WE+ Can Be Bossy
Yesterday was a day of women and entrepreneurship in Minnesota. WE+ stands for Women Entrepreneurs and the plus sign in the logo version is the North Star, lest we forget the Minnesota culture that informs the business environment women navigate here.
The conference, in its third year (see my recap from last year here), brought together 300+ women at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota for an afternoon of story-telling and inspiration. Yes, there were PowerPoints… but no name tags. Melissa Kjolsing, Director of MNCup, in her no-nonsense, straight-up style, called out name tags as a time suck for their team that needed to be doing other more important things. We’d all just have to introduce ourselves and exchange business cards. I found that refreshing, actually. I could already tell it was going to be a good afternoon.
My instincts were correct. The afternoon, focused on leveraging strategic partnerships, was a mix of solo speakers and panel discussion with plenty of time for Q and A. The notes I jotted down were not factual in a logistical sense. They were the mantras and anecdotal stories these 15 women shared and the truths and learning within their experiences.
We didn’t focus too much on spreadsheets and formulas for making a business work; rather, it was more about relationship building activities, strategic mindsets and broader vision. Some numbers we did look at included 95/5 and 60/100. The first representing the ratio of venture capital going to men (95%) vs women (5%) (source: Pamela York) and the second driving home the the job application phenomena where men will review job qualifications and apply for the job if they meet at least 60% of the criteria, whereas women won’t apply until they meet nearly 100% (source: @jenalstad).
WE, supported by MNCup, was launched in 2014 to provide an improved culture for women leading scalable startups in Minnesota. The ratios I mention above and more of the numbers woven in throughout the day called attention to where more support and deep-dives into culture and the business environment are warranted. This event offers that support and insight mainly through shared learning, impactful stories, networking and an overview of resources and ongoing seminars available for women entrepreneurs.
The day’s take-aways were many. From owning the story of your life and going beyond your #MomJob to embracing your fears and trusting your gut, we covered it all. When it came to culture, Liz Giorgi, founder of Mighteor, talked about working her way tenaciously into the male-dominated field of video production and design by wearing a black leather jacket, yet allowing herself to be vulnerable with the right clients and be totally okay with being called bossy.
Susan Adams Loyd, Clear Channel Outdoor MSP, also noted some inefficiencies with #MNNice. Melanie McMullen of DryInk chimed in to second that, also citing her intentional selection of a business partner from the east coast. Loyd, from years of living in Florida drove home an important point about assertive communication that us Minnesotans are most likely missing out on. It’s okay to admit something is not working — do it early, honestly and compassionately — and you’ll save yourself a lot of agonizing, especially when it comes to strategic partnerships. At that point an attendee said in that she was from the South and the communication style Loyd referenced had a term: Bless Your Heart Bitches.
Beyond cultural insights, most presenters touched on strategic partnerships. They defined them as broadly and narrowly as possible and gave examples that highlighted different types. Kari Ament, Zen Partners, stumbled upon LuLuLemon while in Denver and working for MN-based CorePower Yoga to form that partnership — understanding that they were talking to the same audience. Erin Newkirk, Red Stamp, a correspondence platform to make relationships stronger, married an app with a printer-partner seeking to stay relevant. Throughout the afternoon, there were many diverse examples so each attendee could find particular relevance to their story and search for strategic partners.
The last presenter, Monica Nassif, brought all of the day’s concepts to light in her story and an infusion of energy to the audience. She touched on passion, knowing yourself, connecting the dots, learning on the run, doing the work and being grateful for the ride. And so much more.
The afternoon was full of insights and connections too many to cover via blog. To hit the highlights of the solo presenters, I used the SixWords SMITH style that I’ve come to rely on for abbreviated event recaps (i.e. OTA 2014, Minnedemo). Warning: it’s kind of an insider thing.
Jen Alstad, @bswing: Abstraction is the enemy of truth.
Kristi Piehl, @MediaMinefield: Go beyond mom job to unicorn.
Maggie Shea, HotHouse Collaborative: Believe in abundance. Toxic breeds toxic.
Elizabeth Giorgi, @mighteor: Black leather jacket. Vulnerable still trumps.
Pamela York, Atasi Ventures: Graphically challenged numbers girl increases font.
Monica Nassif, Caldrea, Mrs. Meyer’s: Get dots. Connect dots. Chase dots.
Thanks to all the presenters and MNCup for planning a great afternoon, geared to ramp up women entrepreneurs for MNCup’s 12th competition and a new perk: $25,000 to the top competing women-led startup. Let’s go ladies!