By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – Six years ago, when Bridget O’Connor left a job to start a consulting business that grew into O’Connor Connective, she found out there was a lot she didn’t know.
“There are so many things you learn in the beginning that you have no idea of,” she said.
How do you build a business plan, develop a strategic plan? Where do you go for marketing, accounting, legal advice, human resources? How do you learn about payroll?
They’re questions any first-time business owner would have, but O’Connor’s area of focus is women in business.
She sees a need for a one-stop place to support them.
“We have wonderful resources throughout the community, but what I’ve learned in conversations with the over 70 women business owners here in De Pere is that they learn it on their own and ask each other where and how to go for help,” she said.
It led O’Connor to her second business, The Connective, 320 Main Ave., next door to Luna Cafe.
The Connective combines office space with collaborative and programming space.
Half of the 2,400-square-foot first floor comprises five private offices.
Communal space for teamwork and programs make up the other half.
Those in the private offices can take advantage of shared services such as free Wi-Fi, conference room, kitchenette and collaboration with the other women business leaders, as well as full access to the classroom, networking and programming in the other suite, said O’Connor.
But The Connective isn’t just any old office space filled with random contractors and people hanging out their shingles.
The five businesses that will eventually inhabit the offices will complement each other and participate in giving back to the community in the form of classes, lectures, workshops and mentoring.
“It’s a space for women in business to work, learn and collaborate,” O’Connor said. “It’s a combination of both space and place for work – meaning shared and collaborative coworking and private office space, and space for what I would call professional service providers, coaches and consultants that help serve a community of women and small family businesses.”
The Connective is geared toward women who are owners of a family business or part of the family structure, or who wish to advance as senior executives within an organization, O’Connor said.
“We’ll have some very targeted programming to help advance both of those,” she said.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation reports that women-owned businesses account for almost 40 percent of the businesses in 27 Wisconsin Main Street communities surveyed.
Wisconsin Main Street found in its 2016 Storefront Business Ownership Survey that in those 27 downtown districts, women-owned operations compose 35.4 percent of all storefront businesses.
“We’re here, in numbers, and we’re interested in supporting one another and helping one another grow,” O’Connor said. “This can be a central home for women seeking information, mentorship and programming from throughout the New North.”
O’Connor, a Minnesota native, is a graduate of St. Norbert College and formerly held a vice presidential position there.
Those interested in being a part of The Connective should apply for a spot at oconnorconnective.com.
O’Connor indicated she’s interested in those offering legal, human resources and information technology and other services that might help small and family businesses grow.
O’Connor hasn’t forgotten launching one’s own business is not easy.
“I know how scary that is and what a risk that can be,” she said. “And if we can offer an opportunity to be able to help others, either because they have already taken the risk and now want to take it to the next level, or they want to advance the organization they’re in by being among others, we want to be a resource and a conduit of bringing them together to make that happen right here in De Pere.”