Women sharing their stories, breaking barriers and owning their accomplishments: These were three major themes at Montclair State’s 6th annual Women Entrepreneurship Week Conference on October 23, 2019.
Carley Graham Garcia, who recently took the helm as executive director at the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation after 12 years at Google, told attendees the conference was about fostering networks between ambitious women entrepreneurs. “We are committed to supporting women full-circle in their lives,” said Garcia, noting that this year, childcare was provided free-of-charge through the sponsorship of Lightbridge Academy.
Across speakers and panel discussions, TED-style talks and a closing workshop, women entrepreneurs of all ages and industries discussed and shared their stories — the challenges, failures, winning strategies and victories — to a rapt audience that grew throughout the day as overflow seating was added at the back of the room atop University Hall.
Women Entrepreneurship Week was born at Montclair State University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (FCE&I) in 2014 to support their mission of nurturing female founders. Initially, events were held at four universities, growing and expanding across the globe each consecutive year. The 2019 Women Entrepreneurship Week was celebrated at more than 241 institutions in 32 countries, as well as 49 states and the District of Columbia in the United States.
Montclair State’s Women Entrepreneurship Week activities launched on Monday, October 21 with “Finding Success as Food Entrepreneurs” event, feature female founders sharing their startup stories and tips for making it in the food industry. Panelists included: Risa Magid Boyer, chef/owner at Vanillamore; Caroline Mak, director of Hot Bread Kitchen Incubates and co-founder of Brooklyn Soda Works; Christine Miller-Allen, founder/head baker at Mo’Pweeze Bakery; Kris Ohleth, founder/owner at Garden State Kitchen; S.M. Rogers, founder and head chef at Sandi’s SoulBites. The moderator was Rebecca King, food and dining writer at NorthJersey.com and The Record.
Paying it Forward
The conference was remarkable for the wide range of women who shared the stage. Pioneers like Mimi Feliciano, Founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate; Melissa Walker, president and founder, Jazz House Kids; and Beatriz Manetta, president and CEO of Argent Associates, offered the wisdom of their experiences.
Walker advised new entrepreneurs to “dedicate yourself to excellent work. There’s a lot of mediocrity out there. Focus on excellence. Find where your niche is and really dig deep. If someone offers money but it’s off your mission…. you don’t get off your game.”
Manetta said she was working for a better future by influencing industry groups to support women entrepreneurs: “I want my ceiling to be the floor for the women around this room.”
Plenty of young women in the room were listening, appreciating the advice and sharing their stories. Some Millennials on the stage included Jessica Gonzalez who worked three jobs to start InCharged in order to maintain full ownership of the company; Kailu Guan of HelloAva dropped out of Parsons School of Design to become a tech entrepreneur when she saw a market for recommending skin care products for individual needs; and 29-year-old Abby Taylor took her passion from a Playa Bowls sidewalk stand to a fast-growing regional acai bowls franchise in just five years.
Budding entrepreneurs soaking up the message included several groups of high school students. Shefali Murthi of the all-girls Kent Place School said she was interested in engineering but hadn’t previously considered being an entrepreneur: “It wasn’t something I thought about, but coming here, it seems much more doable with all this support.”
Loving What You Do and Believing in It
All the women entrepreneurs shared a passion for what they were building and an unshakeable belief in their product.
Karen Kessler — known as a “fixer” — founded the public relations firm Evergreen Partners 26 years ago. Since then she’s been involved in high-profile crisis management and litigation support for cases like those seen in the movies Hustlers and Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes. Kessler said, “When words like subpoena come across my desk, indictment, I’m gleeful. I love it.”
Taylor likewise followed her passion. “My partner Rob said, ‘You really like bowls. Ask the pizza guy you live above if we can make acai bowls and sell them outside his shop.’” When nobody came to the stand initially, Taylor kept going: “I never in my head thought I’m going to fail at this. In my head, I knew we were not going to fail.”
When Joelle Tramel, Head of Cross Video Sales Solutions, YouTube and Video Solutions at Google, advised attendees to “love what you do but don’t let it be your only thing. Find something else to de-stress you,” Jeanne Pinder, CEO and founder of ClearHealthCosts countered — to laughter — that working on her business is what de-stresses her. “What do I do for fun? I really enjoy dismantling the health care industry.”
Finding Investors, Seeding the Future
Kathleen Coviello, VP of Technology and Life Sciences Investments at New Jersey Economic Development Authority, updated attendees on the numerous funds and incentives that the State of New Jersey is providing for women-owned and minority-owned businesses, including a new partnership with Golden Seeds, a national early-stage investment firm focusing on women-led business. Visit the NJEDA website here.
Finally, Jen Shap, Google Agency Business Lead, led an #IamRemarkable workshop aimed at “empowering women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond.” Shap explained that the benefits of self-promotion are vast — including taking control of how you’re perceived by others, and making them understand the unique contribution you can make.
At the end of the workshop, Shap invited three participants to share lists of what made them remarkable from the stage. Before sharing hers, Ashley Ann Lora expressed her gratitude for WEW: “I’m in awe of women getting together and supporting one another. It’s beautiful to come into a space where I know it’s safe and I can be myself and I can ask for help. So thank you.”
Garcia was likewise grateful: “We’d like to thank all of the founders, entrepreneurs and students who join us today. In particular, thanks to Mimi Feliciano, Founder and CEO of FEM Real Estate; Michele Ansbacher, Chair of the Board of the Feliciano School of Business; Kimberly Hollister, Vice Dean for the Feliciano School of Business; the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Advisory Board; and Center staff including Sharon Waters, Lori Rowbotham, Alyssa Tenore and their volunteers.”
Other speakers included: Darlene Gillard, director of community and founding team member of digtalundivided; Lisa Hirsh, President of Accurate Box; Rachel Lyubovitzky, co-founder and CEO of EverythingBenefits.
The Feliciano Center will be posting video from the WEWC at youtube.com/FelicianoCenter. Join the conversation on social media at #WEWC2019.