Feb. 10, 2016

Conference rallies, supports women entrepreneurs

Laura Danckwerth
Allison Usavage
Keynote speaker Laura Danckwerth, director of software engineering and new product development and president of eBay’s Women in Technology, addresses the Women Redefining Entrepreneurship and Leadership Conference Feb. 6 at Cornell.

Ariana Blossom, program director of Passenger to Pilot: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, opened a Feb. 6 Cornell conference of women entrepreneurs with historic examples of successful businesswomen.

“It’s not that [entrepreneurship] isn’t in our DNA,” she said. “What has changed is the number of women starting businesses in the U.S.”

Between 1997 and 2015 women-owned businesses grew by 74 percent, 1.5 times the national average, according to American Express Open’s “2015 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.”

Blossom shared the Rev program’s goals: to help women grow their businesses and create jobs, to build a network and to create visible female role models.

Business and academic leaders, entrepreneurs and students came to the first Women Redefining Entrepreneurship and Leadership Conference to connect, recruit, learn and be inspired. The conference was a collaboration between Rev and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Keynote speaker Laura Danckwerth, director of software engineering and new product development and president of eBay’s Women in Technology, said: “Sometimes we invent our own self-doubt, for no reason at all. We waste that energy when we could use that energy on ourselves or our team. One thing we can do, is in a room like this, we can uplift each other.”

Another keynote speaker, Angelique Rewers, founder and CEO of The Corporate Agent, shared defining moments of her journey to the top 2 percent of women business owners.

“I was willing to risk my future on a single turn of the wheel,” said Rewers, speaking to risk-taking as part of entrepreneurship. “We are hardwired to scan for threats to our well-being. That is good for avoiding saber-toothed tigers in the jungle but not for taking risks that are necessary to starting a business.”

Rewers, whose company helps entrepreneurs and startups navigate the process of securing lucrative corporate contracts, showed her support for Rev’s Passenger to Pilot program. “I want to encourage you to join programs, like the one Rev offers,” she said. “It is the excuses you believe are true that will keep you exactly where you are and not allow you to break through.”

At the “Biases and Stereotypes Women Face” panel, Michele Williams, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the ILR School, said, “Your team functions better when you have more diversity on it,” referring to gender stereotyping and imbalance.

Also participating in the conference were Susan Fleming, senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration; Deborah Streeter, the Bruce F. Failing Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise and Small Business Management in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; Chelsey Kingsley of Kingsley Quality Wordworking; Heather Lane, co-owner of Purity Ice Cream; and Amy Zarbock, co-founder and co-owner of Ithaca To-Go.

The conference also featured a “match-making” session, hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which guided networking between small businesses, regional companies and the government.

“Just knowing that the agency reps were there with the explicit intention of networking with women entrepreneurs made the event a lot more comfortable and productive for me,” said Xanthe Matychak of Make Better Stuff, who attended the SBA session.

Jeremiah Cotman works for Rev: Ithaca Startup Works.