FOUNDER OF WORKING WOMEN OF TAMPA BAY
In her twenties, Jessica Rivelli experienced what she calls a “quarter-life crisis.” After working in television news production since the age of nineteen, and studying journalism at Elon University, Jessica was in search of a change of pace, and a way to make a difference in the world around her. She spent 2008 networking, exploring BNI groups, philanthropy events, chamber of commerce meetings, and more, but found nothing quite fit for a young woman Entrepreneur like herself.
“I call it the Goldilocks Syndrome,” Jessica says. “I tested all these things that didn’t quite fit.” Jessica found herself wondering what she wanted from a networking group, and if she could fill that gap. She drew on her experience in television production, recalling engagement tactics and events that she saw success with.
“I want to show up to an event for an hour. I want it to be casual. I want it to be fun. And then I want to leave with a little goody bag. This is what my priorities were in my twenties,” she tells The Pioneer. Never one to wait for what she wants, Jessica decided to organize a networking event tailored to her vision. In November of 2008, she hosted the first meeting of Working Women of Tampa Bay at Casa Tina, a local woman owned restaurant. Six months later, she had a networking foundation on her hands. Jessica credits the rapid growth of Working Women of Tampa Bay to a “perfect storm” of economic and technological change. In 2008, social media was just reaching the mainstream, and Jessica took advantage of the free marketing these platforms provided.
That is the true mission of Working Women of Tampa Bay, to educate, inspire, and motivate women Entrepreneurs. By connecting women from a variety of fields, at different levels of experience, each with their own expertise and skills, Jessica has created a coalition for women to share knowledge and build each other up as professionals. Before Working Women of Tampa Bay, one may have heard of a group of professionals networking and trading skills and pictured a smoky room, men in suits with glasses of brandy and leather briefcases. Working Women of Tampa Bay took this tried and true boy’s club model and adapted it for the modern woman.
“I think Entrepreneurship is the key for women to continue to progress as a gender, because Entrepreneurship allows you, what I feel is, total autonomy over your own success,” says Jessica. “In order for us as women to break the cycle of poverty and break, if you want to say patriarchal inclinations…Entrepreneurship is a great way to do that, because you are literally in the driver’s seat of your own success.”
This has proven true for many of the thousands of women Entrepreneurs Jessica has encountered in her decade running Working Women of Tampa Bay, and it may lead one to wonder: why aren’t more women exploring Entrepreneurship? This is a question Jessica, and Working Women of Tampa Bay, are looking to answer in the coming years. “Our next steps are identifying the barriers that women have from starting companies, and also identifying the barriers to why they don’t take it to the next level.” Jessica believes she has found some key culprits in women’s hesitancy to step into the world of self-employment and business ownership.
“It comes down to affordability, and it comes down to a support system and resources,” she says. Working Women of Tampa Bay has always valued affordability, with the high cost of membership for other networking clubs being part of Jessica’s motivation to start her own. They provide classes on what Jessica calls “hard-skills and soft-skills,” technical elements of running a business as well as leadership and personability skills. They offer networking opportunities several times a month, both for members and non-members, including virtual events. Working Women of Tampa Bay has also begun a partnership with First Home Bank, to provide financial education as well as small business loans to businesswomen.
Their non-profit Working Women’s Foundation also provides grants to women just starting out. Most of all, being a part of Working Women of Tampa Bay provides members with a support system, a network of women invested in helping each other succeed. As Jessica herself has said, in so many words, Working Women of Tampa Bay could not exist without the working women who participate in it. Every Entrepreneur needs a support system and Working Women of Tampa Bay provides one of the strongest and fastest growing this city has to offer.
In addition, the recent economic recession left many women, previously employed in the professional world or working in the home, looking to break into the world of Entrepreneurism. “You had this economic need, you had this free marketing that came from social [media],” Jessica reflects. “And then you had a new way of networking. Our way of networking was just fun. Affordable, super affordable which has been a tenant of ours from the very beginning, and at night.”
The perfect combination for a new kind of network, built for the new kind of businesswoman. While Working Women of Tampa Bay grew faster than Jessica ever expected, she found support in her new network as well. “I am a benefiter of Working Women’s education and support system,” she says. “I am the product of my own business.” Jessica describes how Working Women of Tampa Bay took off “like a dog sled” and it was through “so many women who surrounded it with love and nurtured it” that she was able to grow the network. “What’s so beautiful about Working Women is that you’ve got so many women at those different levels, and they can all help each other.”
Jessica says, describing it as, “A beautiful ecosystem of all these different kinds of women at all different phases in their career or their business.” “There are different, amazing women in our community, and by connecting one-on-one, I’ve been able to see what they do really well and emulate that.” Jessica says. Through growing Working Women of Tampa Bay, attending the expert-taught classes they offer and engaging with members, Jessica estimates she’s spent over a thousand hours learning about the very skills that helped her to grow her network over the past decade. “I am grateful for Working Women, because I am a better Entrepreneur because of it