Cate Luzio spent two decades as a corporate banker—in 2018, she pivoted. With the goal of supporting women in their career journeys, Cate founded Luminary, a NYC-based professional education and networking platform. Emily chats with Cate about her experience self-funding Luminary and how the community-centered business weathered the pandemic. Then, Luminary member and fellowship winner Gwen Beloti speaks to the close-knit community’s benefits. Listen in to learn how you can expand your business and network.
Other resources featuring Cate:
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Typically, I share a story featuring conversations with a business owner as well as someone who wrote them a Yelp review. This week, we’re doing things a little differently. We’re featuring Luminary, a global networking and professional development community for women—I spoke with Luminary’s founder, Cate Luzio, and one of Luminary’s members, small business owner Gwen Beloti, about what makes the community special. Gwen created and now runs her own brand, Gwen Beloti Jewelry. There are lots of membership-based professional communities and even more coworking spaces out there, so let’s find out why Gwen chose Luminary, and how the company has grown to more than 3,000 members and 60 corporate partners. Here’s the episode!
This entire community started as a self-funded venture by former finance executive Cate Luzio in late 2018. Her mission was, and remains, to uplift women across sectors to support and propel them to the next phase of their careers.
CATE: I was a banker for almost 20 years, and one of the things that I noticed was every company that I worked for – and certainly lots of my clients – all had women’s groups. And those are very necessary, but coming together as women, if you’re doing it only in that isolated kind of only my company, or it’s only a certain group.
I really wanted to take this unique approach about bringing all kinds of women, as well as men, together. Where it didn’t matter what kind of journey you were on, it didn’t matter if you were a banker or it didn’t matter if you were in marketing. It didn’t matter if you were in transition or starting a company or building a company.
What mattered was bringing convening women and male allies together. But through the lens of content and community and connection. And so for me, this is back in 2018, it was, I live in New York. I wanna create something where people are actually coming together, whether that was for an event or to participate in a workshop.
To take a meeting with a coworker or to sit down and talk with an investor or a customer or have a popup. That was the inspiration behind the space and the physicality of that. And so when we launched, we started with 15,000 square feet in the middle of New York City in the Nomad neighborhood. All, all around bringing people together through that lens, again, of content, community, and connection.
And that’s really where we started. That first year, 2019, which was our first real year in business, we held over 200 in person events, workshops, programs, book clubs, dinners, to again, rally around our mission of advancing women in the workforce regardless of professional journey and while not excluding our men allies.
EMILY: Yelp launched its Luminary x Yelp for Business fellowship this fall to provide 15 female entrepreneurs with a suite of resources to support them, including a Luminary membership. A similar fellowship was Gwen’s first touchpoint into the community.
GWEN: I learned about Luminary via an Instagram post about a fellowship opportunity sponsored by Verizon. And this was the latter part of 2020. That first crazy year of the pandemic when everyone was looking for community and ways to network. So I definitely jumped on the opportunity to apply to be a part.
So I was super excited to get the ‘congratulations you’re in’ email, as you might imagine, and everything was virtual, right? Because this is when everything was super crazy. I think it was in December that I applied and we were notified at the end of…the end of this December, or probably the beginning of January. And we had an onboarding session and Cate led it and it was just beautiful. There were so many women on the call and you could just see how eager people were to build community and people were looking for reasons to network because we were all still home at the time.
So super excited just to connect with the new space, even though it was virtual and new women and other women who were entrepreneurs like myself, and that can be a really lonely journey. So I was super excited and grateful for the opportunity.
EMILY: Luminary’s goal is to provide a sort of relief to that difficult journey—Gwen has found that their model of surrounding businesswomen with businesswomen breeds a different kind of supportive environment for entrepreneurship.
