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Origin Story: Jessica Rivelli talks founding Working Women of Tampa Bay [Audio]

Megan Holmes

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Click the arrow above to listen to Jessica Rivelli’s longform conversation with Joe Hamilton on the origins of Working Women Tampa Bay. 

Today, Working Women of Tampa Bay is the largest women’s networking group in Tampa Bay. It hosts hundreds of events each year (20+ events on average each month), and has reached 10,000-20,000 women over the last decade. But every business starts somewhere. Working Women of Tampa Bay started from a need of its founder, Jessica Rivelli.

Ten years ago, Rivelli was a local television news producer, watching the broadcast journalism industry change as social media moved to the mainstream. “I saw the writing on the wall,” she explained. “Even though journalism was a fantastic profession, I saw that it was being watered down. So my job as a news producer – creating basically the nightly news locally – was not going to be long term for me.”

In the midst of the Great Recession, in her mid-to-late 20s, Rivelli readied herself for a pivot. She started networking, looking for the next opportunity. She went on what she calls the “Goldilocks Adventure,” trying out different organizations around Tampa Bay to see what might be a good fit. She tried local Chamber of Commerce meetings, philanthropy events and more. But nothing clicked. Some groups were too exclusive, some too pricey, some met only in the morning or only at lunch. Nothing was felt just right.

Rivelli got the idea to start her own group, to hold her own events at times that worked better for someone in her position. She held her first networking event at Casa Tina, a women-owned restaurant in Dunedin. It completely sold out. Quickly, networking to find a career became the career itself. After 16 months of side hustling, she quit broadcast journalism and moved over to Working Women of Tampa Bay full-time. With the proverbial sky falling on the economy, Rivelli was jumping into entrepreneurship and inviting women all over Tampa Bay to network, regardless of location, profession or tenure.

The core premise was simple: inclusive, affordable and accessible networking events held specifically for women. Rivelli sought to fill the same needs she had had during her own networking search for other working women. That meant offering affordable memberships (they started at just $50 for six months) and opening events to the public. It also meant hosting events at all different times of day in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Sarasota counties.

Ten years later, Rivelli shares her story with Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton, and goes deep on the growth of Working Women and the changes she sees in her members from year one to year 10. She shares the challenges of being a founder and the three big lessons learned during her first 10 years of business ownership:

  1. Hire out critical jobs early on. Find a good accountant, small business attorney and marketing person. That brain power is essential.
  2. Be okay with the cyclical nature of business, but don’t be a victim of it. There will be natural highs and lows, but learn to bring in new business while executing on current business to avoid loss of revenue or productivity.
  3. Follow up. Whether that means answering emails or phones, or reaching out to ripe business opportunities, don’t leave money on the table, and hire accordingly.

Hear more from Rivelli about the past and future of Working Women of Tampa Bay by clicking the arrow above to listen to the full longform conversation. 

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