Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Women on the Verge of Entrepreneurship by Lisa Duggan

Entrepreneurship - how sweet it is!
There’s nothing more exciting than the feeling of possibility, of knowing that something unique and new is about to be born. It’s the feeling we get at graduations and weddings, whether we’re standing on the dock waving off friends and family, or we’re the passengers on the ship that’s sailing away to the Big Next. 

Last week the Women Entrepreneur Festival at NYU’s ITP School was that ship — where I happily drank champagne from the top deck, along with 250 other fabulous women.

This is the 2nd festival hosted by ITP, the brainchild of Nancy Hechinger, of the ITP faculty, and entrepreneur and angel investor Joanne Wilson, aka @TheGothamGal. The goal of this year’s festival was to continue its inaugural mission: “To sow the seeds for a community of women entrepreneurs in NYC”, and, “to expose women who have not yet taken the entrepreneurial leap — the pre-entrepreneurs — to the women who have.”

Venture Capital is the ultimate swag.

For a post-feminist-era, Generation XXer, who turned seven the year Title IX became law (and who cries a little too hard at women’s sports events) I’m still in awe of mass gatherings of smart, powerful women.  Beginning with the decidedly personal keynote by Arianna Huffington at the kick-off, to the inspiring poem read by ITP founder Red Burns at its conclusion, the festival delivered on its mission. WE was the place to rub elbows with women in all stages of entrepreneurship.

Arianna, Joanne Wilson, and Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts.

What I found rare about the festival (besides hundreds of women gathered in one spot discussing the value of a different kind of Ruby) was its lack of the ubiquitous, self-deprecating, female framework that requires women to denigrate one aspect of themselves in order to boast about another. The WE Festival suggests a future world where girls are not Either/Or — smart or beautiful — but Both; where an interest in fashion and HTML are not mutually exclusive. A future where a great pair of heels doesn’t signal that you’re superficial, but super-savvy.

“Great shoes! Now, can you tell me where you found your web developer?”
This year the festival (not conference, it’s a celebration after all) focused on makers — knowledge makers, taste makers, change makers — and offered three morning and three afternoon sessions. Attendees were invited to circulate freely among the overlapping sessions, which many intended to do, but most women commented that they couldn’t tear themselves away from any panel. (Another rarity about WE — what’s the last conference you attended where you didn’t need Red Bull to stay awake for the afternoon program?) And no one dared miss the rousing and informative Investor Panel that concludes each festival, this year hosted by the incisive Janet T. Hanson, Founder and CEO of @85Broads. (Girls just want to have funds now, Cindy Lauper. Time to update our anthem.)

We’ve made tremendous progress between the time Gloria burned her bra and Brandi Chastain exposed hers. Women now have unprecedented access to the education and connections necessary to build companies that men used to inherit at birth, and which allowed them to dominate the economic field for so long. Greater access to Capital must be next, if we are to realize our dreams of ownership, innovation and leadership. The WE Festival points women in that direction by providing a place for investors and entrepreneurs to meet and mingle.

Winning!
And as my work focuses on parenthood, I’d add another critical component to our success as women entrepreneurs: childcare and eldercare. Women are still expected to assume the role of caregiver in heterosexual unions, even when their work is equally or more rigorous than their male partner’s. It’s difficult (but not impossible, as so many women have proven) to focus on innovation if you’re constantly worried about who’s greeting the 3 o’clock bus.

Reliable, affordable, sustainable, quality solutions to the caregiver dilemma — both from the private and public sector— are needed to allow women now, and our daughters later, to move forward with their ambitious plans. Encouraging men to consider becoming the full-time caregiver is one solution, i.e., proposing that your husband become a stay-at-home Dad, a route which an increasing number of dads are choosing.  A Parent-Fund is another: a tax-deductible savings account similar to a college fund, that’s to be drawn against when our sons and daughters ramp off for parenthood, and require funds for childcare, eldercare, continuing education or — to start a new business. (I'm waiting patiently for someone to create this investment vehicle…)

If you’re looking for more inspiration, I urge you to read through all 250 bios of the attendees found here and then read the list of speakers, panelists and moderators here.  But FIRST read my very brief list below (in no particular order) of some of the incredible women I met, learned from and laughed with at this year’s #WE. 

Their collective, infectious energy will keep me moving forward for months to come.