GWEN: The community feels real. And I feel like it’s not just a space. The space is beautiful, but it’s more than that. And the community is real. And I feel like all of the conversation, all of the events they really lead with or come from a place of authenticity and they’re really transparent. And I think a lot of that stems from how Cate communicates with people and you know, obviously her leadership probably follows suit and thereafter the community does as well, which is great because especially during the pandemic and even now, like you’re looking for, community, you’re also looking for advice. You’re looking for people who have a similar experience and we don’t wanna hear just about all the beautiful and happy-go-lucky things, right?
Those things are great, but I wanna connect with someone who has similar challenges and who has similar struggles and who is willing to share and I can share. And I think that builds even more opportunity for a true, real community.
And as a part of the fellowship, you had the opportunity to actually visit the space pretty much whenever you wanted to. That was awesome, right? It was a way to get out of the house initially, like everyone was wearing masks and stuff like that. I appreciate how cautious they were and respectful of everyone’s health and whatnot. But it was just nice to have a space to go to outside of the four walls of your room or your home or wherever you typically work.
And now everything is open. And I love the events that they host at Luminary. They bring in so many amazing leaders and experts, and you’re actually sitting in front of them. It feels like family, right? Like everyone gets to know you. They know your names. It feels like a family.
I was really looking for ways and opportunities to grow my business and to grow my network, and in all honesty, like I know for a fact my business would not be where it is today had it not been for my involvement with Luminary, and it exceeded my expectations a thousand times over.
EMILY: Gwen gravitated towards that sense of community that Cate was fostering in Luminary, and that community is one of many things that set it apart from a traditional co-working space.
CATE: We love to say that we’re not a true co-working space. We’re not that traditional co-working space. And by the way, literally in New York next door is a traditional co-working space. And when someone has those needs – they need a private office, a big private office, whatever that is, we’ll actually recommend them, because we wanna make sure we’re doing the right thing by anyone that walks into our space. But because we have a physical space and because especially in 2018, 2019, you had an incredible amount of spaces popping up – in particular for women.
And we’ll talk about our partner network later, but it was all again, around making sure that when someone walked in our doors, they not only had a space to come to, to work to get shit done to meet with others, to connect with others, but also to invest in their skills. And so whether that was listening and sitting and coming to a panel session or doing a workshop or just hearing from some of our incredible speakers or partners. That’s the ethos around what we’re trying to do.
So you’re always thinking about – how do I advance my career? How do I build my brand or my business? How do I connect with others in a real community and how do I continue to develop? And develop means everything from your mental health to wellness, to financial confidence. We tend to forget that we’re humans – and Luminary, was really designed to support humans in a very holistic way.
EMILY: Running an events-based, people-centric business during the pandemic is no easy feat—but for Luminary, it catalyzed different opportunities for the community. In particular, it promoted a pivot to online communication and digital relationships that, in the end, made them stronger.
CATE: It all goes back to this again, content, community and connection. And so when New York was, everyone was saying we were gonna be in lockdown. And if you remember, it was two weeks, right? We all had that famous two weeks in our mind. But what I knew was we had built, even for the next two to three weeks, we had all of this great programming for our members.
So I said, listen, we gotta go online – even if it’s for a couple of weeks, because we don’t wanna cancel things. It was also Women’s History Month, right? And so we literally, one night at like 11:00 PM I called in one of our interns and said, I need a Zoom account. Do you know how this works?
We got a Zoom account thinking we’ll try this out. And our first event was actually in partnership with one of our corporate members, UBS. And it was, ‘Don’t touch your face, don’t touch your 401k.’ Because everyone was worried, right? We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know what was happening with the money. We didn’t know if all of a sudden we were gonna head into a recession. We didn’t know. Right? And we didn’t know anything around everything happening with COVID. So it was amazing. And what I realized very quickly in the first couple of weeks, as hard as it was – people didn’t come to Luminary just for the physical space. They came for the community and the content and the connections, right? And so we really doubled down and said, well, however long this lasts, we are building an online platform and community.
