Where will you be one year from now? Who will you be? Who will you know? What will have changed?
A year ago, I didn’t know I would be where I’m at right now.
I’m 10 days out from the riskiest business move of my life.
I have 11 employees and sub-contractors on my team now.
I’ve put everything on the line to make this conference happen. Every nickel. Every resource. Every network connection. Every everything.
Nearly every waking moment since sometime after the 4th of July has been thinking about, planning for and working towards making this conference happen.
My team is feeling the strain. My dishes aren’t getting done.
But, we’re about to host one of, if not the largest, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day conference in North America and celebrate, support and empower women here in Wisconsin. When we do so, we will join women in 144 countries who are part of this global movement.
How did I get here? Really? How?
I almost didn’t graduate from high school. I wasn’t a very good student. When I was 8, they found a tumor behind my right eye. I missed most of the third grade and I was one of the youngest in my class anyway. They pushed me on. I was a smart kid, super creative and curious but I really couldn’t focus. I don’t know what my GPA was but other than band, chorus and English, it wasn’t anything to write home about. Sometimes I would pretend to be sick on the day that report cards came in the mail so I could cut them off at the pass. Teachers would always say, “If only Laura would apply herself.” I tried but my mind was always in other places.
In the summer of 2016, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. Your blind spots can be quite a stumbling block met with quite a lot of shame, actually. And sometimes, we overcompensate to cover for it. I found ways to self-protect and business was one of those ways.
It’s really sort of a miracle that things have turned out the way they have. When you’re not academically gifted, some of us (me), become very good at other things like music, art, writing and relationships though.
I started a business and became an entrepreneur because I could be me. I could be distracted or hyper-focused. I could explore whatever I was interested in.
I made many mistakes and I learned from them. For the first decade I was in business, my dad would say, “Why don’t you quit and find a real job?” He is a hard-working man who made a solid middle-class living for his family. He was perplexed by me much of the time. He hated the pain I was in and the struggle I was experiencing. He couldn’t understand it – or me.
Then, I started making some real money. More than enough to pay for gas, groceries and a car payment. By the time I was in my mid-30’s we were nearing $1,000,000 a year in sales putting us in the top 2% of women-owned businesses in the United States.
There were wins and losses, epic wipeouts and awesome experiences; a national board seat (thanks NRF!), an Athena nod, some other accolades and then 25+ years later, the Governor gave me an award for being a trailblazer in Wisconsin.
If that had been the final scene, that would have been a great way to end the movie. The female lead (which almost never happens in Hollywood) would have received the award to wild applause and the credits would roll.
But I didn’t feel like I was there yet. Not by the longest shot. It was still a struggle. I still had between 5 and 7 employees. We had steady growth, as steady as our expenses. We were moving forward, for sure, but not really making any headway. I needed to know what else was possible so I began a journey to figure it out. Why was it so hard? What was missing? What didn’t I know that some of my, quite candidly, male counterparts seemed to know? Why is it that I would peak at 11 employees and inevitably get back down to the 5 to 7. It turns out, I’m not alone and in fact, even at 5 to 7 employees, I’m in the top 7% of woman-owned businesses, as most only employ themselves. But again, why?
I dove in and here’s my point – you can too. It’s not over til it’s over.
The first step to getting somewhere is to decide you’re not going to stay where you are.JP Morgan
One year ago, I had just turned 49 years old and was about to graduate from Harvard Professor Michael Porter’s Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) nationwide program. I was part of the Milwaukee cohort. I debated about whether to go to New York City for graduation. Money was tight. The sky was grey. The election was looming. They had a great day planned for us where we each had the opportunity to do shark tank pitches. I could sell my books, have a booth, run an ad. Like you, I had decisions to make. I decided to go.
And then the election happened.
On election night, I started googling what was happening for women in business in the United States. I’m not a policy wonk but I was wondering, what policies had been in place and how would they change with the new administration? I was also wondering what was happening globally, which lead me to the United Nations.
At the United Nations, I discovered that Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a global movement, was hosting an event at the UN while I was in New York City graduating from the ICIC program.
I took a leap and faith and I bought a ticket.
