On Saturday, February 6th, over 140 attendees gathered in Stocking Hall at Cornell University for the first ever Women Redefining Entrepreneurship and Leadership Conference. The conference was an opportunity for business and academic leaders, entrepreneurs, and students to connect, recruit, learn, and be inspired. The conference was a collaboration between Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Ariana Blossom opened the conference with historic examples of successful women entrepreneurs.
“It’s not that it isn’t in our DNA. What has changed is the number of women starting businesses in the U.S,” said Blossom.
Between 1997 and 2015 women-owned businesses grew by 74% – 1.5 times the national average, according to American Express Open’s “2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.” Blossom is program director of Passenger to Pilot: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs, at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works. Blossom shared the program’s three main goals: to help women grow their businesses and create jobs, to build a network, and to create more visible female role models.
The one-day conference featured two keynote speakers, morning and evening, with an array of panels, breakout sessions, and workshops in between.
The morning keynote speaker, Laura Danckwerth, Director of Software Engineering and New Product Development and President of eBay’s Women in Technology, spoke on following passions and navigating a personal career to become comfortable with risk and approach challenges with confidence. Danckwerth shared lessons from her own experience on creating opportunity and achieving her dream job.
“Sometimes we invent our own self doubt, for no reason at all. We waste that energy when we could use that energy on ourselves or our team,” said Danckwerth, “One thing we can do, is in a room like this, we can uplift each other.”
The evening keynote, Angelique Rewers, the founder and CEO of The Corporate Agent, shared defining moments of her journey to the top 2% of women business owners.
“I was willing to risk my future on a single turn of the wheel,” said Rewers, speaking to risk taking as part of the entrepreneurship process, “We are hardwired to scan for threats to our wellbeing. That is good for avoiding saber-toothed tigers in the jungle but not for taking risks that are necessary to starting a business.”
Rewers, whose company, The Corporate Agent, helps entrepreneurs and startups navigate the process of securing lucrative corporate contracts, showed her support for the conference and the Passenger to Pilot program.
“I want to encourage you to join programs, like the one Rev offers.” said Rewers, encouraging women to find a community that will hold them accountable and push them out of their comfort zone. “It is the excuses you believe are true that will keep you exactly where you are and not allow you to break through.”
The two panels of the day were “Biases and Stereotypes Women Face” and “Scaling Up Your Small Business.”
“Biases and Stereotypes Women Face” featured three Cornell University professors: Susan Fleming, a senior lecturer at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration; Deb Streeter, the Bruce F. Failing Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management in the Department of Applied Economics and Management; and Michele Williams, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Industrial and Labor Relations School. The panel addressed gender stereotypes and discussed overcoming the barriers that undermine women’s social capital.
“Your team functions better when you have more diversity on it,” said Michelle Williams speaking on battling the gender stereotyping increase found in gender imbalanced and gender typed situations.
“Scaling Up Your Small Business,” moderated by Joanne Lenweaver, featured three local entrepreneurs: Chelsey Kingsley, cofounder and co-owner of Kingsley Quality Woodworking; Heather Lane, co-owner of Purity Ice Cream; and Amy Zarbock, cofounder and co-owner of Ithaca To-Go.
“The biggest impact was being very clear about the numbers,” answered Chelsey Kingsley when asked how her company finished out 2015 with an increase in sales of 85%, “Taking jobs that are profitable. Spending our time on potential clients and not on those just shopping. Know the costs of overheads and spend your time where you will actually make a profit.”
The conference also featured a “match-making” session, hosted by the Small Business Administration. The SBA guided networking between small businesses, regional companies, and the government.
Xanthe Matychak of Make Better Stuff, who attended the SBA networking session, found it especially relevant and enjoyable. “Just knowing that the agency reps were there with the explicit intention of networking with women entrepreneurs made the event a lot more comfortable and productive for me. Additionally, the guidance I got from the reps was spot on. It was like we were speaking shorthand.”
Afternoon breakout sessions included “Building A Powerful Brand” with Dee Marshall, “Executive Presence” with Heather Couvillon Lufburrow, and “Work / Life Balance Across Generations” with Julie McPeek.
“If you take anything away from this – Take care of yourself. Invest in yourself,” said Dee Marshall, certified Coach and TV Lifestyle Personality, “Be you. Come in 100% who you are. You are the unique thing you bring to the world.”
Before the evening keynote, Michelle Courtney Berry of Courtney Consulting Enterprises, LLC, energized the audience with her take on relaxation. “Zen-trify Your Life in Minutes” featured relaxation techniques such as breath work, acupressure, and deep meditation.
“What other people think of you is not your business,” said Berry, “Forgive yourself, because no one out there is perfect.”
“It was exciting to have so many entrepreneurial women in one place! I appreciated the networking opportunities and made several very important connections for my company. I also took away practical tips regarding negotiation and pointers to business resources. Kudos to Ariana and her team … I look forward to attending the conference next year!” said Julia Baker, Cofounder & Data Platform Manager at Ursa Space Systems Inc., a participant company of Passenger to Pilot.
The Women Redefining Entrepreneurship and Leadership Conference was organized by Ariana Blossom, mentor at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works and director of the Passenger to Pilot Program. Learn more about the program at https://www.revithaca.com/women/