And so that accelerated us into thousands and thousands of members in th more than 30 countries and it really helped us all as well with our corporate members, because imagine you’re working at JP Morgan Chase. Prior to the pandemic, you had to have access to New York. You had to be in New York to come to an event. Pandemic strikes. Now I could be in Columbus, or I could be in Chicago, or London, and I now still have access to all of this programming and community. So that really is where we’ve focused our efforts without losing the in-person and then without, you know, jeopardizing what we’re doing online.
It is definitely a balance, but if you’ve built a community, you’ve gotta nurture it over and over and over, and really make sure that you’re not only taking feedback, that you’re getting recommendations and that you’re really investing in the people in the community. And I feel like that’s what we’ve done and why really, why we’re still here.
EMILY: But Cate felt that the in-person component of Luminary would never truly go away. She continued to devote herself to developing her network, waiting patiently for the day that her members and partners could finally get together again in-person.
CATE: I think it’s really tough to be a founder, especially with what the media does. You know, ‘when are you expanding, when are you scaling? What’s next? What’s next?’ Listen, I’m running my own race and for those business owners and founders out there, especially those of you that haven’t raised or have struggled to raise, run your own race, right? This isn’t about everyone else, and I know it’s hard, and believe me as a founder, I get caught up in it too.
Like, Oh my God, I have to do this. I have to do that. One of the things was expansion, and so from the very beginning of launching our New York space, it was, if I open up another one, it will be when I’m ready. I wanna be a profitable, sustainable business first, and I wanna have a real community. What we started to do before, way before the pandemic was, reach out to all these other women that were starting spaces and Minneapolis and San Francisco in, you know, Virginia saying, ‘Hey, listen, what are you guys doing? We’d love to partner with you.’ Because if we have members coming – and this is when we were physical, right? We didn’t have online yet. If I’ve got New Yorkers come into Minneapolis or Kansas City or Houston, I’d love for them to be able to access your space and vice versa. Right? Then they have a home away from home and they’re part of this women’s partner network. Well, that grew to about a dozen spaces right before the pandemic hit and then. Boom. Right. A lot of people didn’t wanna create digital, they just wanted physical. And so depending on the city, depending on their lease, et cetera, we actually lost about five of those.
However, on the positive, we’ve now grown that to more than 17 partner spaces around the country and now internationally. And really for us, it’s about members in our community, whether they’re based in that local city like Houston or Atlanta. Or Senegal, they have access to that space a certain time, a couple times a month.
And for many, many people, because behaviors have changed, that’s really all they need. So building this partner network. With physical means, number one, I don’t have to do it on my own everywhere. Two, all of these other incredible women founders, because most of them are women, have an opportunity to develop a real business tool in their local city.
And then figuring ways to support each other. That for me is all have been since the very beginning of Luminary – collaboration over competition. There is a big pie. One should not get all of it. We should all be able to get a piece.
EMILY: As the pandemic proved, business goals do not always run according to plan. Cate learned to be adaptable—and forgiving—by redefining her measures of success as she was getting Luminary off the ground.
CATE: Yeah, and I’ll give you one anecdotal example. So, Indeed is one of our corporate partners and I remember listening to Chris Hyams, who’s the CEO, pretty early on in the pandemic. And one of the things he did was high touch, low tech. People want high touch, particularly throughout the pandemic, and we’re not out of it yet. They were isolated. They wanted to feel like they were part of something. And I think regardless of in real life or online, that’s still what people wanna feel like. So this high touch, low tech is so important. The other thing that I would say, And I say this to every, you know, person that’s hosting an event, facilitating an event – I don’t care if there are five people or 500 people at an event, I want impact. And so if those five people or those 500 walk away with impact, they walk away with advice and calls to action, they walk away with connection, we’ve had a successful event and people also get bogged down with, well, I gotta have hundreds of people at this event for it to be a success. When reality, what you really want is engagement. You want people really walking away with value and impact. And so as we look at our KPIs, it’s less about, yes, we want as many people to attend our programs and workshops and events as possible. The eyeballs in my mind are less important. It’s what are those eyeballs that are on there walking away with?
