A day filled with excitement and insights as women gather to launch the Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship.
It is not every day that you get a chance to do what you really want to do! Andi and I have been fortunate. We have been successful entrepreneurs who grew our businesses and are now sharing our experiences with others to help them do the same.
After I sold my company, Andi and I decided to make a contribution to Washington University in St Louis, something which would have a long-term impact, a multiplier effect, by connecting people throughout the university and even into the surrounding communities.
While it started as just an idea, like other entrepreneurs we knew that if we worked hard enough on it, something exciting would emerge. The Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship came out of a lot of good ideas from the talented people at Washington University.
A little context: I am a graduate of Washington University and Andi taught entrepreneurship there as a visiting professor in 2006. It is an institution that is dear to us. Over the years and as part of our continuing involvement, we got to know and really like the folks in the "Wash U" development office. While we knew we wanted to make some type of donation to the university, neither the development officers nor Andi or I knew precisely what we wanted to do.
After many discussions and much brainstorming, the area that began to emerge was how to help women entrepreneurs find their “big” ideas and grow them into successful businesses. It just fit our interests and experiences.
The Skandalaris Center
Our friends in the development office pointed the way to the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship. As the Skandalaris Center tag line promises, "We aim to inspire and develop Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at Washington University."
Again, it seemed like a perfect fit. Soon, our idea began to take shape as the Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship with a particular focus on women entrepreneurs.
Both Andi and I felt strongly that this Initiative could focus on the energy and enthusiasm, but also the struggles, that we saw in women who were trying to start and run a business but without the depth of mentors and investors typically available to men.
Thanks to the Skandalaris Center's outstanding leadership — II Luscri, Managing Director, the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Assistant Vice Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and his team of Jessica Stanko, Shauna Williams and Erin Mitchener — the Initiative was launched in early 2018, with the first event, the HER Summit, taking place in November, 2018.
HER stands for "Helping Entrepreneurs Rise" — a very cool name and an excellent way to kick off the Initiative.
The HER Summit program
The purpose of the HER Summit was to bring together a diverse group of current or potential entrepreneurs, and we focused on attracting women with a wide range of ideas from different backgrounds. It worked! One hundred and fifty people signed up for the event.
The organizers of the Summit brought together a broad spectrum of disciplines, including liberal arts, humanities, creative arts, social sciences, technology, medicine, even life sciences. They recognized that the ideas that can come from the intersections of varied disciplines are quite amazing, and they were right.
To everyone's delight, the event fostered a realization of how a highly interactive, engaging experience can enable people to share perspectives, meet and network with new people, form relationships, and begin to craft their entrepreneurial stories.
There were five essential objectives to the program:
• BUILD a Professional Network of experienced women entrepreneurs, innovators, advisors, mentors and investors spanning all disciplines and sectors
• CONNECT women in the Washington University community (undergraduate students, graduate students, professional students, post-docs, alumni, faculty, staff and community members) to the Professional Network surrounding that community
• EMPOWER women to be confident in their ideas and explore their possibilities
• TRAIN women to identify opportunity and turn it into a viable venture concept
• LEVERAGE existing Washington University-related initiatives to amplify support of women’s entrepreneurship
The day's events
The HER Summit brought together women innovators and entrepreneurs from both the Washington University and St. Louis communities. Attendees heard from successful female business leaders, brainstormed solutions to their business challenges and networked to build their community of like-minded, fearless women.
In a breakout session, attendees then took part in an exercise facilitated by Jennifer Ehlen, founder and CEO of Brazen Global, in which they formed groups and workshopped their everyday business challenges using Brazen’s signature Growth Group program.
Next was a panel discussion with women entrepreneurs from a number of industries, including Kate Wiegmann, Founder and COO of RISE Collaborative Workspace; Maxine Clark, Founder and Former CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop, CEO of Clark-Fox Foundation and Chief Inspirator of the Delmar DivINe; and Jennifer Silva, Co-Founder and CMO of SentiAR, Inc. Washington University student Jiya Singh (BSBA ’21), Co-Owner and VP of Marketing of Wash U Wash, was the panel moderator and did an excellent job.
Finally, the day ended with a presentation by Atima Lui (BSBA ’12), founder and CEO of NUDEST. Altima also hosted a private workshop for a select group of women.
Here is a sampling of what took place at the inaugural HER Summit:
Based on the feedback from this first Summit, the program for next year will include the following:
1. SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP. A look at social entrepreneurship featuring Theresa Carrington, founder of Ten by Three. An award-winning program in nine Third World countries, Ten by Three helps women emerge from poverty by enabling them to receive a Prosperity Wage® for their handmade baskets and other products that are then sold in the United States. This social entrepreneurship program is scheduled for February 1, 2019.
2. REUNION EVENT. A Washington University reunion program featuring women entrepreneurs that will be held during the 2019 reunion weekend.
3. SUMMER PROGRAM. A weekly Summer 2019 program led by selected women CEOs to enable budding entrepreneurs to learn from the experiences of accomplished women business leaders who have preceded them.
4. 2nd ANNUAL HER SUMMIT. In early November 2019, the Simon Initiative will hold its 2nd Annual HER Summit.
Want to know more?
Please click here to learn more about the Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship and how we help women entrepreneurs take their ideas and turn them into successful businesses.
Also, if you are searching for ways to turn your ideas into innovations, this Ebook Primer for Entrepreneurs might be a great place to start:
Ready to launch your big idea? Give us a call.
At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we specialize in helping entrepreneurial startups as well as established companies develop a business strategy, realign their company culture, launch their venture, capture customers and grow market share. Perhaps we can help you with yours? We look forward to hearing from you. After all, you never know where a conversation could take you.
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