WHO: Tara Gilvar and Becky Hull
WHAT: B.I.G. – a business support, education and networking organization for women.
WHERE: Bernardsville, New Jersey
HOW: Tara Gilvar’s was a common dilemma. A PR and marketing specialist she left the corporate world when she had kids, but she was determined to maintain a hand in the workforce to keep her skills fresh and make transitioning back in — at some future date — easier. Gilvar did that by picking up some local freelance work in and around her New Jersey town. It wasn’t a satisfying experience. The work paid, but it was blah and unchallenging and wasn’t getting her anywhere. More than that, she felt alone and unconnected. “I knew from talking with other women that they felt the same way – they had great ideas, but not enough confidence to pursue them,” says Gilvar.
Curious to see the outcome, Gilvar sent an e-mail to other moms from her community inviting them to talk about their ideas for businesses and build a support network so they could get off the ground. “42 people showed up in my living room for that first meeting,” says Gilvar – and that was the moment she knew she had stumbled on a big idea. After the meeting, Becky Hull stayed with Gilvar to help draft the business plan that would get B.I.G. off the ground. With experience in business management, Hull provided the perfect partner for Gilvar – the strategic perspective that could foresee any bumps along the way.
“We were surprised at how many women we only knew as the 5th grade classroom parent had been lawyers and COOs, or had Ivy League educations and MBAs,” says Hull. “We asked the women to tell us who they were, who they are, and who they want to be — and then asked what was stopping them from getting there,” Hull says. “Whether it was financial, a divorce, a lack of confidence, or a feeling that they had no value because they were ‘just a mom,’” Gilvar explains, “these women were scared.” But coming together as a group proved beneficial – women who were sales reps turned dog-walkers that dreamed of opening a wedding dress shop met other women who had always loved to write business plans for retail stores. A mother and daughter team that had started clothing business had become stagnant, but a month after attending a meeting, they had a working business and an inventory. “Stories like these one are what we do this for,” says Hull.
The business grew steadily after Hull and Gilvar initially invested $20,000 to build a community-oriented website, as well as legal, accounting, and development fees. Since then, their membership fees (which are less than $20 a month) have sustained them. “We have very low overhead,” says Gilvar. “We don’t have a corporate office and operate mostly from our homes.” Nine months after their launch, B.I.G. now operates in four states — New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York — and twenty communities. With 300 members and new community groups always in development (three groups are set to launch in Illinois, Ohio, and California), the business is poised to go national within the next year, provided that leaders across the country decide to put the time and effort in to launching their own local chapter. The collaborative nature of the company is what allows B.I.G. to be unique, and their website, which allows women with goals and skills to connect, helps people find other who can help small businesses get off the ground.
THEIR ADVICE: “Build yourself a strong and positive support system,” Gilvar says, “one that can give you the encouragement, information and resources you will need to move your business goals forward.”