At International Women’s Forum Event, Entrepreneurs Share Advice, Connections

By Nancy Dahlberg The Miami Herald.

Women-run firms are generating half the revenue of their male counterparts' firms, and about 30 percent of corporations have no women in senior management.

In the venture capital world, less than 5 percent of VCs are women. Only about 3 percent of venture capital goes to companies with female CEOs, and 85 percent of funded companies have no women on founding teams.

Statistics like these are why organizations such as the International Women's Forum exist. Supported by the Knight Foundation, the IWF hosted a two-day Executive Development Roundtable in downtown Miami last week to provide leadership training and professional development to women entrepreneurs.

The two-day forum brought in female entrepreneurs who have grown billion-dollar brands and launched venture funds to share advice and secrets of success with about 70 participants, most of whom are running their own businesses in South Florida.

Yet, despite the statistics, the mood in the conference was upbeat and inspiring. The speakers shared war stories, advice, resources, connections -- and hope that things are changing. For starters, women now make up more than half of the workforce, and they have also moved higher than men in academic-degree attainment.

On the funding front, trends are moving in women's favor. For example, angel funding and crowdfunding are exploding (the number of female angels has tripled in three years, for example), and these are platforms that align with the way women operate best, the panelists said. More women are being trained to be VCs in programs such as the Kauffman Fellows program.

"We have power that no women in history have had -- that is pretty exciting," said Trish Costello, investor and founder of Portfolia. "We have to learn from each other."

Some words of advice from the panelists in Tuesday's sessions, which included IWF Fellows Costello; Kim Sanchez Rael, founder of Arrah Ventures; Denise Brosseau, co-founder of Springboard; Kay Koplovitz, former chairman of USA Network; Gayle Tauber, co-founder of Kashi; Susan Amat, founder of Miami's Venture Hive; and Kah Walla, founder of Strategies!:

Assemble an A-team. Investors look at market, technology, business model and team, but every VC will tell you it is really all about the team. Also assemble an advisory board. Everyone needs smart advisors and a really good lawyer, they said, and as you grow, hire slowly, fire fast.

Prioritize. What is the area that is providing the most value for the customer? That is what you focus on scaling. Get comfortable with the numbers. Read Finance for Non-Financial Managers. Understand your sources of cash on a monthly and quarterly basis. Realize that a highly profitable business is the engine that keeps it going.

Assemble a mastermind group. Meet regularly, at least monthly, with this group of like-minded entrepreneurs in noncompeting companies to share what you've learned and bring business problems to the table in a safe space. Strive to combine both experienced and less experienced entrepreneurs and look for different areas of expertise.

The customer is king. You don't have a business until you have a repeat customer. Reframe the word "failure": It's not a bad thing; it's a learning experience. You are failing forward. Form strategic partnerships to get your business going. But keep the terms short so there is no long-term impact.

"You have to love the roller coaster of being an entrepreneur," said Koplovitz. "I wake up every day and see possibility."

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