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The best lessons from Women Entrepreneurship Week

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The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University concluded its second annual Women Entrepreneurship Week on Sunday.

And, wow, did Dennis Bone (director), Sharon Waters (program coordinator) and their extremely dedicated and talented team outdo themselves.

Since last Monday, more than 20 universities and nonprofit organizations have hosted events for women entrepreneurs statewide, making this year’s weeklong event three times as big and far-reaching as last year’s.

Having been one of the more than 300 attendees at the event’s signature conference, held Wednesday, I thought I’d share some of the highlights of the speakers, panels and workshops I attended:

Susan Cole, president of Montclair State University: “The most significant thing that you can leave with, I think, is the courage to fail and the even greater courage it takes to succeed. … But we are still not giving our daughters the freedom to be brave. … Little girls are born adventurous, with a will to run free — but out of love, little girls are taught to be careful. … We have to get past that. … We have to let them spin the world.”

Mimi Feliciano, founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate, for whom the Mimi & Edwin Feliciano School of Business and the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship are named: “I feel so connected to the students because I used to be one of them. How many students are the first in their generation to go to college? … I was local; I was working; I paid for my education. … And I had no confidence. … I just didn’t think I was smart enough or had enough of what it took to be successful. The one thing that I did have was my parents’ unequivocal belief in me. … They believed in me more than I believed in myself. … I wanted to prove to them that I would be successful. … All of their beliefs and efforts were not going to be wasted on me.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who — although she’s attended three in the last month — finds it “absolutely offensive to us in the women’s community that we have to have events like this”: “I saw all of you look at me when I was (introduced) as the (former) first female sheriff of Monmouth County, and I say, shame on every one of you. What’s the matter? What’s a sheriff look like? … So many of you turned around to take a second look at me, and thought, ‘She doesn’t look like a sheriff’ — that’s what today is about! A sheriff can look like anyone she wants to be. A sheriff doesn’t have to have a 10-gallon hat or a gun, and a sheriff can wear (heels) if she wants to!”

Moderated by Adaora Udoji, an award-winning journalist and public speaking consultant, the “Design from an Entrepreneurial Perspective” panel was easily the most interesting and captivating of the day. Though the panelists jumped all over the map — from talking about a chandelier created from a family’s bacteria to discussing titanium bone replacements to pitching sexual health enhancements — they were all in agreement that design is most inherently about asking the right questions to come to the most useful conclusions:

  • Petia Morozov, partner at MADLAB, an architecture and design firm in Montclair: “Design as a process is so powerful to our everyday lives that oftentimes we think it’s in the hands of somebody else. I encourage you all to seize and take part in design.”
  • Naomi Murray, senior manager of advanced operations at Stryker, a leading medical technology company: “Even in a regulated industry, you are always looking to design something new and looking for what you think it should be. … You think you have an idea because your customer has a need — but take a look at what the process is leading you into rather than what is predetermined.”
  • Rachel Braun Scherl, co-owner and principal of SPARK Solutions for Growth, a consulting firm advising businesses on strategic growth, partnerships, product development and marketing: “We have to make sure that we are answering the right question. … What is the insight that is going to drive someone to interact, purchase or purchase again from a company, brand or business?”

Moderated by Kathleen Coviello, director of the Technology and Life Sciences division at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the panelists for “Funding Your Business” all agreed that crowdfunding is not just about making money:

  • Kathleen Coviello: “Get in an elevator and tell people your idea. See if a person off the street gets it. If you can’t say it in an elevator ride and the person doesn’t leave wanting more information, you need to refine.”
  • Kim Wales, founder and CEO of Wales Capital and CrowdBureau: “Understand your social equity capital. How is it actually going to have value to you in the future? … What is the value of the relationships that you cultivate and communicate with on a daily basis? Sometimes it’s not about the number of relationships you have on social media platforms, but the depth.”
  • Hettle Pastakia-Patel, director of women’s initiatives at JuiceTank and founder of NJ Women’s Network: “There are a lot of entrepreneurs that are solo, but they work with other entrepreneurs. There are so many little collaborations and partnerships that can happen. Don’t just work at home — work somewhere where you have other people to connect with.”
  • Vanessa Wilson, managing director of Golden Seeds, an angel group focused on women-led businesses: “We have a lot of women come to us who are first-time entrepreneurs. … Who is on their advisory board? Who has already invested? Who are their major customers? … We are never going to be all the advice and support that one needs.”

