On Friday, March 9, I was honored to take part in an amazing first-time event for Wichita, the EmpowerHER Conference, which served as the public launch of Women Entrepreneurs of Kansas, WeKan.
This conference brought together over 100 women (and a few men) from around our community to focus on the entrepreneurial journey of women. What really struck me was the incredibly positive focus of the event. Speakers didn’t emphasize or even really mention the gender gaps that exist in entrepreneurship; those are old news.
Instead, the entire event focused on bringing to together a system of support: successful female entrepreneurs as mentors, letting everyone know what entrepreneurial resources are available in our community and where to go to get started, special programs that exist for women-owned businesses, how to balance and care for yourself as well as your startup, and perhaps most important, the opportunity to network and form a community.
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The event itself was a great start, but I am even more excited about the women founders that this newly engaged network can reach. If each woman who was in the room can reach out and touch other women in our community and let them know what resources are available, we can make a real economic impact on our community.
Here’s what we know: although the numbers vary from those looking just at tech startups to overall census bureau small business ownership, women start fewer businesses than men. Women also tend to start different types of businesses than their male counterparts and run their businesses in very different ways, and with different goals. Men and women both innovate but innovate very differently. Think of the economic potential if we could increase new women-owned businesses to the same level as those owned by men, while continuing to benefit from the diversity of business type and mission.
So, what keeps this from happening? Why do we need WeKan? After conducting extensive research, the Kauffman Foundation recently released a report that women entrepreneurs tend to have a more negative outlook in their first year in business than their male counterparts, but this negative outlook disappears over time.
So how do we get women through that first year? All entrepreneurs need to connect. Study after study shows that entrepreneurs need mentors and need other entrepreneurs. EmpowerHer brought together successful business women and those just starting up, it offered opportunities to network and make connections, but even more importantly in my mind it made these women aware of the entire ecosystem that is here to help support them and their venture.
The goal of events and activities to support groups that are underrepresented in our entrepreneurial ecosystem isn’t to exclude or silo. It is just the opposite.
WeKan brought these women to a place where they could feel comfortable and inspired to show them they have a place at the table, because every entrepreneur who succeeds benefits the economy of our entire community.
Brandy Willett is manager of operations and the e2e Incubator at e2e Accelerator. Contact her at email@example.com.
Interested in writing for “Business Perspectives”? Contact Marcia Werts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-269-6762.