While working as a TV news producer for Channel 10, Jessica Rivelli wanted a casual, after-hours women’s networking group in the Tampa Bay area. But she didn’t find any.
“When I couldn’t find it, I chose to start it,” she recalls.
As a result, Working Women of Tampa Bay -- which serves Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties -- was born. Since November 2008, it has grown to 600+ members.
The group caters to entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs and women working in corporations, offering “affordable educational opportunities that just don’t exist elsewhere in Tampa Bay,” she says.
Starting from the Dunedin restaurant Casa Tina’s, it grew to 300 members in one year. A core group of 20 just invited women they knew. In 2010, Rivelli left her broadcast career of some 10 years to lead the group full-time, which fueled more growth.
“I call myself an accidental entrepreneur,” says Rivelli, whose business is her membership organization. “I had not planned to become an entrepreneur.”
Working Women of Tampa Bay has become a virtual tribe of women supporting women, with a calendar of 20 events a month providing educational and professional development. Usually they appeal to both entrepreneurs and corporate workers.
“We do have things specifically for entrepreneurs,” she adds. “Women Entrepreneur Exchange is one of those.”
The Exchange typically meets from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at Frazier & Deeter, 401 E Jackson St, Suite 2425, Tampa. Attendance is limited to 12 and the topic isn’t fixed; pre-registration is required.
The Entrepreneur Exchange a place where solo entrepreneurs, women who are often working alone out of their own homes or in co-working spaces, can connect with women of similar interests.
“Everybody gets their own time [to speak] to be able to bring up their own challenges,” she says.
As a result of the relationships they form, they can put together a mini board of directors, solve business problems and gather much-needed feedback.
What sets Working Women apart is its ability to help women contemplating or starting businesses. “There are a lot of them who are transitioning from corporate America to owning their own business. They need everything from business cards to websites and networking,” she explains. “A lot of them are completely green when they come to Working Women.”
Its Young Women’s Leadership Exchange focuses on young women looking for help with professional development. The group operates similar to Entrepreneur Exchange, gathering women to talk about topics that interest them, like managing your manager and how to look for opportunities within your organization.
Meaningful Mentoring connects experienced business owners and employed women. The group pays for lunch to promote mentoring, allowing women to ask questions pertinent to them.
Working Women, which has an Orlando counterpart, charges a membership fee and offers membership discounts on its paid events, almost all of which are open to the general public. “We want people to come and try us out and see if we’re a good fit for them,” she explains.
The group also offers many resources – including handholding. “They need a support system for when things go good and things go bad,” she continues. “Every small business owner is going to have challenges.”
Ultimately, the group is a “safe space for women to really be themselves,” she says.
“We’ve formed a group of women that are really able to be honest and share what they’re going through with one another,” she says.
Working Women gives back to the community by giving seed money to business owners who need “a little bit of money” to put up a website, expand a shop, purchase marketing materials, or the like, she says. Membership isn’t required; applicants just need to be women in the Tampa Bay area.
“They have to tell us what they’re using it for,” she adds. “We want to make sure it’s something that is a game changer in their business.”