Sharon Hake was a global marketing executive at DuPont for 30 years before creating a company based not exclusively on branding, customer satisfaction and technology, but on women.
She wanted to find ways to make women into leaders of the business pack rather than watching female entrepreneurs fade into the background — particularly in the startup environment.
“That bothered me a lot. I kept asking myself: ‘Where are the women?’” said Hake. “The women I knew were at the top of their game with the credentials and experience. Yet, they still struggled to find their voice. They were the smartest people in the room, but were often overshadowed by men. That was troubling for me.”
On July 1, 2009, in Philadelphia, Hake formed Great Dames, Inc. with her two daughters, Heather and Deirdre. The organization soon expanded into other areas of the Delaware Valley, and even crossed continents, with global outreach through blogging and webinars. The secret to their success lies in what Hake calls a “high touch, high impact approach.”
“We work with individuals by creating communities at events and workshops,” Hake said. “We have women leadership circles, social media consultation, business development support and pitch support. Our greatest impact on women comes from our events, where women from all kinds of backgrounds and careers come in and inspire us.”
In the past, Great Dames has showcased a range of intelligent, talented and inspirational women, including Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden and WDEL 1150 Assistant News Director Amy Cherry.
New products are also presented at Great Dames events, one of the most prominent being Carol Fitzgerald’s BreastCare DTS tool: a bra insert that detects tumors. Fitzgerald shared the technology with the Great Dames community at a fundraiser event in June.
Now, Great Dames is preparing to celebrate its fifth anniversary on Sept. 10 at the Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery in Kennett Square, Pa.
Later this fall, Great Dames is hosting the Remarkable Ideas Competition in Greenville, Del. The pitch competition will feature women entrepreneurs pitching on the theme of “Happiness.” The winner will be announced Nov. 10, by entreDonovan CEO Linda Farquhar (who we recently profiled).
“I think a lot of it will be services, or it could be promoting policy, or a product that will enable women to connect and create a happier, more pleasant lifestyle,” Hake said. “Women really care about relationship value and connection, health and wellness and safety and security. They focus on these areas because they often focus on others’ happiness, and not their own.”
The winner of the competition will receive up to $25,000 in cash and services and, of course, the support of other Great Dames.
Despite its success over the past five years, Hake says Great Dames will never forget its roots.
“We started in Philly, but we’ve had a lot of success and receptivity in Delaware. It is a special place and a very connected market,” she said. “That community is so supportive of our goal of making women emerge as more confident and powerful entrepreneurs.”