Moderated by Lori Grifa, partner at Archer & Greiner and former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the panelists for “Is Power a Dirty Word?” all agreed that “power” needs to have a more positive connotation in order for more women to start and grow their businesses.

  • Michele Brown, CEO and president of Choose New Jersey; former CEO of the NJEDA; former appointments counsel to Gov. Chris Christie; and former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey: “Power is empowering. We need to empower our children, other women and ourselves — we should all think of power as positive and beautiful.”
  • Leecia Eve, vice president of state government affairs for the New Jersey, New York & Connecticut regions for Verizon, now feels powerful about having lost a bid for lieutenant governor of New York: “If I had known 9,000 times over that the end result of my candidacy was Eliot Spitzer not picking me, every single time, I would have done it. … It was the best gift of my professional career because through that experience, I learned what I was made of. I realized I was even stronger than I knew.”
  • Marjorie Perry, CEO and president of MZM Construction & Management Co., doesn’t believe men would ever ask such a question — but does listen to men when they give her sound business advice: “It was my (former) job to convince Ralph Lauren to bring his entourage on United whenever he would travel,” Perry said. “One plane trip, he said to me, ‘You’re never going to be rich working for somebody. You should really think about running your own business.’ That was the planted seed.”
  • Candy Straight, private investor and investment-banking consultant, as well as executive producer of the independent film “Equity,” the first female-driven Wall Street film: “It’s okay to be assertive and at times it’s okay to be aggressive. You just need to know what culture you’re in. … If you’re going to be either, you have to make sure that you are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
  • As vice president in corporate services and real estate and the global head of environmental, social and governance for Goldman Sachs, Chanda Gibson manages the firm’s operational impact on people and the planet: “Every day now, I bring who I am, what I believe in and my values into the decisions that I make. Power is realizing who is going to be in a role like mine doing the work that I enjoy doing.”

Moderated by Mimi Feliciano, the panelists for “Breaking Stereotypes” not only discussed what it’s meant for them to work and create businesses in male-dominated industries, but also the struggles of being a woman in business:

  • Anisa Balwani, owner of RCI Technologies, was born in Tanzania, Africa — where women were expected to be soft-spoken: “We were asked to stay out of the room where guests visited, as girls were not meant to know what was going on the world.” After her father died suddenly, her family migrated to the U.S. when she was 16 — where she gained the advantage of being “a little more outspoken.”
  • Nancy Gloor, certified executive coach and former managing director in technology at Goldman Sachs: “When I started in 1981, my boss was a woman, her boss was a woman, and her boss was a woman. But by 1990, all the women had disappeared. Suddenly, I was a minority. … We tried to dress like men, with suits and bow ties. We were told by colleagues that we should lower our voices, speak slowly, stop laughing — it’s when we figured out that we had to be ourselves that the hard stuff really started. We had to figure out what kind of leaders we wanted to be.”
  • Karen Rossilli-Kiefer, president and owner of TeamPAR, described what it felt like to be a mother while founding her competitive flooring company: “I think I was in a daze for the 10 years that I came home, fed and bathed my children, and got them ready for bed before I started working again. … Some of the things my children said, I’d be like, ‘Did I even raise them?’ But I can tell you exactly what carpet I put in that building on Route 78. … It was a little bit sick, but I’m not going to tell you any differently.”
  • Gretchen S. Wilcox, president and founder of G.S. Wilcox & Co., started the only female-founded commercial real estate mortgage banking company in the U.S.: “Right now, it is absolutely cool to be a woman-owned business. It wasn’t like that only five or 10 years ago. … Diversity is at the forefront of this country, and that is not going to go away. Everyone in this room right now has huge opportunities to be educated and market themselves as they are.”

The evening concluded with keynote speaker Sallie Krawcheck, former Wall Street executive and chair of Ellevate Network (formerly 85 Broads), a global professional women’s network in New York City. “I’ve been fired on the front page of The Wall Street Journal — twice,” she said.

But don’t worry — you’ll be hearing more positive things from NJBIZ on Sallie Krawcheck shortly.

To learn about the additional panels, workshops and events hosted by Montclair State University and other higher education and nonprofit institutions in the state this past week, please visit Montclair State University’s website.

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