WU hosts first HER Summit for female entrepreneurs

Merry May Ma | Contributing Reporter

Washington University’s Skandalaris Center held its first Help Entrepreneurs Rise summit at College Hall Nov. 3.

This summit featured guest lectures, panel discussions and business strategy exercises focused on teaching female entrepreneurs how to navigate the business world and build their businesses.

Anthropologist, business executive and award-winning author Andrea Simon opened the conference.

“Entrepreneurship is very difficult, so it is such a nice opportunity to take a break and talk to other women on campus who are interested in moving forward,” Simon said. “It’s also very fulfilling to share advice about some trials and tribulations I have experienced in order to help students avoid mistakes I have made, so they can be successful moving forward.”

Three speakers shared their experiences as female entrepreneurs at a panel moderated by Wash U Wash Director of Marketing and Communications sophomore Jiya Singh.

“[This is] such a friendly room, and I am so inspired by other panelists and the moderator,” panelist and Chief Operating Officer of RISE Collaborative Workspace Kate Wiegmann said. “I immediately felt calm and everyone is so encouraging and asking great questions. So it is really fun to share my journey and hear others too. I learn a lot as I share.”

Panelist and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine Jennifer Silva enjoyed the setting of the panel.

“I think it is great to get such diverse questions from the audience and the panel represents three very distinct perspectives,” Silva said. “But at the same time, the theme is very similar…whether talking about a company like ours, which is very engineering, technology and medical-focused, [or] something that is more consumer-focused.”

In addition to panels, the Help Entrepreneurs Rise (HER) Summit offered group activities centered around business leadership. Founder of Brazen Global Jennifer Ehlen led attendees through an exercise designed to help entrepreneurs identify business challenges, receive feedback and find solutions.

Junior Janelle McAfee and freshman Gabriella Cooperman described Ehlen’s exercise as a valuable opportunity and learning experience.

“It [was] really phenomenal,” McAfee said. “I have gotten to hear some really cool stories, met really awesome people and [was] able to actually do the process of Brazen and work through how to solve hard problems as a female in business world. I learned that it is really important to network and to have a mentor that knows more than you.”

“I think it is really inspiring to see all these women sharing different experiences, business ideas and backgrounds. I think it is fun to see what the challenges are [and to] learn from the experiences of other people before we go into the real world,” Cooperman said.

Marketing & Branding Manager for the Skandalaris Center Shauna Williams was satisfied with the discussion that the summit produced.

“As one of the coordinators, I am super proud to see all of them coming together. It is always an exciting time to have this many great leaders in one room,” Williams said. “I love hearing all the questions and hearing the responses from some women with amazing experiences, and I am excited to keep the momentum going.”

Williams felt that panelist and Build-A-Bear founder Maxine Clark’s story was especially encouraging to young attendees.

“[Clark] said she started Build-A-Bear when she was 48. And as an ambitious young woman—I am 26 years old—I think there is a rush to figure out what I want to start one day. Hearing that she started when she was 48 is so encouraging because I feel that I have time, and I love that she said the journey is the best part rather than the destination. I am excited about what is next for me.”