Tampa Bay’s women-owned business community continues growing alongside the region, and Jessica Rivelli reflects on its precipitous rise and increasing impact with pride.
Over 60 exhibitors, 25 speakers and 400 attendees helped Rivelli celebrate the conference’s 10th anniversary. She credited the area’s lack of female-focused entrepreneurial resources in 2009 for WWTB’s growth.
However, Rivelli said Tampa Bay is now rich with women’s organizations, “and we’re just one of them.”
“We’re almost like the grande dame because we’ve been around for so long,” Rivelli added with a laugh. “We’re kind of at a senior level where we can look at the other organizations, see where they’re coming up and help in any ways that we can.”
She said WWTB hosts 12 monthly networking events. Rivelli explained that Women Mean Business evolved from a traditional conference to more of a business exposition following the pandemic.
Rivellie realized an expo with “a conference on the side” would provide more opportunities for owners to connect with customers and each other. She said the shift better reflects her organization’s foremost priority – increasing exposure.
Many women-led business owners and representatives agreed.
Kristin McKinney Zelinsky, managing partner of Foodie Labs, will soon open St. Petersburg’s first shared commercial kitchen concept at 515 22nd Street S., in the Warehouse Arts District. The facility features eight commercial cook stations, a baking station, an event space and a pop-up café experience.
“It’s 100% exposure,” Zelinsky said of the event’s primary benefit.
She noted that male and female-led companies have recently flourished in St. Pete. However, Zelinsky said, cumbersome bureaucratic processes put a strain on small businesses.
She credited the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce for its “enormous” support in helping clear those hurdles.
The Clearwater-based Hang Ten Creative Agency will celebrate its first anniversary next month. Co-founder Kaylin Ingram said her fellow female entrepreneurs all have a story – “and it’s just so inspiring.”
“We are always looking for the root of, ‘Why do you do what you do?’” Ingram added. “You leave an event like this, and you’re just on fire.”
Not all of the exhibitors at Women Mean Business were there to network or pitch their products. Dr. Rahmi Roy, director of thyroid surgical services for the Clayman Thyroid Center, helped identify cancer.
Roy and her team provided attendees with free, state-of-the-art ultrasound screenings. She started the traveling program about a year ago and found that 12% of women needed a biopsy for further evaluation.
“Half of those needed surgery for thyroid cancer,” Roy said. “And these women had no idea. This is a huge event, and we want to do everything we can for the women in Tampa Bay.
“An evaluation with an ultrasound – you’re talking thousands of dollars. We’re offering it here for free.”
While the expo aspect took center stage at this year’s event, dozens of speakers provided informational and inspirational presentations throughout the day. Those included Dr. Kanika Tomalin, president of the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg; Ronnell Montgomery, vice president of St. Pete Greenhouse; Liz Dimmitt, CEO of Fairgrounds St. Pete; and Valerie Fullbright, senior vice president of community engagement for BayFirst Bank.
In April, local podcaster Katie Krimitsos’ Women’s Meditation Network surpassed 100 million downloads. She reached the rare milestone in under five years, and led a presentation at the Mahaffey on the “Power of Podcasting.”
“It’s so special to gather with other businesswomen here in St. Pete,” Krimitsos said. “We all have something to learn from each other and can help each other grow.”