These women are leading the female entrepreneur rush to the Catskills

The Catskills are back and in a very big way. In addition to a resurgence of boutique hotels and inns it is also being reborn as a thriving food scene.

Silicon Valley used to get all the fame for being the hotbed of entrepreneurial activity. It’s got the big glamorous tech companies and those sprawling campuses. But in recent years New York has earned the title of Silicon Alley for its cluster of successful startups. It has also notably become an epicenter for female-founded companies (Rent the Runway, Glossier, Birchbox.) Research from Dell found that New York was the top city for female entrepreneurs (the Bay Area came in second.)

And now it seems that drive to start businesses is moving just a bit north of the city, to the Catskills specifically. In case you hadn’t heard, the Catskills are back and in a very big way. In addition to a resurgence of boutique hotels (Scribners) and inns, it is also seeing being reborn as a thriving foodie and artisanal retail scene. No more Borsch Belt, this place is full of chic breweries, restaurants, and stores in towns including Kingston, Hudson, Woodstock, Livingston Manor and Westkill. Let’s just say it, the Catskills are the new Brooklyn.

Included in this group of Catskill pioneers are Amna Ali and Jackie Brown, the co-owners and co-designers of Gather Greene, a new event venue and nature retreat located in the Hudson Valley. Ideal for weddings with its sprawling mountain views but also a perfect space for a retreat with your coworkers or friends as it is spread out over 100 acres including woods and open fields and a quiet pond. With  17 modern tiny house cabins and a grand event pavilion unlike anything else in the Hudson Valley, this takes glamping to a whole new level. It is your own personal Scandinavian wonderland but instead of a long flight, it is just a quick two-hour train ride from the city.

So who are the women behind this architectural gem? Well, not architects actually. The two met while pursuing their graduate studies in interior design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. They quickly bonded over design interests and work styles and the desire to make a career change. Ali’s background was in art and finance while Jackie’s was in art and education. During their time at Pratt, they worked out of the same studio, often problem-solving together late into the night.

It was while they were in a furniture design intensive in Copenhagen, that both women became enamored with Scandinavian design, which influenced much of the inspiration for Gather Greene. After earning their degrees they both worked in exhibition design with institutions including the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the American Museum of Natural History. But the idea for something that was their own continued to come up and eventually they established their own design studio.

They worked together on several commercial projects, but Gather Greene would be the biggest and greatest one.  They searched high and low through the Hudson Valley and in February 2016, they finally found what would become Gather Greene, situated between the Berkshire Mountains and the Catskill Mountains. After working night and day for two years (both women relocated to Hudson) Gather Greene will be opening this month to the public.

Ladders spoke with them about the evolution of this project as well as the entrepreneurial Catskills.

Why a space like this

We felt there was an opportunity to fill a niche in the retreat and special event venue market, as well as create a space where we could allow our design dreams to flourish. A big part of our goal with Gather Greene was to create a space that allows guests to relax in one place with their family and friends for a full weekend, with less running around, and more quality time spent together. We also love the Hudson Valley and found this amazing property, so here we are!

That we have very genuinely poured our hearts and all of our energy into this project. It has truly been a creative dream for us and we hope people feel that when they come here.

The ideal work retreat

We’ve approached the design of Gather Greene with the idea that we are trying to create spaces that encourage people to be together in new ways and that also allow room for creativity and inspiration. Our pavilion does a great job of blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor which makes a novel backdrop for a variety of activities and events. We also have indoor rooms that we have designed for meetings and presentations, workshops or break-out sessions.

Another of our favorite spots on the property is our shale quarry. The story we’ve heard is that the town had come in about 40 years ago and blasted out the quarry for the shale -which they use for the roads. They actually ended up blasting a bit too deep -and that’s why we have our lovely little shale pond! It’s a really magical oasis that is completely surrounded by woods -we love to have bonfires back there!

 The challenges of launching a space like this

At many times we have felt that we did choose a nightmare! Building from ground up and putting in all of the infrastructure has truly been a rollercoaster ride, and there have been moments of extreme frustration and doubt as well as moments that have felt immensely rewarding.

We have many many ideas for the future and how we want to expand, but in the next two years we hope to host meaningful and inspiring events, retreats, and workshops!

On why so many female entrepreneurs are flocking to the Catskills

We had never expected to find what we’ve found out here! We have met an unbelievable number of women up here who have started or are starting their own businesses. It’s actually been one of the greatest and most welcome surprises.  There is this wonderful, supportive community up here – it’s really genuine and we feel so lucky to be a part of it.

Meredith Lepore|is the Deputy Editor of Ladders and can be reached at mlepore@theladders.com.