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Community Voices: 10 years of Working Women of Tampa Bay

Jessica Rivelli

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details. 

Tampa Bay continues to make headlines related to female entrepreneurship. Last year, Business.org ranked our area as the number 1 location in the US for women-owned businesses. A previous study, reported by the St. Pete Catalyst, puts Tampa Bay in the top 20 communities for the number of startups owned by women. The report showed that one out of every four start-ups in Tampa Bay in 2016 was run by a woman. The 1,608 female-owned startups collectively employed 3,653 workers and had gross sales/receipts totaling $150 million to $500 million.

Those are some pretty impressive stats. It’s so wonderful to see our robust women’s business community getting the recognition it deserves for fostering female entrepreneurship Tampa Bay. As the founder of Working Women of Tampa Bay and the Working Women Foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the thriving community bloom over the past 10 years. In 2009 when Working Women first launched, there were very few resources or networks to nurture women start-ups. Now there’s nearly a dozen or more.

What I believe sets Tampa Bay apart from other metro areas in the U.S. is the plentiful opportunities our female entrepreneurs have to connect and collaborate. There’s such a generous and supportive ecosystem of women business owners in our area who take the time to share resources and mentor one another on the path to success.

When you help another rise, we all shine! That’s the cornerstone of Working Women of Tampa Bay’s mission. Networking can often become a one and done activity. You shake someone’s hand and give them a business card. Where does that leave you? With a stack of business cards on your desk. To keep connections alive, they must be nurtured. My hope in starting Working Women of Tampa Bay in 2009 was to cultivate a community of genuine, authentic women wanting to create long-lasting relationships – both personally and professionally. Two thousand events later, we feel like we’re on to something and there are many other networks of women in Tampa Bay who are having great success doing the same thing.

Women crave connection. They want to know they have a tribe who will support them during the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. The Gallup Wellbeing Index showed that 45 percent of entrepreneurs report being stressed. Harvard Business Review reports that half of CEOs reported experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role. First-time solo entrepreneurs shared that feeling even more than other founders. Isolation was cited as one of the biggest challenges faced by business owners.

A supportive network allows us to lead longer, healthier and happier lives. It gives us opportunities to bond with others who share our professional and personal values, and come together as a powerful force for collaboration, change and growth. Having a community to share your goals and dreams with keeps you accountable. It fosters optimism, creativity and success. Whether you call it your virtual board of directors or your “lean-in” circle, it’s critical to surround yourself with people who strive for greatness and will have your back in good times and bad. 

Our 10th anniversary milestone has given me time to reflect on what’s changed in Tampa Bay since 2009. I’m grateful there are so many sister organizations in our area providing the support systems female entrepreneurs need to grow successful businesses. I believe that’s why Tampa Bay is constantly ranked in the top metro areas for women start-ups. We truly have a community of connection and collaboration.

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