The fifth annual Women Entrepreneurship Week took place around the nation and the world from October 13 – 20, 2018, with Montclair State University once again hosting a conference on October 17. The speakers this year came from a range of industries – including tech, food, pharmaceuticals and energy – but they had much the same message for the 479 people in the audience: Go for it.
And then stick with it – even if no one else believes in your vision; even if your product prototype keeps failing; even if your place of business burns down.
That’s what happened to Hakika DuBose, a 2006 Montclair State graduate and founder of Kika Stretch Studios, which teaches clients how to stretch their muscles. Although the fire forced her to relocate temporarily to a church basement, the business continued to grow and now includes five locations. “I became the youngest female franchisor in the entire country,” DuBose said.
Opening the conference, Montclair State University President Susan A. Cole said, “Events like this can help young women and emerging women leaders to understand that yes, they can; yes, they have all the talent, all the ability, all the knowledge, all the ideas, all of the energy to do whatever it is that needs doing in this world.”
The speakers included both business owners and women with experience in large corporations, who said that they rely on many of the same skills as entrepreneurs, including being persistent, trying new experiences, and speaking up for their ideas.
Elizabeth Vilchis, founder of latino Tech — an organization that promotes the development of Latinx entrepreneurs and innovators — said she has gotten used to being the only woman in meetings. “I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s being clear about what you hope to get out of that meeting.”
The speakers consistently urged the audience to take risks, even if that sometimes leads to failure.
“Every time I go through something terrible, I think, this is just getting me ready for the next thing,” said Nicki Radzely, co-founder of Doddle & Co. She described a string of failed tests before her company’s product – a new type of baby pacifier – was finally ready for market.
Women Entrepreneurship Week was founded five years ago by the Feliciano School of Business and the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, and is now marked by more than 167 colleges, universities and organizations in 32 countries and 46 states.
Mimi Feliciano, founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate in Montville, and an advisory board member of the Feliciano School of Business, said that the Center for Entrepreneurship has had a focus on women since its founding. Women, she said, don’t always get the guidance and encouragement they need to start businesses. “They’ve got a lot more [ability] than they give themselves credit for.”
“It’s so important to encourage women that they can do it,” said Kateryna Kardash, a 19-year-old international student from the Ukraine who attended the conference. She runs her own freelance graphic design business.
Jah-Melia Cookhorn, 20, of Jersey City, a Montclair State student who is majoring in fashion studies, said she attended the conference to get tips for starting her own fashion business. “It’s just kind of amazing to see how women are bosses in male-dominated industries,” she said.