American Express’ CEOBootCamp for Women: a Smart Investment

AmEx OPEN

American Express OPEN just sponsored the CEOBootCamp in Los Angeles, an excellent event where female entrepreneurs could network, train and share in the wisdom of successful women who have turned their ideas into multi-million dollar businesses.  Keynote speaker Denise Wilson wowed the crowd when she shared that she was an oboe player and schoolteacher who became a pilot.

In 2007, she founded DesertJet, a private air charter company.  Engaging, funny, humble and determined, one can only imagine the resistance she received when starting her business, since only 6% of pilots are women.

Wilson’s comfort in her own skin was not unlike another presenter, former Ogilvy & Mather CEO, Charlotte Beers, author of the book, I’d Rather Be In Charge, who rose to the top of the advertising world and now coaches women to be their authentic selves, realizing that people don’t buy the work or the widget, they buy you, your commitment, your passion.  According to Beers, there is no stopping “a woman who is full of energy, fierce with bravery and determined to get something done.”

One common thread was shared by each entrepreneur who spoke – don’t fear mistakes.  Mistakes will lead to success. Learn from them and keep moving forward.  It’s not always the first idea that works.  They talked about the value of generosity in business, of not only getting, but giving referrals as well as the rewards of allowing diverse personalities and ideas on their teams.

While women CEOs and board room execs are a minority, according to Geri Stengel’s recent Forbes’ article, 11 Reasons 2014 Will Be A Breakout Year For Women Entrepreneurs, this is changing:

“[T]he number of $10-million-plus women-owned firms increased by 57% — a growth rate nearly 50% more than $10-million-plus firms overall, according to Growing Under the Radar: An Exploration of the Achievement of Million-Dollar Women-Owned Firms.

 

While the number is still small — nearly 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses — the percentage grew more than 40% from the previous year, according to the Center of Venture Research, which studies early-stage equity financing for high-growth ventures. Even venture capitalists have increased their support of women-led companies. It’s still paltry, but the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013. That’s nearly a 20% jump over 2012, according to Pitchbook, a venture-capital research firm."

Peggy Wallace, managing director of the angel investor group, Golden Seeds, noted that “Female entrepreneurs still do not fit the typical profile of a young, tech male.  Investors need to be open to diversity of ideas, age, geography. We need a more open environment.”

Given that women tend to get less capital investment, Crowdfunding via Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Rockethub are showing early signs of success.  And there are a number of male investors realizing it is advantageous to their bottom lines to fund women’s start-ups.  Stengel reports:

It’s not just Warren Buffett who is bullish on women. Vivek Wadhwa , academic, writer, and entrepreneur is a vocal critic of the underfunding of women-led companies by Silicon Valley and a supporter of women-led businesses. He is crowd-creating and funding a book about women’s global participation in the innovation economy. Male angel investors, such as Adam Quinton, recognize that the failure of the angel market in general to invest in promising women-led companies provides greater opportunity for him.

 

Interestingly, men like D’Antonio, Folkman, Gerzema, Keeley, and Zenger weren’t seeking to do research to support the effectiveness of women as leaders and innovators. It’s just where the analysis of their data took them.”

In 2012, Forbes’ Natalie MacNeil claimed that Entrepreneurship is the New Women’s Movement:

“A quiet revolution is taking shape right now among women.  Unlike the Quiet Revolution that began in the 1970s which saw women leave the home and enter the workforce in droves, women today are leaving the workforce in droves in favor of being at home. But unlike generations of women before, these women are opting to work in the home not as homemakers—but as job-making entrepreneurs.

 

Women have been starting businesses at a higher rate than men for the last 20 years and tend to create home-based micro (less than 5 employees) and small businesses. Women will create over half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected to be created by 2018 and more and more are doing this from home offices across the country. It’s a surprising statistic, especially considering that women-owned businesses only created 16 percent of total U.S. jobs that existed in 2010.”

This would indicate that some women are rejecting the current business model to come up with their own.  Further, women at the AmEx event didn’t dwell upon current inequities in investor funding.  Some even stated they expected to be laughed at when pitching their businesses. They just don’t give in to naysayers.  One presenter made the point that if a man was unlikely to invest in a woman’s business, it was not a “vast conspiracy” to keep women out, but simply a male paradigm.  “He” could not see the “value” based on what he himself would buy, i.e., “Why would a woman spend $300 on a purse?  Why would this business succeed?”

Yet with 80% of consumer spending now controlled by women, embracing and entertaining new business models with more women at the helm clearly benefits both men and women, and can only grow the economy.

The women at the AmEx event were culturally diverse, running businesses that smash stereotypes of “girly” products.  The conference was not only a celebration of the growth that women are experiencing, but how comfortably they are partnering with men and other women on their teams.  The idea being, there’s enough to go around – help others grow their business to grow yours.

Ms. Stengel’s article also pointed out the advantages to companies that embrace female leadership or have women in prominent roles in venture-backed companies.  According to 2 research reports:

And

“Last year was the first time that two American-born non-celebrity entrepreneurs — Sara Blakely and Tory Burch — made the 2013 FORBES World’s Most Powerful Women list.”

Men in business have a built in advantage simply because they’ve been at this so much longer, having entrenched networks, yet women are starting to find their way and their own networking model.

As Phaedra Hise shared in American Express Open Forum:

Welcome to the new age of the woman entrepreneur, where successful women leaders are embracing their gender differences by creating female-inspired products and services, with companies led by moms and funded by empowering sisters. Men aren’t out of the picture, but they’re no longer defining the parameters of success.

 

Being a woman entrepreneur isn’t better or worse than being one of the boys. It’s just different, and today’s successful female company founders have figured out how to work it.

Per the Wall St. Journal, our first female Fed Chair, Janet Yellen, recently stated:

"Women still remain underrepresented at the highest levels in academia, in government and in business.  Making fuller use of the talents and efforts of women in the workplace has made us more productive and prosperous."

The mission of women is not to imitate men, nor to put men out of business.  As women embrace their own style of leadership and partnership, their growth and sense of fulfillment will bring greater employment opportunity, a growth in GDP and success to all of us.

*Originally published at EPIC TIMES.

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Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a book that shares the truth of contemporary misogyny and tells it like it is for women who dare to lead.  #1 on Amazon's Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

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