Are they just multitasking? Are they just doing it or are they actually really engaged? And so that’s really for us, how we think about success and impact and more importantly, just continuing to build that community.
EMILY: In addition to the sprawling Luminary network, Cate has also created a rooftop bar and restaurant in the heart of NoMad—cleverly dubbed the Glass Ceiling, the space is open to the public.
Cate: When I took over the space – I have a great landlord and I said, wait, this is an empty rooftop looking at the Empire State Building in the heart of Nomad. What are we doing here? We should actually create something. And so through craziness, we decided to build a full rooftop bar and restaurant called The Glass Ceiling, obviously goes very well hand in hand with what Luminary’s mission is and breaking those glass ceilings. It is for our members during the day. So our members have exclusive access to that. And then at night it turns into a bar and restaurant and some people will say, ‘Well, why didn’t they just keep it private’ and to be perfectly honest, this was all before the pandemic, right? We finished the glass ceilings construction in February of 2020.
Then everything shuts down, right? Not a great time to be thinking about opening up a bar and restaurant. And so what we also said was here in New York, especially for women, you had the she, Sasha, you had women losing jobs. There was, let’s actually create a space that women as, again, not just women, all genders are welcome and to the public.
And so our members have access, the public has access, our corporate members like Yelp will have access. And it’s a great place not only to host an event and come together, but it’s just a great place, a safe space, in a very welcoming environment. Just like Luminary to be around the kind of people that are saying, I wanna get stuff done and I wanna support others that do too.
EMILY: In the midst of plenty of uncertainty, Cate credits her partners for the success of her first venture into the hospitality industry.
CATE: I think any entrepreneur has to take a ton of risks, right? I self-funded Luminary when we started, and the same with the Glass Ceiling. And so really believing in what we were building. I have a phenomenal partner in my landlord. He has worked hand in hand with me on the glass ceiling. And his background amongst other things, he comes from extensive experience in F&B, so he owns and runs hotels and other restaurants, and so working with him, we found a phenomenal operator that could come in and run the day to day of the bar and restaurant and events. And so I have an amazing woman GM. I have an amazing woman head of events, and really just an incredible staff that runs the glass ceiling day to day where I don’t have to be in it all the time.
I will tell you though, it is not for the faint of heart. Finishing the construction and being ready to open in February of 2020 and then having to delay that until May of 2021, right? Over a year was stressful, but it was the right thing to do. And now it’s really about bringing this amazing space to the Nomad and New York community that’s not just another rooftop that really has a mission behind it.
EMILY: All entrepreneurs must, at some point in their journey, establish who they are in the context of their brand. For Cate, the answer was simple: be who your customers need you to be, and make sure no one is left out.
CATE: First and foremost, it’s thinking of yourself as the customer.. I think so many brands, no matter how big, small or large they get, they forget that at the end of the day, they’re there because of a customer.
I learned that in my first job in banking over every doorway in the entire campus, in every campus we had there was ‘think of yourself as a customer.’ And that really stuck with me because again, you’re for them. And so what does that mean? That means listening, providing forums for them to provide feedback and recommendations and referrals. And the team has to buy into that. Right? And we really have to practice what we preach and walk the talk. It starts with me. But then it’s everyone else on the team and then being given that opportunity, right? So we give members in the community the opportunity. I do the same. We have to do the same for the team.
So anybody that walks in and becomes part of our staff, they’re not just staff members, they’re part of the community equally as everyone else. And I think, again, it all starts with authenticity, that organic nature of building connection and doing that through our community. People that wanna be part of the community, they’re there. That’s why we have no application process. We never have. We never will, because a community doesn’t put up barriers, it breaks them down. And an application is just one way to put up a barrier for lots of women in particular women of color. And so we said we’re not gonna do that. When you walk in our physical doors or you join a Zoom, you get that immediately – this is a level playing field. Yes, we’re here to get shit done and all of us to be successful in whatever definition that is for you. But we’re also here to do it for each other. And I think that is why for me, we live and breathe that every single day.
