The Wonder Women of WE
Channeling Wonder Woman and Indiana Jones, Amy Noble Seitz kicked off the sixth annual Women in Entrepreneurship Conference (#WECon6) at Carlson School of Management with her story that in so many ways, embodies the essence of entrepreneurism.
She started with reflections on her childhood -- a smattering of jobs in her hometown of 1,500 people in Blooming Prairie, SD. From rock picking to lifeguarding you got the sense that she ran the town. She attributed her solid work ethic to her father and two amazing entrepreneurial role models in her mother and grandmother, a beauty shop owner and award-winning corn seed salesperson.
Her life timeline projected on to the screen with dates and snapshots of significance. She painted a picture of an incredibly full life, interwoven with professional opportunities and experiences while life with a husband and four children was happening.
From Carlson Companies and Lintex Corporation to Northwest Airlines and The Steele Foundation, she was sought after. It seemed that her work ethic, values and track record spoke highly enough for itself. Leadership in varied companies didn't think twice about a resume that didn't appear to be in pursuit of any one industry, profession or career (good news for many entrepreneurs in the room with similar histories). They offered jobs, in the case of one company, three times before she said yes.
Almost as a precursor to an afternoon breakout session I attended, Make the First Sale, Amy described her MN Cup experience as invaluable. In fact, even if you don't have an idea, she suggested that you make one up so you can glean the rich knowledge and mentorship from these individuals. Through MN Cup she streamlined her initial 70-page business plan for what is now Exhibits Design Group (EDG) into 20 meaningful pages that set up her first sale to Ralph Burnett. Her back up plan if it didn't go over well? Ask Ralph for a job.
It went well. So well that today EDG with its mission to share culture around the world through traveling exhibitions and special programming has been in business 13 years and hosted over 150 installations around the world. Its next venture, the holy grail for 2025, is to move EDG into a global distribution platform to help museums and institutions move their stash of valuables to others who will share with their communities. The Ebay of the arts community.
She opened and closed with this quote, "You are amazing. You can do anything. You can do anything, especially the amazing."
Inspired, 300 attendees selected two of six breakout session offerings to attend. Sessions included: Where to Start - Early Funding Resources (Bethany Iverson, Amanda Heyman, Alyssa Boswell); The Big Sale (Lee Jones); Negotiate Like A Boss (Elizabeth Meyer); You're the CEO: Creating Incentives and Structure to Grow (Pam York); Make the First Sale (Stephanie Hansen, Margi Scott, Amy Brown, Heidi Andermack, Stine Aasland); and When You're Ready to Hire Salespeople (Heather Manley, Abby Hoeschler, Teresa Webber and Pat Webber).
I attended Negotiate Like A Boss, led by Elizabeth Meyer of EMPower Equity Partners. The session particularly drove home why we currently host so many women-specific events in our community. Women are still facing a gender pay gap and the needle did not move at all this past year. We continue to come at this gap from all angles, powerful and improved negotiating skills included.
Start with "Like it or not, you are a negotiator." Beth's advice was to practice developing, flexing and sharpening your negotiator skills in everyday life. As a mom, I quickly calculated that I have at least 33 moments in a day to practice this in person and via text and emojis with my kids.
Beth covered five concepts from Aim High, Start Higher to assessing where you fall on the scale of collaborative to competitive when it comes to negotiations. We talked about the power of silence, language nuances (take out the I think and I believe), assertive women being perceived as aggressive, and getting creative to create room to negotiate. Beth ended with four fantastic tips, a myth-busting session, resources including Amy Cuddy's The Power Pose (TEDTalk channeling Wonder Woman), EMPower Equity Partners offerings, and this: be relentlessly positive in your negotiations.
Charged with energy from the EMpower session, I moved into the second breakout session where I attended Make the First Sale. The session featured moderator Stephanie Hansen (StephaniesDish), Makers of MN host and much more; Amy Brown and Heidi Andermack, Chowgirls; Stine Aasland, Nordic Waffles; and Margi Scott, Take 12 Registry.
The panelists ultimately dished on what makes the creation and evolution of their businesses authentically theirs. Stine's Nordic Waffle business, born out of serving waffles in gas stations (where the food is good and the space functions as community gathering place in Norway), persevered when her fellow Norwegians told her they would just make their waffles at home, thank you. She, with the help of a goat on a rooftop and a compelling story, most creatively tweaked waffle accompaniments (Americans love bacon, yes) and introduced them to Minnesota most notably during the MN State Fair 2018 with savory success.
Amy and Heidi's story began 15 years ago as newlyweds lamenting over the frustrations in planning their own weddings. Knowing they both loved food and gatherings, they strategized about their entrance into the food scene, which was male-dominated kitchens at the time. They went an alternate route. They threw a party with friends and knocked it out of the park with the food, securing the referral for their first sale.
Margi's story directly addresses a moment in her life where a series of events -- the discovery she was carrying twins, the realization of a condition that mandated the twins be delivered immediately, her husband's lay off and her company's unpaid maternity leave -- all converged. It inspired Take 12 Registry, which is creating a national culture shift to financially support families and the leave experience. Take 12 is doing away with hundreds of onesies that will never be worn in exchange for parent/child stress-free bonding time.
Session takeaways were many including mottos and mantra's from each. Fake it til you make it (Stephanie), Never give up... persistence is so underrated (Stine), How can I help make this person's life better? (Margi), and Speak everyone's language and be true to yourself (Amy).
After the keynote and breakout sessions, there was a second networking break where attendees could process their learning, enjoy some food and beverage and get pumped for the Pitchfest session. I attended the first networking session featuring Women Venture, MN Deed, EMPower Equity Partners, MN Chamber of Commerce, The Coven, Venn Foundation, Lunar Startups, Sunrise Banks, Pitchwell, ModernWell (where I'm a member) and Minnestar. I stayed a bit for the second, then had to head out before Pitchfest unfortunately. I hear it was dynamic!
I look forward to this event every year (see previous WE blogs: Women Entrepreneurs Rise Up in MN Feb 2015 (updated link coming soon); and WE Can Be Bossy Apr 2016). I'm so grateful to be part of this community. I will be channeling my inner Wonder Woman as I apply the learning from WECon6 and broadening my network to include these inspiring women -- speakers and attendees alike!
--- Reflections on the 6th annual Women in Entrepreneurship Conference are my own takeaways based on the sessions I attended. I regret that I could not attend them all!