Nearly 450 people, mostly women, heard inspiring tales and learned practical tips for launching and growing a business during the fourth annual Women Entrepreneurship Week (WEW) Conference on Oct. 18 at Montclair State.
WEW started at Montclair State in 2014 when four north Jersey universities held events during the same week. In 2017, 76 universities and nonprofits in 22 states in the U.S. and 15 countries all over the world were involved with events to celebrate women entrepreneurs.
The conference kicked off with welcome remarks from Montclair State President Susan A. Cole and Vice Dean Kimberly Hollister. Then Mimi Feliciano, founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate, talked about the impact of two near-death experiences recently, and how they changed her thinking.
McGee Colbert said she asked one of the male members of the Montclair Film board, why she was the secretary, and he replied that instead she would be the vice president and he would be the secretary.
“That was me leaning in,” said McGee Colbert. “I became president because I leaned in harder, and kept showing up.”
McGee Colbert discussed the growth of Montclair Film, which started as a festival and expanded into an organization with year-round programming and 10 full-time staff. In fact, when asked about her biggest mistake, McGee Colbert said sometimes the organization took on too much too quickly. But like any entrepreneur, McGee Colbert and her colleagues did this because they were seizing opportunities when they popped up, such as when Investors Bank offered a building on Bloomfield Avenue, and Montclair Film “had to jump in,” she said.
A panel of startup founders offered a slew of advice to attendees, as well as their compelling stories of how and why they started their businesses. The panel was moderated by Tracy Day, co-founder and CEO of the World Science Festival.
Panelist Logan Cohen advocated the power of just getting started. “Perfectionism leads to procrastination,” said Cohen, co-founder and co-CEO of KUDZOO. When entrepreneurs ask for something from investors or other supporters, they need “identify your value add, as well as your value ask,” Cohen said.
Mindy Scheier, founder and president of Runway of Dreams Foundation, discussed the importance of persistence, and putting your heart on your sleeve. Scheier, who was inspired by her son to create adaptable clothing for children with disabilities, said people initially told her she had only a niche market. But Scheier would answer with stats on the large number of people in the U.S. and beyond with disabilities, and also developed a following of fans. “I was building up an army. … I had the consumers with me,” said Scheier, whose clothing became a Tommy Hilfiger line.
Overcoming obstacles was a theme too for the startup panel. “Know you are going to fall,” said Consuelo Vanderbilt Costin, an artist, designer and entrepreneur. Tracy Stern, owner of Salon Tea, added, “If someone tells you no, smile and keep going.”
KJ Miller, co-founder of Mented Cosmetics, said she thought leaving her corporate job to start a business was a “pie in the sky dream,” and was concerned she’d let down her parents if she failed. But then she realized, “it wasn’t just my dream; it was their dream.” Miller, who was recently profiled in Forbes with her co-founder Amanda Johnson as the 15th and 16th black women ever to raise $1 million in capital, also advised attendees to sell to investors on your passion and who you are. “You pitch to everyone,” she said.
A second panel, “Entrepreneurship in the C-Suite,” featured top execs at New Jersey companies and nonprofits. These women shared how to be an intrapreneur—someone who is entrepreneurial within a large organization. The panel was moderated by Kimberly Weisul, editor-at-large at Inc.
Leecia Eve, VP of Government Affairs for Tri-State Region at Verizon, recommended taking informed and calculated risks, as well as “fail fast and move on.”
While the audience was 85 percent women, there was a higher attendance by men this year than past WEW conferences. “I love that there are men in this room,” said Michellene Davis, executive VP and chief corporate affairs officer at RWJBarnabas, which drew applause from the audience. Davis added that the presence of men at a conference focused on women helps those men be more inclusive when they return to the workplace.
Judith Spires, CEO of Kings Supermarkets, said people have asked if she’d ever go on “Undercover Boss.” Spires said she replies that she doesn’t need to, because she rose from being a supermarket checkout clerk in high school, and knows the grocery business inside-out from working at every level of supermarket chains.
There were knowing murmurs of assent from the crowd when Michele Siekerka asked if anyone had ever been at a table, usually of all men, and offered an idea to little or no reaction, and then a while later someone else at the table suggested the same idea, to enthusiastic support from everyone in the room. Siekerka said women shouldn’t be silent when that happens, and a way to handle it is to say something like, “Thanks for expanding upon my idea.”
The afternoon keynote was Sally Glick, principal and chief growth strategist at Sobel & Co., who is known for her branding expertise. Glick was interviewed by Linda Bowden, regional president of PNC Bank.
Glick talked about her journey from overcoming a fear of swimming as a child and then doing marketing for her father’s accounting firm in Chicago, to a move to Atlanta and eventually New Jersey. She advised attendees always to think that they are serving, not selling, and advocated how powerful it can be to be a “giver” versus a taker. Glick’s other tips to build a brand and a marketing program included be authentic: “If you’re not real…it will never work for you,” she said.
Glick shared a story about how she asked at a Sobel staff meeting for people to raise their hand if they worked in marketing. When only one hand went up, Glick gave a lesson that everyone should think of themselves as being involved in marketing and branding. “You’re always on duty” for the brand, she said.
All photos courtesy of Keith Muccilli Photography, LLC