Score One for This Business Owner

Kate Cozzani

Nothing drives Kate Cozzani (pictured here)  like the thrill of winning a competition that comes from hard work and a driving spirit. The former public school teacher has built three suburban childcare centers into successful enterprises with one key concept: offering the best early childhood education possible. If numbers prove anything, she’s a winner. Her centers now care for 249 children, making The Giving Tree Family of Schools arguably the largest independent child care center in the state. Not surprisingly, there’s a waiting list.

When Ms. Cozzani decided to open a second business – a competitive cheerleading training facility – her motivation was that she couldn’t find a quality cheerleading facility for her daughter. She launched Illinois Allstars last year, and within six months, it doubled in size, growing from three to six competitive cheerleader teams. She attributes the rapid growth to the high caliber of the training and kids. “It helps that our teams won numerous national competitions including The U.S. Finals and NCA Dallas,” she states.

Ms. Cozzani offers this advice to startups looking to build a winning business.

  • Define your vision. For Ms. Cozzani, her six young children, ages 3 to 17, motivated her. Disappointed in the quality of child care they were receiving, she decided to open her own child care center. “To me, money isn’t nearly as important as passion.”
  • Don’t neglect the first business. Whether opening another location or starting a completely new business, Ms. Cozzani says it’s important to keep an eye on the first business. That means hire the best staff and professionals you can afford. “You want to build a business that can survive without you,” she affirms.
  • Maintain a balance in your personal and professional life. Ms. Cozzani is quick to acknowledge the importance of balance, noting that her husband became a stay-at-home dad to help care for their children while she grew the businesses. She realizes it’s not an option for every family, but it works for them. Together, they schedule plenty of quality time with their children, participating in numerous activities they can all enjoy.

Vince Lombardi once said: “If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?” Kate Cozzani would probably agree, but with this caveat: “Don’t forget that your family is your primary shareholder.”


About Emilia DiMenco

Emilia DiMenco is President and CEO of Women’s Business Development Center and Retired Executive Vice President BMO Harris N.A. Emilia DiMenco was named president and chief executive officer of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) on August 1, 2013, a transition from co-founders, Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal. Emilia joined the Women’s Business Development Center as chief operating officer in July 2010 after completing a 30-year career as an executive vice president with BMO Harris N.A. Emilia had P&L responsibility for 80% of her career and managed budgets in excess of $200 million with revenues multiples greater. Her responsibility included leadership and management for 600 commercial banking employees.