By Alison Roe Levy
Last week C.E.O. Martha’s Vineyard held a cocktail-hour meetup and open house for women entrepreneurs at the new Kelley House Art Gallery in Edgartown. The recently formed organization, which grew out of the Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Network, is a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources, education, and opportunities for networking and collaboration for business women on the Island, as well as encouraging entrepreneurship in youth. The Kelley House Gallery, which hosted the event, is a digital art gallery in the lobby of the Kelley House that opened in August.
C.E.O. stands for “creative entrepreneurship with opportunities.” The newly formed organization welcomes new members, and seeks to offer both immediate opportunities for collaboration, networking, and skills building, as well as engagement in more long-term plans for a meaningful contribution to the Martha’s Vineyard community and its economic development.
The first hour of the event was a meet and greet opportunity, with wine and cheese, where a range of entrepreneurs, consultants, and business people who work in banking, marketing, retail, food, farming, publishing, real estate, and even beauty mingled about. There were women who offer services in business planning and financing, as well as people who offer skin care, calligraphy, and personal dress and presentation — in short, something for everyone. The mood was welcoming and enthusiastic. A buzz of animated conversation punctuated by laughter rang throughout the high-ceilinged room.
After guests had ample time to socialize and chat, CEO and president India Rose spoke to the gathered crowd. “We are an Island of entrepreneurs. We need energy and leadership, and we also need collaboration and unity,” she said. Ms. Rose was inspired to establish the organization based on her own positive experiences of women and men working together and helping one another.
Speaking aloud about the struggle many women experience, she said that when people ask her, “How do you do it all?” she laughs. “Balance is a myth.” The idea that it’s easy to manage the conflicting demands of marriage, family, work, and self-care is not always acknowledged, Rose explained. “But we do what we have to. We make it work. The only thing you give up is sleep.”
The new organization has a dual tax status for different aspects of its operations, allowing for great versatility. The network is a 501(c)(6) for its network, and a 501(c)(3) for its philanthropic activities. It is currently planning a summer youth program for ages 9 to 12, which will offer scholarships to help young people learn entrepreneurial skills. C.E.O hosted its first youth initiative in August with a one-day lemonade stand program across the Island for elementary school-age children.
Contributions to C.E.O. are tax-deductible, and membership will give participants access to member-only partner events — and introductions to collaborations to help meet both personal and professional goals.
Board member C.J. Rivard noted that there would be many upcoming ways for women to engage via C.E.O., from monthly meetings at the Kelley House, which will regularly host their networking events, as well as the possibility of brown bag lunches, or “even getting together before work for am coffee — whatever works!” The group plans industry-specific events: Writers can meet amongst themselves, and so can the photographers. There was also a discussion of the potential of co-working spaces here, such as those happening elsewhere throughout the U.S.
Members with other kinds of expertise can help with website development, business plans, even learning how to effectively network. “Not everyone knows how to make networking work for them,” Ms. Rose noted. “We want to be proactive and create opportunities for collaboration.”
“My goal,” said member Judy Soules, “is for no one in our network to go out of business. If you want to retire, fine! If you want to sell your business, great. But we want to offer the kind of support where no one has to go under through lack of the right kind of business advice.”
“We are interested in startups, and also in ways to go to the next level with successful businesses which have existed for five or so years,” Ms. Rose said.
Community members are invited to join this dynamic community, which seeks to “lift each other up in a forward-thinking and compassionate environment.”