By Emily Glory Peters
Picture this: you’re a year (or several) into building your own business and you’ve hit a snag. Perhaps it’s high staff turnover or a low marketing budget—regardless, you know something needs to change to keep your business afloat. Where do you turn?
“I started this group three years ago because I realized how many businesses struggle to take a good idea to the next level,” says Joan De Souza, founder and moderator of B4B Think Tank sessions. Held every fourth Wednesday of the month at Women’s City Club of Pasadena at 7:30 a.m., the group functions as a breeding ground for folks in need of fresh perspectives.
“The structure is simple: we put someone in what we call the ‘hot seat’ and they discuss their concern. From there, the rest of the group shares ideas to help. You don’t even need to be a business owner to attend—you can bring your life experience. We’re all there to help small and medium-sized businesses succeed.”
It’s no wonder De Souza’s path has led here. Along with three decades in customer service management for the Los Angeles Times, she’s deeply active in the community, serving as co-chair for the special needs ministry at her church and lead ambassador for the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce.
With the chamber, she grew concerned over the number of businesses who would celebrate a ribbon-cutting only to disappear from the economic landscape a year later. Here, her customer-service background sensed that human touch was needed.
“Recently a young athletic trainer attended a session and noted all the different age groups, all the different backgrounds of our group members. He took six pages of notes and said with eyes as big as saucers, ‘You actually talk to each other!” shares De Souza. “He felt like it was new, but it’s really technology that’s gotten in the way. Sometimes you just need to hear from others face-to-face.”
The genius of the think tank—beyond the fact that it’s currently free—is that it’s open to all. May’s session hosted two individuals in the hot seat: an owner of a local children’s salon and a board member for a nonprofit struggling to get the word out on their services.
The feedback was varied, too, coming from fellow entrepreneurs, government officials and more. As those in the hot seat learn, so does everyone else in the room—something De Souza especially values about B4B Think Tank. Regardless of your industry, everyone emerges with new ideas and better connected to their community.
“What excites me is that people come in thinking it’s just another networking group, but it’s more than that. The majority of people are taking notes because they need help, too,” she says. “And you don’t need to be brand new to benefit. Bryan’s Cleaners, who’s been around for 80 years, came to us looking for that reinvention kind of ideas because dry cleaning isn’t done as much as it used to be. We came up with three examples of companies who have reinvented themselves because they changed things before the doors closed. It’s all about that early intervention.”
So far, B4B Think Tank has helped 50 businesses and organizations and counting. The hot seat is booked until September, but De Souza is currently accepting those who’d like a chance to share. The rapid growth suggests De Souza is on to something.
“I’m persuaded that think tanks could help people address problems across the board. I’d like to see them expand,” she says. As for local small- to medium-sized businesses—whom De Souza refers to as the community’s “glue”—her encouragement is simple.
“Don’t think you have to do it all on your own,” she says. “I know in some instances it seems like if you ask for help, you’re a failure—but that’s not true. Ask for help and if you don’t get an answer, keep asking. Keeping an open mind can lead to information that can help your business survive and thrive.”
B4B Think Tank sessions are held at 7:30 am on the fourth Wednesday of every month at Women’s City Club of Pasadena located at 160 N. Oakland Avenue in Pasadena. Attendance is free, but RSVPs are required through Eventbrite. To get on B4B Think Tank’s email list, attend a session or request to be in the hot seat, contact Joan DeSouza at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow B4B Think Tank on Facebook @joandesouzathinktank.