A NEW networking group for working mothers started in Wollongong this week to give businesswomen in similar situations a chance to meet.
Illawarra Working Mums was launched with two women talking about the respect and admiration each has for the other.
Group founder Jonni Nicolaou, of the Lagoon Seafood Restaurant and Seacliff Restaurant, invited Little Leonardo's Art Studio creative director Natalija Vocanec to speak about her pioneering art school after seeing the impact it had on her son Ambrose, 4.
"She is a successful businesswoman and I love Natalija's business," Mrs Nicolaou said.
"I want to showcase a different business each month."
Ms Vocanec was a single mother when she took the brave step of starting the business five years ago with just two students.
She had previously worked in the hospitality and health industries, but always had a passion for art and interior design and now does both.
She has a degree in fine arts from Curtin University and studied interior design at TAFE.
Ms Vocanec also did a business program with Illawarra ITeC but said it would have been great to have a group such as Illawarra Working Mums when she was starting out.
That is why she was very interested when Mrs Nicolaou told her about the group she was planning to start.
Ms Vocanec said the IWIB Illawarra Innovative Businesswoman of the Year was already someone she admired and respected.
"I think she is a super mum, really," she said.
"She is amazing and she is very driven and supportive. She obviously cares about her community and her family. She wants to benefit others in the process. She has a lovely quality."
Ms Vocanec is now opening a coffee shop downstairs at her Little Leonardo's studio in George Street, Warilla, and wants to get involved in community art projects such as an outdoor sculpture in Shellharbour.
Her daughter, Tamara, also works in the business, which has been taking on more staff.
A new school holiday art program has just been prepared at Warilla and Towradgi and Ms Vocanec is also involved with the formation of a Warilla business chamber.
"It is important that we all support one another," she said.
Little Leonardo's runs art classes for people of all ages Monday to Friday and private lessons and parties on weekends. Ms Vocanec is renowned for her calm, caring teaching style.
Mrs Nicolaou said achievers such as Ms Vocanec inspired her to be even more innovative.
Her toddlers' high teas attract up to 250 people twice a month.
This Monday she has another night market inside the Lagoon and she is organising a special Father's Day event for dads.
Mrs Nicolaou said Illawarra Working Mums would be held at 10am on the last Tuesday of every month.
A play area would be set up for young children.
"This is a networking group that is catering to working mothers but not exclusive to them," she said.
"I have networked with a lot of businesses that are home-based mothers or women trying to be in the workforce, but it is just really hard with young children. They can't get out and network. This is about breaking boundaries."