While the number of female entrepreneurs is growing globally, women continue to face challenges on their startup journey.
The Alison Rose Review Of Female Entrepreneurship in the U.K. highlighted common issues such as access to funding and availability of mentorship opportunities. Newer female entrepreneurs in particular perceived a lack of professional networks as a particularly important barrier.
Not only does this lack of support limit the number of females starting or continuing their business journeys, but it can also create heightened stress and impact their health and wellbeing.
Having started her own business, JBC—a boutique media relations agency based in New York City—six years ago, Jennifer Bett Meyer realized she didn’t have access to the mentorship she craved.
While she’d been in the industry for twelve years at the time, Meyer found herself now wanting to ask seemingly “elementary questions”. From what accountant to get through to which business model to set up as, and felt she didn’t have the access to women founders she wanted.
It was an issue she set her sights on early in her business to resolve, wanting to ensure that any clients (mostly early-stage female founders) she worked with would have access to their own “ecosystem” of support.
Six years later, she’s partnered with Rebecca Minkoff, founder of the Female Founder Collective to amplify what JBC “has been all about”. Saying it’s been such a “natural fit”.
Specifically, making access to this level of support and ecosystem easy and tangible by shaking up the old model of business conferences—saying that women want more effective ways to connect and to find support networks.
Meyer says that traditional conferences have focused on a model of “sit and listen” and while there may be some valuable networking opportunities, there’s been a big gap for early-stage founders to have direct access to highly successful founders.
The incentive behind running the “Wide Awake” event was to give access to practical tools that when first starting out in business, entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have the funds or capacity to make happen.
For this first event in New York City, they also partnered with Cate Luzio, founder of Luminary, a collaboration hub for women to develop and connect, with a strong emphasis on community.
All the event partners wanted early stage female entrepreneurs to have opportunities to not just network but really connect and receive mentoring advice from women who have built thriving businesses. Mentors, they otherwise may not have had access to.
And, they wanted to offer this for free.
This is important as research shows that the value of your support networks and relationships has a direct impact on your success. Social connection doesn’t just improve physical and mental health, it also leads to more success in business and your career.
Held in early March to coincide with International Women’s Day the event attracted 150 founders.
And if the line up was anything to go by—from The Skimm founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg (who have an audience of 7 million) through to founders of Glamsquad, Learnvest, Birchbox, Ellevest and Girls Who Code—they pulled it off.
These are the names in female entrepreneurship you want to be mixing with, and would usually come with a high ticket price to access their advice in such close proximity.
When Meyer and JBC’s Partner & Managing Director Melissa Duren Conner envisaged the event, they wanted to focus on candid conversations, practical solutions and sharing real issues you’re likely to face as an entrepreneur. Meyer said this advice is so much more powerful when shared from lived experience.
One of the recurring comments we overheard was that the conference lived up to its promise to be candid. These conversations need to be in order to have value and truly offer tangible takeaways. It’s about so much more than getting inspired – it’s about learning from the women who’ve been there and finding out how they made it.
The speakers all volunteered their time for free, wanting to share and give back the type of knowledge and support they valued early on in their business journeys.
Attendee, Eleanor Turner, founder of The Big Favorite, agreed the conference was completely unique.
Honestly, a lot of conferences feel sterile, overly-formal, or full of advice you’ve heard and read 1,000 times. Wide Awake was like getting together with your friends, it had a welcoming and supportive vibe. I appreciated that the speakers brought specific experiences, candor, and humor to the stage, and that there was a real focus on action.
She’s a great example of the entrepreneur the organizers are seeking to empower—ones that then run with the practical advice and implement instantly to see the results.
Turner was prompted to get creative with her grant-hunting and as a result successfully secure an equity-free grant, including vital mentorship, after presenting to a panel of industry leaders earlier this month. Which she says was “a direct result of attending the conference”.
Meyer’s vision is to bring more events like this to the global conference scene, starting with their next event expected in Los Angeles in September this year.