Above: Marilyn Johnson addresses attendees of International Women's Forum in Miami. Photo credit: Tabatha Mudra.
All big businesses start small, and they grow by following what Kay Koplovitz, founder of USA Networks, calls a trail of little victories. This was one of the many lessons shared during the International Women’s Forum two-day Executive Development Roundtable for entrepreneurs in Miami last week. The intimate event, supported by Knight Foundation, attracted more than 70 participants.
“Every person in this room has the ability to do what I did,” Koplovitz said as a panelist during the “Spotlight on Icons: Women Entrepreneurs” session. “You just have to see the opening to be fearless.”
The International Women’s Forum has 74 chapters around the world, and aims to develop the next generation of women leaders by creating a platform where they can connect with each other and learn from accomplished members. Executive Development Roundtables are a part of many personal development services the organization offers for women.
“What can we do today that will benefit our granddaughters?” asked Marilyn Johnson, International Women’s Forum CEO. “As Kah Walla said during her session, if we are successful in changing the current dynamic, we won’t even need this conversation; it will be old news. That excites me, having been a professional myself for five decades. In the 1970s, I had very few role models and we tend to limit our dreams based on our horizon.”
Panelists included International Women’s forum members Susan Amat, creator of the Venture Hive accelerator program in Miami, and Walla, a business leader in Cameroon in Central Africa. Additional sessions were led by other prominent entrepreneurs, such as Michael K. Robinson, IBM’s program director for global supplier diversity, and Yolanda Ortiz-Parker, senior manager for supplier diversity with Macy’s. The sessions covered a variety of topics to help entrepreneurs develop their personal brands, find funding and pitch their ideas.
“Let girls and women know that they can be strong, independent and decisive, and don’t need to apologize for it,” Amat said. “Know what you’re going for and get it done. Develop people within your team so they can grow and take on tasks because it all comes back to execution, so know that you can leave and things will get done.”
The panelists explained that self-advocating is generally harder among women, but it is important for women to take ownership of their ideas to succeed and compete in business.
“It is important for us to embrace power,” Walla said to the attendees. “Many women are afraid of that word because they think it is negative, or that it presses other people and it is unfair. A key element that women have to embrace is that if we want a different workplace, a different economy, and a different world, we need to embrace power and transform it.”
Historically, it has been hard for women to make it big in the male-dominated entrepreneurial world, but the panelists explained that changes are constantly taking place. Today, women own almost 30 percent of businesses in the U.S., which represent $1.3 trillion in revenue, and are responsible for creating 23 million jobs.
Above: Participant Maggie Fernandez (center), reacts during International Women's Forum.
“Women own half of all investible assets in the U.S.; we are roaring from a wealth, education and investment standpoint,” said Trish Costello, CEO and founder of Portfolia, an online platform that connects female entrepreneurs to potential investors. “Three times as many women today are angel investors as three years ago. It excites me that we have power right now. No woman in history has had the power we all have right now.”
Attendees saw the event as a valuable learning experience, especially when they had one-on-one time with the speakers to develop mentor connections and ask for advice.
“I made the switch from the public sector to the entrepreneurial sector two years ago, and I dived in head first and I just went with it and did it,” said attendee Maggie Fernandez, president of Sustainable Miami, an organization that helps startups communicate with government. “This forum came at the perfect time because I don’t have a business degree and I had never started my own business before, so this is a great opportunity to learn so that I know what to do next and how to pivot. I’m trying to get tools so that when I adjust I make good decisions.”
The speakers also emphasized that it is important to commit to lifelong learning.
“As entrepreneurs we have to keep shedding our own skin,” said Janice McDonald, a serial entrepreneur and one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women in 2013 and 2014, according to Women’s Executive Network, Canada’s leading organization for the advancement of women. “That does not necessarily mean reinventing yourself, but continually expanding knowledge and thinking in new ways. A challenge can make you re-evaluate our pathway but not our goals.”