New York | Geri Stengel | Published May 27th, 2020
When a Woman Entrepreneur Pivoted Her Business, Her Opportunities for Growth Grew…
Twenty years ago, Francesca Bucci took the leap from employee to entrepreneur. She had always wanted to strike out on her own, but it was her boss’s decision to close the firm that made her think the time was right. Bucci and her colleague decided to join forces and launch BG Studio, a planning and interiors firm. With her boss’s approval, she pitched taking over one of his client’s projects for a cruise line ship. The handover was seamless at a time when some would have thought twice about starting a business — January 2002, only a few months after 9/11 — New York City was still feeling economic shock waves in the wake of the tragedy.
The two partners had no staff and did the work themselves. Cruise ship design was primarily done in Europe. At the time, there were only about ten firms with cruise ship design expertise in the United States. Now BG Studio was one of them. The pair built an excellent reputation in hospitality and restaurant design. Over the next 15 years, they slowly grew the company to 10 employees.
Though the firm started with expertise in cruise ship design, Bucci understood the importance of diversifying revenue streams. In the age of COVID-19, it may seem obvious to you why you would want to de-risk your business by having multiple revenue streams. However, for Bucci, the decision was made on instinct. She had a degree in architecture, not business. Early on, BG Studio was asked to design a multi-unit residential building in New Jersey. Eighteen years ago, luxury condos and rental buildings were scarce. This became the firm’s second niche.
Adding a second specialty had another benefit. “People in creative fields, such as architecture and design, want novelty and change,” Bucci emphasized. “They need stimulation. Our minds work better when we do several different types of projects.” The diversity of projects is also a way of attracting top talent. BG Studio has been able to attract a team from diverse cultures from around the world who are up to date on global trends and best practices.
Of course, even with a specialty, you have to keep up with changing trends. “Eighteen years ago, lobbies were a big deal,” said Bucci. “It was a building’s calling card.” Now it’s about space for different amenities, such as workspace, gym, or club room.
By 2017, the company had grown to 10 people and the partners decided to part ways. Self-doubt crept in. “Can I do this on my own?” thought Bucci. She had been the architect and he the interior designer. Bucci had relied on him for that expertise. It turns out that interior design is another one of her strengths and she has a passion for it.
With the end of the partnership, a new opportunity arose — not just for Bucci to do her designs but also for the company to become a certified woman-owned business. Certification as a women business enterprise can give you an edge in competitive bids on government and corporate projects. While not part of her original business plan, Bucci saw the possibilities such certifications opened to her.
Having customers who spend billions on goods and services, such as government agencies, increases the chances for high growth by women-owned businesses. Creating greater opportunities for historically underutilized businesses to grow and prosper through supplier-diversity programs is a strategy that can generate greater equity and shared prosperity. It also improves the competitiveness of government and corporate supply chains.
In 2016, New York City set a goal and is on track to award 30% of its procurement dollars to minority- and women-owned businesses by 2021. One way that city agencies ensure they meet that goal is by including that goal in the scoring system of bids. The New York Building Congress estimated construction spending to hit $61.5 billion by the end of 2019. Developers and construction companies are seeking qualified, well-regarded firms as subcontractors. BG Studio is certified as a woman business enterprise by New York City.
Similarly, many corporations have supply-diversity departments and seek women business enterprises. In the corporate world, it is WBENC’s regional affiliates that certify firms.
By 2020, Bucci’s own company has increased to 18 people. That is an 80% increase in the number of employees over the last three years and a sure sign that the market wants and values BG’s services.
Through the years, the company has received many awards. Still, Bucci is most proud of being selected as a finalist for the Gold Key Awards for excellence in hospitality design by Boutique Design Magazine for originating the Celebrity Flora. It is a 100-passenger, mega-yacht created specifically for enjoying and understanding the beauty of the Galápagos Islands. “It is one of the most sustainable ships in the world,” said Bucci. Activities are designed to give passengers an immersive, in-depth experience that includes education by certified naturalists who guide the journey.
Bucci believes COVID-19 won’t change the goals and outcomes for architects and designers, but that her clients — developers, owners and operators — will ask BG Studio to do more with less, incorporate contract free technologies for elevators, lobbies and doors, design easy to clean and monitor spaces, and use less toxic materials.
Her accomplishments have built her self-confidence, just as her certification as a woman-owned business built her business.
How can you take advantage of the opportunities offered to certified minority- and women-owned businesses?