Passion, perseverance and, yes, a little bit of fear, are what's fueling the white-hot women entrepreneur startup trend in New Jersey, according to many participants and attendees of pf the recent Montclair State University's Women Entrepreneurship Week event.
The two-day conference featured myriad panels and discussions as well as considerable networking among students, entrepreneurs and successful C-suite leaders. In fact, Montclair’s celebration of women entrepreneurs was one of several held at universities around the state to bring attention to the growing number of women-owned businesses here.
“This is an exceptionally exciting time to be a woman in business,” said artist and entrepreneur Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin. As a member of the “From Kitchen Table to CEO” panel, Costin told the audience: “Women are more sensitive and prone to show our feelings than men, but we have the same dreams. If we have to fight to be heard, we will do just that.”
The panel’s speakers agreed that, often, they have found themselves in a position to prove themselves in what they consider to be a man’s business world, even in 2017.
“Ginger Rogers was right. Women do everything backwards and in heels,” said Logan Cohen, co-founder and co-CEO of KUDZOO, an educational software company. “Men are judged on potential. Women are judged on how much traction they can achieve. If women are more passionate, so be it, because passion is critical to our success.”
Is passion a bad thing? According to these panel participants, the answer is “no way.”
“All of your passions are a part of you,” Costin said. “If you have many different passions, you can bring them all to the table. If you allocate your time properly, you can bring everything together.”
Mindy Scheier, president and founder of Runway of Dreams Foundation, a company that sells adaptive clothing for children and adults, said she believes wholeheartedly that women are driven by their passion and emotions.
“Being emotional in business is often seen as a negative, but I couldn’t disagree more,” she said. “Look at all the women who are driven to success by their emotions.”
“Of course, sometimes it can be scary. I’m scared of not meeting expectations,” Scheier said. “But that fear keeps me on track; it keeps me going. If you tell me `no,’ I’m going to make it happen. In fact, I’ll make it happen 10 times over.”
KJ Miller is the co-founder of Mented Cosmetics. The company is inventing a line of cosmetics for women of color, products -- oddly enough considering the expanse of the market -- that don’t already exist. Not only is Miller an entrepreneur, she is a pioneer.
“I had to learn to do things for myself. I ordered moulds, wax and colors. I taught myself how to make lipstick on Youtube. I went out to Happy Hours looking for real women of color to test my products and get feedback,” Miller said.
Hers is a truly grassroots story. Miller gathered the data, sent out samples of the product, tweaked the recipe, managed marketing and more. “We started in the kitchen because we had no other choice. We knew we had a great idea but makeup manufacturers require large lot buys with standard colors. We had to start from scratch, on our own.”
Miller said she kept on keeping on, even when things weren’t going her way. She kept repeating “just do it” to herself.
Scheier said that was indicative of the way female entrepreneurs work. “One of the most interesting things about being an entrepreneur is how much you learn about yourself that you really didn’t know before,” she said. “You learn your strengths and weaknesses. You learn how to work with others. And sometimes you learn that it’s best to go it alone.”
On the other hand, some women find working with a partner to be empowering and successful. Cohen is one of them. “First off, know your own value add. What do you bring to the table? When different people with different backgrounds come together, the business can be ultimately stronger. But you can’t just pick anyone to start a business with. Pick someone with complementary strengths,” she said.
Miller laughed: “Yes, and make sure it’s someone you can argue with respectfully!”
How do you know when it’s time to walk away from a business, asked moderator Tracy Day, CEO of World Science Festival.
“There is nothing in the world I’d rather be doing than my business,” Miller said. “But if you find you want to stop giving your company 100 percent, it may be time to get out.”
Scheier agreed. “Your dream may change. There’s nothing wrong with that. Stop what you are doing and start something new. Make room for yourself to focus on a new path.”