Image via Facebook / Creative Women's Co.

By Allison Matyus

Chicago is full of networking events for all types of professionals: tech, journalism, marketing, startups, real estate…the list goes on. There’s almost always a forced feeling to these types of events, which is where Creative Women’s Co. stands out.

The small community of Chicago women that make up Creative Women’s Co. are supportive of each other and their goals to pursue their passions, whatever those may be.

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Founder Ari Krzyzek created the group as an answer to her own networking woes.

“I felt a little overwhelmed going to bigger networking events,” she said. “It’s just so hard for me to pick one person and start the conversation. I wanted to have a smaller environment where I could just get to know people on a personal level.”

Krzyzek began Creative Women’s Co. in March of 2014 to fill in the need for women entrepreneurs in Chicago. She said each meetup has a very small, intimate group of women, so it’s less like meeting up with random professionals and more like seeing friends.

“We see the same people over and over, so it’s easy to share support and track each other’s goals,” she said.

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What all these women have in common is a desire to break free from their nine to five corporate jobs and be their own boss by running a business catered to their passions.

Krzyzek said that becoming an entrepreneur always starts with a side hustle and that that journey is different for everyone. Her own journey led her to create Chykalophia, a design and marketing company that she founded with her husband after he pushed her to pursue what she was both passionate about and talented in.

“It’s interesting to see how every woman has a different approach to their side hustle and to hear their different stories,” Krzyzek said.

To open up the conversation about the idea of a side hustle to more women, Creative Women’s Co. hosted a panel on Thursday, Jan. 19, to exchange ideas and learn about being a woman entrepreneur.

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The panel was made up of women who took it upon themselves to make the jump from the corporate life to the creative life and pursue their dream businesses. The inspiring women gave advice to those who attended.

“Each day is not going to be the same,” said Bolaji Sosa, the founder of SocialLifeChicago. “If you do have a side hustle in mind, just do it. Whatever it is you want to do, don’t let anybody persuade you from doing it.”

“Always realize the power of your story and don’t try to be perfect in your journey,” said Jacqueline Marie, the founder of Tweaked Style.

Other advice given was to get a planner, learn from the mistakes made and put time and effort into the brand and business name.

While this was the first panel hosted by Creative Women’s Co., Krzyzek said that the group tries to meet every month, sometimes in the form of a professional discussion, and other times just meeting for happy hour cocktails or a weekend brunch.

She also said that they recently released a webinar series to reach women outside of Chicago.

“We have other women that join us from Seattle, Florida, California…hopefully we can reach other cities as well,” she said. “Knowing that there are other interests outside of Chicago is just going to give us an opportunity to deliver more content to them and hopefully it will be useful to them in their own journey.”

As a woman making her own path, Krzyezek said that it’s important to surround herself with a community of likeminded woman share the same experiences and values.

“I love getting to know other women entrepreneurs in Chicago,” she said. “We learn together and through that, create lasting conversations and collaborations with each other.”