Women Entrepreneurs Discuss Challenges, Experiences At Panel Event
By Colin McEvoy on November 25, 2014
Lindsay Watson admitted she was nervous when she first left the comfort of her 9-to-5 job to start her own business. But she doesn’t regret it for a moment, and had a few simple words of advice for anyone considering the same thing: don’t be afraid to make mistakes, find a mentor, and do what you love.
“You grow and you learn; don’t expect to be perfect right off that bat,” said Watson, co-founder of the staffing firm FIA NYC, LLC. Employment Services. “If you are in a job right now and you don’t love what you’re doing, find a way to love it or find something else, because you need to know what it’s like to love something, to embody it, to wake up every day and say, ‘You know what? No matter what happens, I love what I do, so that’s going to be the fuel that keeps me going.’”
Watson was one of the four panelists at “Creating Space: How Women Entrepreneurs Succeed,” a panel event hosted on November 19 by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.’s (LVEDC) Innovation, Talent and Entrepreneurship Council (ITE) in recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week. The other panelists included Katy Worrilow, founder of LifeAire Systems; Kristin Holmes, co-founder of Holmes Cunningham Engineering; and Corinne Warnshuis, executive director of Girl Develop It.
About 50 people came out to hear the women speak at the Rodale Community Room of Allentown’s Miller Symphony Hall, where they talked about their past experiences, challenges they faced and how they overcame the fear of failure while venturing out on their own.
“For me, it’s probably naïve, but I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” Warnshuis said. “I think I’ve learned the most from my mistakes. Learning the hard way is the best way to learn, because it sticks with you more. There’s a mantra in the start-up scene that’s ‘fail fast’ which I don’t really agree with because you’re only failing if you don’t learn from your mistakes.”
Holmes said one of the biggest rewards from starting her own business has been the wide variety of challenges experiences on a day-to-day basis, rather than falling into the same daily routine. She feels one of the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs face is having enough confidence.
“It’s a challenge for everyone, but I think for women in particular, especially in a field like mine where it’s essentially a male-driven field,” she said. “You are really a minority at a lot of events, at meetings and projects in the construction field. Having confidence is very critical.”
Warnshuis expressed agreement, and said in her business of training women in the tech industry, where there is a significant gender gap, a lack of confidence often stops many from starting in the first place. She believes women are socialized in subtle ways to believe they should not take on certain roles, citing the release of “Computer Engineer Barbie” as an example. A book about the doll was strongly criticized because, at one point, Barbie said she was only creating the design ideas for a computer game and “I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.”
“It’s a lot of little things like that, it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts. We really are socializing our girls that way, but at least we’re talking about it. People are talking about it a lot more than they were when we were growing up, so I think it’s on the up and up.”
Watson suggested seeking out a mentor who believes in you as a person, not just your abilities and skill sets, because those things can change and be improved, but it’s ultimately the person who should be invested in. Worrilow said when she started her business she was very comfortable with the science and engineering components, but had to seek help from individuals familiar with other business aspects like operations, finances and strategy.
“I’ve found the Lehigh Valley just absolutely rich with people in expertise different areas,” Worrilow said. “I’ve been very blessed to have met some phenomenal business advisors, financial advisors, legal advisors, all of whom represented the values, ethics and integrity that were very important to me and to my team.”
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