Two weeks later, I was in New York City walking through the doors of the United Nations. I met some of the most successful women on the planet including global ambassadors from several countries. I heard their stories and they resonated and I felt hopeful about the global change that was happening as a result of this movement.
I didn’t even wait to apply to be Wisconsin’s Ambassador. I applied while I was still in New York City with the fresh glow of the hustle and bustle, creativity and opportunity all around me.
And then I kind of put it on the back burner the way you do when you have that flash of inspiration or that rush of infatuation and then come back to reality. I was accepted sometime in 2017, but by then I was on to other projects and had been accepted and started the entrepreneurship program at Babson College.
Still, it lingered.
You probably have things that happen to you exactly like this – where the idea doesn’t leave your head and every once in a while, you think about what could happen if you chose to make that thing happen – whatever that thing is for you.
I signed on the dotted line in June of 2017.
I can still remember the day because Lori, my CFO looked at me and said, “you could do a breakfast.” And I thought, yes, I could do a breakfast.
Then I booked Monona Terrace.
I also put the word out and began to assemble an Advisory Board. My team went to work building the lead generation tools needed including a complete e-commerce website and I began the leadership challenge of my life.
The Advisory Board that has guided this ship for the last 120+ days met for the first time in late July and once a month since then. 20 women from very different backgrounds and experiences, diverse in every way and really remarkable because they took a leap of faith too. It’s amazing to me how much marketing and upfront work had to happen before we could really dive into programming.
I pulled out all the stops with my team at The Creative Company, the business community and the board and together, we began the process of creating something that had never been done before for female entrepreneurs and women in business and tech in Wisconsin.
So where are we now?
- The Governor has proclaimed November 14th through the 19th Women’s Entrepreneurship Week.
- The Mayor of Madison has proclaimed November 19th (the day it is recognized around the world) Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.
- The Wisconsin Technology Council is partnering with us in our inaugural year and supporting our efforts as it leads into their WOMEN event featuring successful entrepreneur, Toni Sikes (ticketed – WEDWisconsin attendees save 50%) and the Early Stage Symposium, also at the Monona Terrace.
- Fantastic companies, individuals and volunteers have provided many resources to make this happen.
- The owner and chair of the second largest woman owned business in Wisconsin will be your luncheon keynote.
- Best-selling author Allison Liddle will be your morning keynote talking about “Life Under Construction.
- The UW’s Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship will be your guide for a vision exercise that will take you places you may have only dreamed about.
- The SBA and WWBIC as well as other local and regional resources will be available to guide you with whatever questions you may have.
- Many women will be on the stage walking you through the nitty gritty of “HOW” to make it happen, not just how they did it but how you can too.
- The questions, resources and answers as well as the network and the possibility will be at your fingertips all day, on this day, like no other day.
If you choose to take a day for yourself, what will happen?
- You will have an entire day to think. For me, this is a huge benefit. When I attend something like this, it’s having the time to think I value most. You won’t be distracted by emails or phone calls, kids or husbands, parents or life in general. This is your time.
- You will hear stories that will encourage you from people who have been where you’re at.
- You will learn HOW to move your life and your ideas forward.
- Your network will grow exponentially. As a WEDWisconsin participant, you will be part of a global community of women who are change agents, business owners, leaders, policy makers, trailblazers and innovators.
- You will laugh!
- You will be supported. Too few people talk about what it takes to achieve a successful outcome. We see the magazine covers, the Instagram photos and the FB feed and think “it’s so easy for them”. At this conference, we’re not playing that game. We’re keeping it real. The purpose of this conference is to celebrate, empower and support women in business because research shows, those three things combined are difference makers.
- You’ll gain some incredible tools in a really short amount of time that are 100% actionable beginning the minute you leave the conference.
- You’ll have access to resources that will help you grow with community economic development partners who will be at the conference.
- You’ll enjoy healthy snacks and a beautiful Mediterranean lunch overlooking Lake Monona.
You can see the agenda with everything that’s in it for you on the website at www.wedwisconsin.wpengine.com!
Reservations needs to be in by a week from today (November 9th) though.
We may sell out. We may not sell tickets at the door. And men, please join us. You are part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and we welcome your participation.
Where will you be one year from now?
The choice is yours just as it always has been.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours..Henry David Thoreau
To your life and success! You won’t want to miss it!