(Photo by SJ Punderson)
Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” ushered hundreds of attendees into the League for Entrepreneurial Women’s 19th annual conference at Temple’s Fox School of Business on Tuesday. There was good reason for the gathering. According to data from the Women Business Owners Association, there are 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. These businesses employ nearly 9 million people and generate revenues of $1.7 trillion. However, only 17 percent of startups have a female founder, according to a 2017 study by Crunchbase.
At the League’s conference, women weren’t the only people encouraged to do better. For the women in attendance “Ask for what you want” was the event’s 2018 theme.
“Repeat after me,” said featured speaker Brandi Baldwin-Rana, the founder of Millennial Ventures Holdings. “I’m going to embrace my big ask.” Laughter filled the room as the audience shouted the phrase back. “Now say ‘Back that ask up,’” Baldwin-Rana joked. Juvenile would’ve been proud of his song’s creative re-use.
Encouragement and positivity set the tone in a room filled with students, startup CEOs and potential funders who listened to new ideas and learned about old ones from a light-filled, airy perch on Temple’s campus. The stage was set for local entrepreneurs who were recognized for their vision and achievements, including keynote speaker Yasmine Mustafa, the cofounder and CEO of wearables startup ROAR for Good. The Fox School alumna shared her story of unbelievable luck, tragedy and hard work to arrive at her current role as the leader of 15 people who are perfecting ROAR’s safety device, Athena.
“My family was rescued from Kuwait as Saddam Hussein’s bombs were dropping,” Mustafa said. “We were brought to the U.S. for a fresh start, but I was bullied in high school, and later, my father abandoned our family. I wanted to contribute something good to the world.”
Mustafa highlighted a couple of experiences that helped her persevere to become one of Philadelphia most well-known female entrepreneurs.
“Accept that people are happy to help,” she said. “I have a hard time asking for it. And try to get as many no’s as possible.”
During the event, four local entrepreneurs were inducted into the League’s Hall of Fame, including Axelrod Firm president Sheryl Axelrod, Arbill CEO Julie Copeland, Blackstar Film Festival founder of Maori Karmel Holmes and retired professor and diversity pioneer Tina Sloan Green.
For the next generation of movers and shakers, a three-minute pitch segment included two college student CEOs — Stephanie Taylor of TailorFit Laundry and Emily Kight of Ovarian Lab & Biomaterix — in addition to eighth-grade student Anna Welsh, founder and CEO of Little Bags, Big Impact.
Welsh saw a business opportunity and a chance to make an environmental and social impact using fabric scraps. She designs, hand cuts and sews small bags from locally sourced materials and to-date has rescued over 2,000 pounds of textiles from landfills. As if that wasn’t enough, Little Bags, Big Impact is helping to tackle Philly’s child literacy problem: 15 percent of proceeds per bag goes to buying books for kids.
“I’m in eighth grade,” said Welsh. “I have an accountant, a lawyer, have received an official U.S. trademark, have sold over 1,000 bags and employ two people two part-time. I want to make a difference in my community.”
Welsh hopes to expand out of her parent’s house, and would like her bags to be included in monthly subscription boxes.
Even Temple University Executive Vice President and Provost Joanne A. Epps got into the entrepreneurial spirit:
“My advice to future entrepreneurs is that if you have a sofa, lay on it,” she said. “Close your eyes, and dream for a moment. Dream about what you would chart for yourself. Find out who’s doing something like that and figure out how to get there.”-30-
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