EMILY: With Luminary’s support, business owners have open doors and connections to pursue; it’s up to each member how much they want to engage in programming and networking.
GWEN: I feel like that’s the responsibility of the individual because If you don’t make an effort, you’re not gonna connect with the community. So I made it my business to show up even when they were virtual, I was attending the live events online, and when they opened up in person, I was going to some of the events there. So you have to kind of show up yourself if you wanna really be a part of the network and take advantage of some of those benefits that come out of that. So I would definitely say, the connections, Cate is really big on connecting people.
There’s countless times where she would send me an email and say, Hey, connect with this person because you guys might align for X, Y, and z uh, reasons. And other people at the space will do that as well. I participated in a popup at Luminary and someone recommended me because they thought my brand would be a good fit with the brand that was presenting at that particular event.
So connections are huge. There’s so much to be said about people knowing your name because when they know your name, they’ll speak your name, right? So when opportunities arise, you might be top of mind. And I think Luminary prioritizes that. Like really getting to know the community, and using that as a basis to connect different members in the community for different reasons.
EMILY: One important piece of that member-focused mentality is feedback: listening to customers can sometimes be difficult for business owners, even if the majority of their reviews are 5 stars. After all, criticism isn’t something that’s easy to hear and respond to in a productive way—but instead of fearing feedback, Cate has a different perspective that’s been bolstered by her corporate background.
CATE: I think being in corporate America for 20 something years before I started Luminary certainly has a lot to do with it for me. For the majority of my career, I’ve been in client facing, customer facing roles, right? So you have to listen. That’s first of all, that’s the only way your product or your service gets better. Second, it’s the only way you have customers, right? Because if you don’t listen, if it’s only about the profit, it’s only about you, then forget about it. I think also it’s not just about the feedback and the negative reviews, it’s also about the positive. What are you doing well? Really think about it for anybody that’s ever had a boss. When you go to your midyear, your year end review, what do you focus on? The negatives. It’s like, Oh, I gotta work on this. I choose that. Yes, you absolutely must focus on those development opportunities, but what about playing to your strengths? And so as you’re listening to customers, right, whether it’s you know, hey, you didn’t do this. Or, hey, you’ve done this really well, take both, right? It’s a balance. And by the way, you cannot put it just on you.
You have to work through that as a team and make sure everyone is aware of that. But listen, you’re only as good as your customers, right? And so if you’re not putting out a great product or service, I wanna know. You should want to know because that’s how we get better and that’s how we survive.
EMILY: For many members, Cate’s presence and mentality is what drives the Luminary environment. She exists on more than a leadership level—she shows up in person, engaging her members and forging connections. Gwen has been impressed, in particular, with that personal aspect of the community.
GWEN: I feel like her energy sets the tone. And her team, I mean, they’re amazing and I’ve gotten to know them over these last couple of years and you’re greeted with a smile when you enter the space. They send out regular newsletters to keep you up to date with the events and the program, and that’s gone on and that’s super helpful. They’re the ones that are reaching out to say, Hey, we have this opportunity going on. I know they make it a priority to get to know the members.
There are probably lots and lots of women that go in and out of Luminary every day, but you know, they wanna reference you by name. If you need something you can ask. So it’s a really welcoming experience and one that’s not just like welcoming is great, right? But we’re for a purpose, right? And maybe that’s networking, maybe that’s growing your business via connections. And I think they take that, okay, you’re welcome into the space a step further to say, ‘how can we help you accomplish your goals?’ Right? So you have that added perk or, just great feeling of – it’s not a community for the sake of being a community. It’s the community to help me achieve the things that I wanna achieve. And you know, Cate says it all the time that Luminary wouldn’t be what it is without her leadership team and I do agree because they’re all really great and that trickles down and even down to the members.
