In 2012 Aria Leighty was a single mom who had just opened her own brick and mortar business. She wondered how other moms managed motherhood and running a business, and she wondered where she could turn for answers to business questions. Resources that focused on business and entrepreneurship didn’t take into account being a parent and parenting groups typically didn’t touch on also running a business. Realizing there was no one place where being a mom and being a business owner were held in equal regard, she founded the MOB NW in 2013 as a Facebook group.
Over the years, the Facebook group grew into the thousands. Some in-person meet ups were held, but it was a challenge to make them sustainable. Although Aria always planned to launch a directory of mom-owned businesses and paid level of her MOB group, the pieces didn’t fall into place until Spring 2016 when she put the MOB NW Board of Directors together. She selected her board of directors from the MOB NW Facebook group, choosing women who represented the heart Aria wanted the MOB NW to have as it grew.
The MOB Alliance, a paid level of the MOB NW group was launched in the spring of 2016 and has since grown to more than 150 members in the Portland Metro, Vancouver, and Eugene areas. The original Facebook group has grown to more than 4,400 members and continues to grow by about 50 members each week.
“We’re growing so fast. Not only the MOB Alliance, but also the original group. I think moms are tired of traditional networking and are looking for ways to connect and network in a way that feels right to them,” says Gwen Montoya, VP of Marketing.
As Eva Kelley, MOB NW Vice President and Creative Director, notes “It's not just about numbers. The quality of relationships and business partnerships has been really amazing to be a part of and witness. I'm blown away by the amount of active and involved moms we have in this community.”
One of the unique aspects of the MOB Alliance is its inclusive membership benefits and accepting “MOB Culture”. The absence of extra fees for members when it comes to conferences or meet ups and the come-as-you-are environment are both deliberate decisions and an important part of Aria’s vision for the MOB. “I wanted our members to know that we value their time and money – we know both are limited when you are a MOB. Running your own business is rarely glamorous, so I wanted to create a space where we could come as we are and not worry about getting dressed up and putting on a show for others.”
The overall sense of community and family is something many MOBs didn't realize they were missing until they attended a meet up or conference.
Brittainie Henderson, VP of Events and Member Outreach says "The MOB means family. An ear to listen and a voice of wisdom. Being part of strong, successful, and loving women in business is what motivates me to get out of bed every day. My favorite part is hearing how everyone is growing and accomplishing their dreams while working on my own."
MOB meet ups are held four times each month in Oregon and Washington– Portland Westside, Portland Eastside, Vancouver, and Eugene. A Happy Valley/Gresham meet up launches in June 2017. Hillsboro and North County (Washington) meet ups are scheduled to launch in August 2017. Meet ups are fun, casual events where children are typically welcomed. It isn’t unusual to see a mom networking while wearing her baby or holding her toddler.
"It is different from any other networking group. You don't have to pretend to have it all together. You can come as you and everyone is understanding and welcoming because they get it,” says Ashley, VP of Membership and Treasurer of the MOB NW.
MOB Culture is often mentioned in the group and is a guiding principle of the MOB NW.
Brittainie explains "We're showing the impact we can have, as women and as business owners, when we come together. We're raising awareness and community by living MOB Culture every day. It's truly amazing to step back and see such a diverse set of women work together and support each other so well. "
“I’m humbled to see so many women stand behind such a new idea. What has shocked me the most is witnessing the personal growth in each member. I love watching the close friendships form and seeing members grow as both moms and business owners.” says Aria
In March 2017, the MOB NW was awarded a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card and named as one of 102 finalists nationwide of the SCORE Mentors and Sam’s Club American Small Business Championship awards. The grand prize is $25,000.
The $1,000 Sam’s Club prize money was used to purchase items to improve MOB NW events, including meet ups and conferences, for attendees – a portable microphone so soft-spoken speakers can be heard and better name tags for networking. Collapsible canopies, folding tables, banners, and signage were also purchased. These will be made available to MOB Alliance members don’t have the funds to purchase these items or the space to store them to rent as needed. “We were able to use these new items at an event recently. Better visibility helped us not only promote current members, but also sign up brand new members,” Aria explains.
As a mom and business owner, Aria sees the unique challenges of juggling both roles first hand. “Running a business and being a mom both require 100% of your time and effort. Finding the balance is so important for all of us.”
Brittainie brings up the guilt most working moms feel. "Mom guilt is the biggest challenge for me. Imagine having to meet with clients on a tight deadline but, your toddler is throwing a tantrum and decides to poop right before you have to leave to drive a half hour away from childcare. Then, when you get there your child is looking at you with the most innocent eyes filled with tears because you have to go," she says.
Eva also mentions how challenging it is to be mom-owned business and pulled in different directions. “We’re fully needed in different ways by separate things. Even writing this down has taken me about 10 times longer than they should have because I have a toddler. When I team up with another MOB for an event and we are picking a date or figuring out logistics, I don't have to skirt around the fact that I am scheduling around my family. I get to just be the other mom that owns a business and is trying to make it all work- and my MOBs get that. I don't have to check any part of who I am at the door,” she says.
Eva says an unexpected benefit of the online directory is how easy The MOB NW makes finding and supporting mom-owned businesses. “The most surprising aspect of the MOB for me is just the amount of quality mom-owned business there are in this "small" area. I already knew women can do anything- but I just keep being impressed over and over again.”
Gwen mentions the welcoming feel of the group, “The passion our members have for supporting each other and actively seeking collaborations has surprised me the most. I know these women. I know they have big hearts and big plans – and seeing them lift each other up is always inspiring,” she says.
Aria’s future plans for the MOB are focused on growth and expanding MOB Culture. “I hope to have more than 25 chapters around the United States. I want to bring the love, culture, support, and community the MOB NW provides to as many as possible. I truly believe that the MOB is changing the way women network,” she explains.