“Reclaiming our time.” It’s the simple, but weighty slogan chosen for the inaugural Women’s Convention convened by the organizers of last January’s Women’s March — a twist on words uttered by Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters earlier this year during a House committee meeting that became a rallying cry for women around the nation.
That call was championed on Friday by a group of women business owners and leaders who addressed conference-goers in Detroit, and who urged them to action in their businesses. Do not delay in starting up — because, as the panelists defiantly put it, “we don’t wait our turn.” And stay committed to your entrepreneurial vision no matter what, they added.
Five prominent businesswomen — Piera Gelardi, co-founder of women’s media company Refinery29; lifestyle brand owner Arian Simone; designer Tracy Reese; Jennifer DaSilva, president of advertising agency Berlin Cameron; and discussion leader and serial entrepreneur Dee Poku — offered words of advice on how the standing-room-only crowd could infuse that spirit of impatience into their entrepreneurial endeavors.
The conversation, both among the panelists and with attendees who posed questions, covered a range of familiar topics — securing investors, achieving work/life balance and moving on from failure — while offering some fresh perspectives.
When it came to the very concept of work/life balance, Simone balked at the notion of balance being a 50/50 ratio. Instead, she urged women to think about balance in terms of what combination would satisfy them personally, as an individual entrepreneur. “Your life is balanced when you’re fulfilled,” she said.
In terms of pursuing investors, Gelardi of Refinery29 emphasized the power of specificity. “It’s usually not just the business” that people invest in, but rather, specific ideas for innovation and growth. And she urged entrepreneurs to claim their rightful place. “You don’t have to sell your soul” to find an investor, she said. Think of the process as “almost like hiring an employee,” and find “someone that you want to have a relationship with, that you think is really likeminded.”
Simone added that passion is key in seeking investments, too. Not only do you need it to promote your venture, but it will also help you cope with rejection, which women often face when soliciting money from VCs.
Reese, the designer, spoke about the need to both find and create a community as a woman business owner. When she was starting out, for example, she sought out local groups to help her develop a business plan while also building up a professional network all her own. “You have to extend yourself to your peers … and you have to let your friends help you,” she said.
Mentors are also key, several panelists noted. “Within community,” Simone said, “you want to make sure you find people who have been there before and who’ve done it before.” But, Reese added that mentorship should be a two-way street. “You have to participate. You have to add value” to the relationship.
While developing oneself as a leader, DaSilva of Berlin Cameron cautioned against letting male predecessors — particularly in male-dominated industries — set the standard for how to do it right.
That point especially resonated with Amy Balzer-Pemberton, the founder of Michigan-based graphic and web design firm Designs with Aim. “I think that’s really powerful. And it’s part of being an entrepreneur — you get to call the shots.”
So while much of the Women’s Convention is focused on galvanizing women into political action and leadership, the businesswomen here embraced the idea of using entrepreneurial activity to find and use their voice, buck the status quo and subvert the system — and women like Balzer-Pemberton left smiling and inspired to get to work.