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At Women Entrepreneurship Week, 'you're not going to go down easy'

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The Show Me the Money: Tips from Funders panel at Women Entrepreneurship Week, moderated by Kathleen Covello, vice president, New Jersey Economic Development Authority. From left, Kelly Ford, partner, Edison Partners; Karen Cahn, founder and CEO, iFundWomen; and Ita Ekpoudom, partner, GingerBread Capital.
The Show Me the Money: Tips from Funders panel at Women Entrepreneurship Week, moderated by Kathleen Covello, vice president, New Jersey Economic Development Authority. From left, Kelly Ford, partner, Edison Partners; Karen Cahn, founder and CEO, iFundWomen; and Ita Ekpoudom, partner, GingerBread Capital. - ()

Unable to access money via ATM a few months ago, Nicki Radzely, co-founder of binky company Doddle & Co., contacted her bank only to find out that she had been miscategorized as having done business with North Korea.

“We’re exiting our relationship with you, and you can pick up a cashier’s check at the branch,” a representative from Chase told her.

As a small business, the Montclair-based “Shark Tank” alum’s company couldn’t afford to lose its bank account, and given the circumstances, no other banks were going to work with it either.

Radzely called everyone — the FBI, U.S. Department of Treasury, sanctions lawyers and, she said, every media outlet under the sun trying to set everything straight. She had never done business with North Korea, didn’t plan to, and couldn’t afford to not have money coming into her bank account with each sale.

After a neighbor introduced her to some journalists at Bloomberg, a resulting article made people listen to her pleas. Eventually, Radzely reopened her relationship with Chase and allowed her business to push through.

“That’s part of entrepreneurship right? You’re not going to go down easy. Even if you’re in terror, just stand in terror, and get it done,” said Radzely.

Since then, Doddle & Co. has hit $1 million in revenue.

Radzley was one of many entrepreneurs who spoke at Montclair State University on Wednesday for Women Entrepreneurship Week, a weeklong celebration started four years ago at Montclair’s Feliciano School of Business. Four hundred seventy-nine people attended the event.

This week, it’s being celebrated across the world in 32 countries.

Women are starting businesses at more than double the national average and there are 1.6 million women-owned businesses in the world. That’s twice as many as 20 years ago, according to business journalist and coach Kelley Holland, one of the event’s speakers.

Panels of women spoke on how to be innovative in the corporate world and raise funding, and entrepreneurs gave Tedx-like talks on how they’ve made their businesses succeed. They doled out lessons about solo entrepreneurship and innovating within companies such as Johnson & Johnson, PSE&G and Google.

“You need to align other stakeholders … you can build a whole network of support not just your line management.”

- Pearl Pugh, vice president and global commercial leader for rheumatology and dermatology, Johnson & Johnson

When Pearl Pugh was a lower-level executive early in her career at Johnson & Johnson, she was in a meeting with company higher-ups trying to defend a growth strategy she felt very strongly about. Her management team had shown great support behind closed doors, but as soon as they were in front of the big dogs, they froze. No one said a word in support of Pugh, and the pitch flopped.

Pugh, who then saw it as a huge disappointment, now sees it as a huge lesson: Be strong in your convictions, she said, and don’t leave any team member hanging. Additionally, if you rely only on your management line for support, you will sell yourself short.

“You need to align other stakeholders,” she said. “I had aligned my management, but it was interesting because a senior VP in another line spoke with me after … [and said] ‘I could have had your back in that meeting.’ It was a really good lesson learned that you can build a whole network of support not just your line management.”

Today Pugh is now Johnson & Johnson’s vice president and global commercial leader for rheumatology and dermatology.

For all entrepreneurs, understanding funding can propel a business to success. Crowdfunding and equity are two crucial ways to achieve that, but they have to understand the dos and don’ts.

If an investor is asking for equity, then an entrepreneur is no longer the sole owner of a company. If they’re taking more than 50 percent, warned GingerBread Capital partner Ita Ekpoudom, they can kick you out.

“Crowdfunding is a marketing activity for your business that has funding built into it.”

- Karen Cahn, CEO, iFundWomen

“Have a lawyer or go to legal aid. Have them read the contract because you don’t want to miss the fine print of the ‘gotcha’ clause of that deal,” she said.

Some lawyers in this sector, according to panel moderator and New Jersey Economic Development Authority Vice President Kathleen Coviello, will do this work at a low cost in hopes of establishing a long-term relationship.

In crowdfunding, storytelling wins, said iFundWomen CEO Karen Cahn, touting the importance of multimedia.

“What’s the problem you’re solving, why are you uniquely qualified, what’s the why?” she said. “[In videos it’s] being crisp and clear, telling your story, being upbeat, [using] great graphics, great music. Crowdfunding is a marketing activity for your business that has funding built into it.”

When pitching to investors, storytelling is important, but don’t give everything away, said Ekpoudom. Some entrepreneurs think to ask investors to sign nondisclosure agreements, but she recommends a pitch that drums up interest while not giving everything away.

“Be able to talk about your business at a high level and make it interesting. From the very first conversation, don’t ask [investors to sign nondisclosure agreements],” she said, because “there are very few original ideas in this world.”

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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