Unique Challenges Faced By Women Startup Founders

by Emily ReevesDirector of Digital Innovation and Insight Planning at Stone Ward Follow Emily on Twitter @Reeves501.

Last Monday night, Global Entrepreneurship Week kicked off with a panel discussion made up of women business founders including Alese Stroud, Mille Ward, President of Stone Ward, Martina Welke, Co-Founder and CEO of Zealyst, Julie Lenzer Kirk and Vanessa Brutschy.  There were approximately 30 women and men that attended this session to get advice from these experienced women.

Alese opened the discussion by quoting the statistic that 22% of business in Arkansas are founded by women. While women are 50-percent of the population, why aren’t they a bigger percentage of business owners? Her vision is for women to have a very obvious presence in new business startups and events related to the startup community.

Millie Ward was first to present and was introduced as “our local rock star” (proud of her for getting that introduction!). According to Millie, “Our economy is going to become increasingly dependent on entrepreneurs.” One person can make a huge difference in our economy, according to Millie. She talked a little bit about her company, Stone Ward and how it “does whatever it takes to tell a brand story” and works with companies that align with the Stone Ward “Building Good” philosophy.

But to understand the origins of Stone Ward as a startup, Millie shared stories from the early days of the business, including knocking on doors to get enough business to last through the year. She noted that “things never goes as planned” in startups. As a result, she said that her first lesson is to “Always be flexible, opportunistic and have a plan B.”

Millie recommends that for companies to stay in business for many years, they should be constantly be innovating. Business changes over the years and if you are not ready to change, you are not going to stay in business.

Her third lesson was to “choose the right partner.” Women often enter businesses with partners: we need someone we can trust, can lean on and celebrate with through the highs and lows. If you don’t have the right partner, it will make a startup even more difficult in the beginning.

Millie wrapped up her thoughts on how to recognize a good business opportunity: judge based on the person presenting rather than the idea. People she looks for are those that have the grit to stick with it, seeing beyond the obvious and with leadership qualities.

The rest of the panel presented via Google Hangout, which started with Martina Welke of Zealyst. Martina is the CEO and co-founder of Zealyst which is a curated networking service based in Seattle, Washington. "Zealyst utilizes smart technology and creative design to build unique events.  Zealyst software uses registration data to match attendees according to their interests, and customized social games make it easy to make new professional and personal connections at events."

Martina simply told the origin story of how her business. She and two other people had the idea, got some help putting everything together but lacked an actual engineer for the tool they wanted to create. So in the end when they couldn't find someone, they decided to learn to do it on their own.

Because the audio was a bit patchy during Martina’s interview, you can read more about her startup story here.

Up next was Julie Lenzer Kirk of the  Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. Julie first talked about her struggles with first startup company: Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. (ACT).

Julie spoke about how she's a "geek" with no management/business experience so she decided she needed to hire someone. She brought in someone to interview and immediately decided this was her guy. He immediately knew how to manage her business better than she did. However, after a while she found that he kept getting mad at her when she would chit chat with the other workers. She might ask them how their day was going or if they needed anything or how work was going and she said he did not like that at all. She decided he didn't fit within the culture of the company and to her, culture is everything when you have a small, close knit team for your company.

Everything with her business was going great, going smoothly and then boom: she had a child and everything changed. Like most people, she struggled with having a kid and balancing life and work. She stressed that it is doable, but you just have to allow yourself to do it.

Julie’s last piece of advice: "If you're going to start a business, you can plan to do the small biz thing or dream big...so why not go ahead and just dream big?"

Unfortunately, Vanessa Brutschy, who founded Wildfire Social App, was a no-show for the Google Hangout.

The themes of the advice from all the women fell into the following categories:

  • Establish a culture and stand by it.
  • Find the right partner.
  • Ask for help in the areas where you are weak.