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Creating Connections

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  • | 9:11 a.m. April 22, 2011
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Jessica Rivelli cites a talent for hosting a good party, going back to her high school days in Pasco County. She found a way to parlay those social gatherings into a new career, only now those events are geared toward helping women succeed in business rather than simply socializing.

The 30-year-old former TV news producer launched Working Women of Tampa Bay in June 2009 with only 20 dues-paying members. That number has since grown to more than 500 who attend networking and educational events during evening hours after work.

A broadcast journalism graduate of Elon University in North Carolina, Rivelli says she came up with the idea for Working Women while at WTSP-TV 10 in St. Petersburg, where she spent a lot of time talking to various businesswomen who lamented the lack of connection with others in their shoes.

“I knew there wasn't anything else like it,” she says. “I never figured what the response would be.”

Working Women started out as a small Facebook group in April 2009, then began holding in-person meetings within a few months. The first event, an after-hours networking event for local business owners, drew about 30 people and attendance grew as more events were scheduled.

More than simply happy hour mixers, Working Women events are held most weeknights at various locations throughout the Tampa Bay area. Scheduled events may range from seminars on timely business topics to wine or champagne tastings.

Most of the group's members are business owners, but they also include other independent professionals such as doctors, lawyers or accountants. However, Rivelli emphasizes that women working in any capacity are welcome to join.

“A lot of women get to us when they're in a 9-to-5 (job) but want to go out on their own,” she says. “We want it to be accessible to everyone. It's that come-one-come-all philosophy that keeps us growing.”

She adds that the organization's educational events are designed to create opportunities for members to benefit from others' experiences, learn best practices and “give them information from someone else's trial and error.”

The cost of joining isn't steep — $50 for a half-year membership or $90 for a full year. Rivelli says she wants to keep pricing within reason, charging well below what other local professional organizations ask to join.

The increase in membership and resulting revenue have allowed Rivelli to take on presidential duties for Working Women full time, leaving Channel 10 last year when membership reached a comfortable point. All dues generated in the first year went directly into building the organization, then the group got big enough in the second year so that she could cover her own salary and expenses.

“The group grows with its members,” she says, adding that its territory includes members from Wesley Chapel to Lakewood Ranch. She has a goal of attracting 1,000 members and expanding Working Women into a separate chapter for Central Florida. Long-term, Rivelli says she wants to take the business statewide.

While the Tampa Bay group still relies on volunteers to handle things like marketing and budgeting, Rivelli says she would eventually like to hire full-time staffers. One of the things she says she learned early on was the importance of being financially organized, especially for tax-filing purposes.

“I never realized this was going to become a business,” she says. Now that it has, she says Working Women has a solid place in the economic recovery as more women make the effort to start their own enterprises, build relationships and start strategic sponsorships.

“A lot of women have taken that challenge, and I believe women entrepreneurs are going to shape the new economy,” she says.


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