and amenities like a fitness studio, beauty bar and professional development training. We want to offer more ways to make your life easier and boost your career or entrepreneurial efforts.

SDS: Do men have any role at Luminary?

CL: While we are women and women identified focused for membership, we do not exclude men. We welcome them into the space as guests, part of select programming and events, etc. We need men with us. They are part of the journey and need to be with us, not against us. Creating more inclusion versus exclusion is the right path. We can work together to create change.

SDS: What’s one thing happening at Luminary this year that you’re most excited about?

CL: Well, we had a fireside chat with Gary Vaynerchuk earlier this month, kicking off our 2019 Luminous Speaker Series. It was great to have a man here and make it a co-ed event. That was pretty awesome. But it’s more than one event that I’m excited about. It’s the culmination of events, workshops and programs that build together to create a tight community – of Luminaries.

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