Mary Relotto is helping women connect, and Forbes has taken notice

It's Wednesday night in Clintonville, and an office on North High Street is buzzing. The place is packed with women all looking for a meaningful connection. But this isn't about matters of the heart; it's about building a bond-a Dames Bond, that is.

And the grande dame of them all is relishing the excitement.

"I wanted to create a networking group for women who were flying under the radar," said Mary B. Relotto, founder of Dames Bond. "I knew there were hundreds, if not thousands, of women who needed a champion, and that champion was me."

And so Mary B., as everyone knows her, created a Central Ohio networking community that not only brings women together, but also markets the businesses and expertise of its members.

"We want to talk to each other, share best practices, support each other," said KeyBank branch manager and Dames Bond member Mary Persichetti-Gallegos. "It's not just networking, it's relationship building."

The organization boasts 2,700 members. For $125 a year, members receive a profile in the business directory. They can post activities and articles on the website. And they can attend more than a dozen networking events a year.

Five years after launching Dames Bond, Relotto, 45, is gaining national attention. Forbes magazine named Dames Bond one of the top 10 career websites for women in the United States.

Now, she's taking her show on the road. This spring, Relotto opened a chapter in Northwest Ohio, and has plans to go nationwide.

The idea for Dames Bond actually came when Relotto left a long career in the nonprofit sector to open her own consulting business. She yearned for a place to network with other women, but couldn't find one.

"(There was) no one to say, 'Go for it,' " she said. "In today's world, where women are really struggling to start their own business and contribute, they need champions outside of their family to do it."

Now, Relotto runs Dames Bond as her fulltime job. She believes it has filled a void in the marketplace where women of all levels and experience can come together and learn from each other.

She points out that networking is very different for women and men.

"We build bonds, form relationships-and business follows," she said. "Where with men, it's business first, relationship follows."

Business owner Maureen Mahoney enjoys the relationships she has formed as part of Dames Bond. She owns Latté 2 a Tea, and works with caterers to provide gourmet coffee services for special events and corporate functions. Her Dames Bond membership dues are money well spent, she said.

"You get out and talk to women that are passionate about what they do," she said. "(We) just encourage other women that we have all started somewhere, and we can all boost each other up with support."

Relotto says this matchmaking of sorts comes easily-and enjoyably.

"I'm a connector. I connect people to resources. I have the gift of making people feel welcome," she said. "I have a passion for helping women foster relationships that build into connections, and hopefully cascade into referrals."

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Photo by: Will Shilling