* * * * *


Ilysse Rimalovski is an ideator, collaborator, journalist, copywriter, coach and extra-lucky for me, a neighbor, who was happy to share the ride in from New Jersey. I first met Ilysse when she was presenting a new business idea in the health and wellness sector for our area. We’re now committed to meeting 1x month for support and inspiration for our respective business ideas. You can find Ilysee on Twitter @ThriveWell.

Katie Clegg is Founder & Chief Eating Officer of Foodiacs, whose tagline, Live Voraciously, I had tattooed on my butt this morning. Katie & company know that food is here to serve us, not the other way around.  Foodiacs is, “dedicated to connecting our members with gourmet food artisans and culinary tools and experiences.” Members enjoy exclusive information and access to exquisite food from around the country. Plus? She founded and runs the company with an ex-boyfriend — and they get along swimmingly. Keep your eye on Katie.

Amy-Willard Cross looks a little like Carrie Fisher (sane, young, Carrie Fisher with very cool eyeglasses) and has the hardboiled energy of Kate Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. Which seems just about right, as she’s a journalist, world traveler and founder of Vitamin W, a curated news site where you can get your daily dose of “news, business and philanthropy for women.” You can also contribute to the advancement of women and girls everywhere through your Vitamin W membership. Vitamin W is, “100% Kardashian-free. Guaranteed.”

Nancy Rielle is the CEO and Co-Founder of VerveCards, maker of “ecards for savvy senders.” The idea for her company was born when her choice for a belated birthday e-card was reduced to, "This one doesn't totally suck.” I like their link-less format – the card appears on your screen immediately. I’ll be sending one to my cousin Louise today, in hopes that it will stop her from sending me a Jacquie Lawrence e-card ever again.

Sarah Chipps is a JavaScript developer and the founder of Girl Develop It which, “Teaches low cost web development classes geared towards women.” Sarah recently hosted a hack-a-thon for women that, she reports, smelled way better than one populated by her coding male-counterparts. During the Knowledge Makers panel I asked Sarah if she ran a summer coding-camp for my eight year old daughter. My question prompted the lovely Adda Birnir, founder of Balance Media, to lean over and hand me a deck of cards stamped Digital Divas, with a glossary of web technologies (so clever!) Digital Divas is, “an educational experiment whose goal is to make technology more accessible to everyone (especially the divas).” 

The indomitable Tereza Nemessanyi, aka @TerezaN, was also in attendance. Tereza is a WE alum and founder and CEO of Honestly Now, a Q&A gaming site that is quickly gaining users and popularity (warning: it's highly addictive!). I'm designing a bitchin' holster for Tereza, so she can carry her multiple mobile devices (two phones and a camera!) with style — and to thank her for connecting me with a potential partner on the spot, via said devices. (You can read more about how Tereza combines motherhood with entrepreneurship on The Parent du Jour, here.) 

I also got to meet, IRL, the amazing Whitney Johnson, president and co-founder of Rose Park Advisors. Prior to WE, we had only "met" online when Whitney asked me to guest-post on her Dare to Dream blog (which becomes a book, DARE-DREAM-DO: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream in May 2012) and I asked her to share her family with me, virtually, on The Parent du Jour. Whitney is a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review and a TEDx speaker. Follow her on twitter at @johnsonwhitney

Lastly, but certainly not least, a one-liner I tossed off to attendee and software engineer VĂ©ronique Brossier has become the name of her blog: Let Them Eat Code.  As technology continues to make more and greater opportunities for all 21st century entrepreneurial Divas, digital or not, that's excellent advice we all should take.

* Photo source: my own, or those captured from Twitter, at #WEFestival.



Check out The Parent du Jour, my 365 day web project, featuring mothers and fathers from around the world. It has been described as, "An online book being written one day, and one parent, at a time."Thanks! - Lisa D.

2 comments:

  1. What an inspiring conference this was. There should be more like it. You brought up two good points: childcare/eldercare (the ultimate sandwich generation syndrome) and the notion of the stay-at-home dad. There was a recent Forbes (?) magazine article on successful female CEOs; all of whom had spouses who stayed home. The start of a new paradigm perhaps??

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  2. wow ~ this sounds wonderful ~ it is so good to see women turning stereotypes on their heads!
    Thank you for sharing! Sincerely,
    A fellow mom & entrepreneur,Katie m. Berggren

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