Are you a mother looking for flexible work? Durham startup may be what you have in mind

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Brooke Markevicius got the idea for her startup MOMentum Marketplace, an online platform where mothers can sells goods and find freelance work, well before the coronavirus pandemic caused unemployment figures to reach Depression-era levels.

But the new economic reality that the pandemic has brought is giving the startup a sense of urgency as it officially launches next week.

“Right now, lots of moms are getting laid off; lots of moms are now working full time from home without childcare,” Markevicious, a mother of two herself, said over Zoom. “There needs to be a big discussion around flexible work and the future of work for mothers.”

She believes that MOMentum, which launched a beta version last year and already has more than 50,000 users, can be part of the solution, creating a central hub where women can easily find freelance service jobs on their own terms.

The startup was borne out of Markevicius’ own experience working in the tech industry as a mother.

Until 2015, Markevicius was helping the food-delivery startup Postmates launch in the Southeast. But after having her first child and returning to work, she found the company did not have a culture she felt was compatible with working in an office and also raising her young daughter.

“So I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom, which is something I never intended on doing,” said Markevicius, a North Carolina native who moved to Seattle when her husband landed a job at Microsoft. “I didn’t last as a stay-at-home mom for long and went into freelance web development,” creating websites for small businesses in the Pacific Northwest.

Once she was in the freelancing world, she found that female entrepreneurs were building their own networks of referrals and searching for other women to hire or buy from. But there was no central place for those connections to take place. She felt that if there was a platform that simplified the process of finding freelance work, then thousands of women could jump back into the workplace while still at home.

A screenshot of the MOMentum Marketplace platform.

A screenshot of the MOMentum Marketplace platform.

So, after moving from Seattle to Durham last year with her husband and two children, she launched MOMentum to be that hub — helping mothers quickly find a web development gig or sell a product or service. In that way, the platform acts like a hybrid version of Etsy, an e-commerce site, and Upwork, a freelancing platform.

At the start, the company will focus on connecting women to virtual jobs like copy writing, SEO, web design, virtual assistants and video and podcast editing. In its beta launch, those types of jobs had the most buyers interested. As the platform grows, and more mothers are vetted by MOMentum to offer their services on the platform, the company hopes to add freelancing options for other professions like marketing and finance.

Currently, the site works like this: A buyer browses the platform for the service they need and pays for it. The company’s algorithm, — which a team of Duke students is helping fine tune — connects the buyer with a mother on the platform and initiates the freelance project. The mother has 12 hours to accept the job and get in touch with the buyer to set up the parameters of the project, and once the project is complete the mother gets paid.

A screenshot of the MOMentum Marketplace.

A screenshot of the MOMentum Marketplace.

But beyond just a platform for connecting women to work, MOMentum hopes to build a sense of community for mothers as well.

The company is implementing social aspects to the marketplace — including creating a Discord channel for moms to interact with each other — and programmatic materials. For example, the company is launching the full version of the marketplace on May 19 — the same day the company is hosting a virtual summit on the future of work for moms.

“Our moms are here to work,” said Anne English, MOMentum’s chief strategy officer, “but they still want that community they’d get at a water cooler in a corporate setting.”

MOMentum is also partnering with another startup, Catch, which offers automated tax withholding, savings and retirement benefits for contract workers, as an attempt to make it easier for first-time freelancers.

Markevicius said providing that service on the platform was important because she wanted to separate MOMentum from some of the other gig economy platforms out there. “Moms don’t respond as well to a non-connected workforce,” she said. “They really want community and the ability to have support in many ways.”

After its official launch next week, MOMentum will move onto the next stage of growing a startup: raising money.

Before the coronavirus cut down on travel, Markevicius was planning to spend this spring meeting with investors, with the goal of raising a $500,000 seed round. But those plans have been put on hold.

Markevicius is still confident she will be able to raise money come the fall, though, especially if its user base continues to grow as she expects.

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate

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