During Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in Philadelphia, a panel discussion among early-, mid- and mature-stage women business owners revealed lessons in three different industries: technology, food/beverage and fashion.
Panelists included Gabriela Guaracao, founder of Americae (early stage, launch in business); Lisa Miccolis, founder of The Monkey & The Elephant (mid-stage, 2-5 ears in business); and Reshma Moorthy, president and owner of Frontier Technologies (mature stage, 5+ years in business). Moderator Beth Cohen, director of Business Strategy & Innovation Counsel at Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld LLC, asked each panelist to share a “fun fact,” added additional pointers and repeatedly offered to follow up with additional information.
PANEL DISCUSSION WITH WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS
The following are some key (edited and consolidated) points from the exchange with these women business owners:
Reshma Moorthy (RM): Frontier Technologies is a company that my parents ran and started 30 years ago. I am a second-generation business owner and initially had no desire to go into the business. When I graduated from college, I hit a fork in the road. Fun fact: I am an avid tennis player.
Lisa Miccolis (LM): I loved the community aspect of my coffee shop [which employs former foster youth and helps develop personal/professional skills]. Fun fact: I hated coffee.
Gabriela Guaracao (GG): Our fashion products for women are not a luxury brand but high quality. We work with people in South America and just launched last July. I wrote my business plan, which is in the 50th iteration, in 2016. Fun fact: I’ve been to every continent in the world.
Beth Cohen (BC): What support and strength did you draw on to address and overcome challenges? How did you stay focused?
RM: My mom offered the opportunity to understand the business–she is my motivator and inspiration. I didn’t have peers that I could relate to and felt alone for the last 10 years. Now, I love the business and have the entrepreneurial spirit. It dawned on me to take the reigns of the business. My parents started to trust me.
LM: I persevered and refused to accept that the coffee shop wouldn’t work. It’s difficult funding a non-profit social enterprise with one location. I chose the path with the least resistance. I had financial and emotional support from my family and support system to lean on, which helped me move forward. My boyfriend of 8 years didn’t know what he was getting into. I was exhausted and super-stressed when we had alone time. When I was upset, I remembered that I didn’t want to let people down. We are employing young people, and the business is bigger than myself.
GG: My strength was in marketing. I didn’t know how to sketch. Trying to pitch investors, largely men older than 60, was difficult. The Philadelphia investor community is not primed to understand fashion. I needed to be hard and tough in my conviction that I could make things happen.
BC: What unique challenge did you face because you are a woman? How are women entrepreneurs are discounted?
RM: It’s been challenging trying to push the envelope. Women and younger bankers have been more supportive. I work backward and try to figure out how we will reach revenue goals.
LM: Non-profits are more women dominated. I can tell if others are responding with respect or regarding me as a young woman. Challenges come up with young men dealing with a woman in authority.
GG: Fund raising and being taken seriously are challenging. Working with investors has been extremely difficult. My accelerator experience was the worst, but I survived and used the experience to move forward.
AUDIENCE QUESTIONS FOR WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS ON PANEL
After the panel discussion, audience questions (AQ) were posed to the women entrepreneurs. Here are some excerpts:
AQ for RM: How are you making the business your own?
RM: I’m trying to take the business to the next level. I’m thinking about mergers and acquisitions. I’m building access beyond human capital. I’m establishing that I’m a second-generation owner who wasn’t just given the business. I want to make my parents proud.
AQ from student: Should I pursue more schooling or go into business?
RM: My mom’s advice is that it’s important to have a base [from school] first.
GG: I’ve been taken more seriously when investors learn where I went to school [B.A. in finance and international business from Villanova University and M.A. in security policy studies from George Washington University].
AQ from Keiretsu Forum member: How are you defining success, and how can we help?
RM: I have a 10-year exit strategy. I am positioning the company to be sold. I have lofty revenue goals. How can we take the company to the next phase? Through different software ventures.
LM: I am figuring out how to create sustainability.
AQ from woman entrepreneur and mother: How are you supporting women who are mothers at your business?
RM: We offer maternity leaves, so jobs are secure when they return.
LM: We need to fill shifts but want to support these women.
GG: We are a team of six women. It’s a huge challenge for any small business. There are no government resources or other help.
BC: We need to create stakeholders beyond shareholders. I think that women are leading the way.