I would say, and it speaks to a little bit of what I said earlier, I love Luminary. I love Cate’s leadership. I think she really sets the tone for all of this. And she did not tell me to say this. I just really think she’s great. And when you talk to the members, they’re like, Oh yeah, Cate. And then she talks about them too. I don’t know how the woman has the bandwidth. But she means so much to so many people. But she has that amazing team. But I would really say, you know, as an entrepreneur, anyone looking for a community and networking, you have to put in the work too, right? So when we had that initial onboarding call, like some people showed up, I don’t know how many, I think most of the people continued.
But you know, I decided to show up. I said, hey, I see the value. So I know I also have to put in work and I think that that makes a really big difference. And I feel like that’s why I have such a connection with the community because I decided to show up and get the most value out of it.
EMILY: With so many people and responsibilities demanding her attention, it takes intentionality to balance it all. Protecting your time and establishing that work-life balance is integral to feeling fulfilled and healthy. Cate’s had her share of work chaos, but she’s created a few ways to maintain equilibrium.
CATE: I still do 80 million things, right? But I think for me, it’s prioritizing my time. My team comes first. And I have a whole, you know, calendar of my team meetings, and those always happen on a Monday and that doesn’t change, right? And so that’s been in place really since I started the business. Obviously with some flexibility when things go on, but getting prioritized around your time management with, especially if you have a team, if you don’t have a team and you’re doing everything on your own. My biggest recommendation is to get a virtual assistant. It has saved me. My team will say the same now that we’re over 20 plus people. Having a virtual assistant, and there are incredible companies. I will plug one – Squared Away – Women owned, military spouses. That has saved my life because just from follow ups to emails, to my time, to my calendar if I didn’t have that, I’d be, I literally would be dead in the water.
I think being very careful now with, you know, when I’m asked to speak. Okay. What is it about? When is it? I can’t do everything. One of the things that I did in corporate America and I’m doing now, I had so many people asking me, can I have 15 minutes of your time? Can I have…?
Nothing is ever 15 minutes. So grouping them together, bringing people, whether it’s online or in person together when they ask for your time. Number one, you get more people in one room. Number two, they get more people, they get other feedback. And so doing that more versus the constant one on one on one. And I spend a lot of time really focused on where we are going next?
I probably need to spend more time on that. But when you’re a solo founder – and we have a great advisory board and to anyone out there that’s listening, it’s hard right? To kind of carve out that space. But I will tell you when I do, that’s the magic. I get very creative. I think about new ideas. And I love it. That’s why I started the business in the first place. I had a spark of an idea that turned into a company eight months later. So give yourself time and you can’t do it all.
EMILY: Cate was a banker for two decades before transitioning to entrepreneurship—to close out, let’s hear what advice Cate has for aspiring entrepreneurs on how to kick start their own business idea and career as a whole.
CATE: Whether you’re a business owner, a founder, however you identify, if you’re thinking about it, here’s what I would say.
Number one, don’t just surround yourself with other founders. They are in the same boat as you. So you can commiserate. It’s great, but you need real advice as well, and mentorship. So tap into your network from another life. Tap into other people that aren’t just all consumed by the founder journey. You need both.
I think the second really. Find a community, right? Obviously, I’m a little biased. Luminary is an incredible community for both women and men, all genders. Because at the heart of what we do is truly building that community that will lift you up and propel you forward. So find that community whether you’re sitting in Tulsa, you’re sitting in Tokyo, or you’re here in New York area, there are so many incredible communities. Luminary is just one. We also believe wholeheartedly in partnerships with other communities because bringing communities together doubles the impact. For me it’s find us online, follow us that we are luminary on our social. Let us know even if you’re not a member, what you’re looking for.
What are the challenges you’re facing in your professional journey, in your personal journey? And let us help.