Babysitters of the Future

Start-up WeVillage gives modern parents better daycare choices.

By Zach Dundas May 1, 2013

All parents know the moment. They need to get something done. (Or just want to do something; never mind what.) Babysitters don’t just appear. Nannies require commitment. Day care isn’t Happy Hour care.

Karen Beninati believes she has a solution. The clientele of WeVillage, the drop-in day-care business she started in the Pearl District and plans to expand, seems to agree. In three years, WeVillage has watched about 4,000 kids, whose parents can leave them at Beninati’s fully certified facility on the spur of the moment. 

The model is simple—two-hour minimum, $12 an hour, any time there’s an opening—one might think WeVillage–like businesses would be ubiquitous. They are not. Or, as the 40-year-old single mother might put it, not yet. This winter, she launched a 2,700-square-foot outpost in Orenco Station, Hillsboro’s growing urban-style district. With investment lined up for national expansion, she’s scouting locations in LA and Seattle and weighing franchising models.

“I started this business because I saw the need so clearly,” she says. “I lived it.” As an independent film producer in LA, Beninati found “flexible schedule” actually meant constant child-care woes. “I was dragging my son around everywhere,” she says. “Production meetings. Agent meetings.” She found daycares depressing. “How can people like me insist that restaurants be beautiful,” she says, “yet leave our kids at these awful places?” There was also a personal dimension: “When can I go on a date?”

A relationship landed her in Portland, where she launched in the Pearl, a neighborhood not usually associated with kids but full of hyper-empowered consumers. “People who live in the Pearl are smart,” she says. “Not snobby, but they just want more.” The location also attracts parents who seek a little nightlife of their own; it’s open until 11:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

“Just because busy people have kids doesn’t mean we have to die.” 

—Karen Beninati

With a tiny capital stake from an investor, she rented a Gregory Building storefront and secured the arduous state child-care permits. Revenues tripled in three years, and this summer the cramped prototype will give way to a 1,800-square-foot location a block away.

At Orenco Station, Beninati aims for a dream demographic: international talent drawn to once-bucolic Hillsboro by Intel. “We have clients from India, Saudi Arabia, France, Pakistan,” she says. Moms’ nights and a bright, Vanillawood-designed interior make the Orenco location a community hub.

“One for the city, one for the burbs,” Beninati says. “Different communities, but the needs are similar. Just because busy people have kids doesn’t mean we have to die.”

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