Girl Power Takes The Stage: Conference Aims To Help Develop Women Entrepreneurs

By Kendi Anderson Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.

Christina Love says she's prepared to enter a male-dominated career.

"It breaks the norm when women enter the tech field," the 11th-grader at Girls Preparatory School said Saturday.

Love is an active member of her school's computer science club and is proud that GPS hosts events for the community like Mad, Bad, and Dangerous, which celebrated young girls who are learning things she enjoys -- computer coding and building computers.

GPS hosted more than 500 community members at the conference designed to validate the female voice in technology, startups and business by equipping women of all ages to become successful business and social entrepreneurs. The day was packed full of workshops and speakers, including Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and the crowds could browse a marketplace of 59 vendors representing female-owned businesses.

Men were invited to attend, but the day's focus was on empowering females.

An afternoon workshop, "Entrepreneurship 201: Securing Funding," drew more than 100 people, many of whom frantically took notes.

Kristina Montague, managing partner at the Jump Fund, a female-led funding initiative for women in business, talked about networking, the variety of funding resources available and the importance of creating a solid business plan.

"The great thing about Chattanooga is we have so many resources," she said. "Our fund wants to encourage diversity in business, by supporting women."

A component specifically designed for students was the 24-Hour Generator, organized by CO.STARTERS and the Public Education Foundation. This 24-hour event brought together 23 girls from 11 schools across the city to help local businesses solve a problem.

The girls were divided into seven teams. Each team met Friday with a business that presented a problem they were experiencing, and it was the girls' task to generate a solution. On Saturday afternoon, the teams pitched their ideas in front of an audience and panel of judges.

The Blue Team, comprising Mai Dupre from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Marie Ramirez and Melody Ormond from Red Bank High School, worked on a plan to help PEF's Inspire Program better integrate teachers into urban schools.

PEF officials told the girls that many teachers who enter their 15-month residency program struggle to relate to urban students and don't remain in the public school system for very long. They challenged the girls to develop an idea to bridge this divide.

The girls won second place for their idea of creating an online forum that allows a select group of students to write posts and comments about their school's culture for resident teachers to read.

"It is a way to connect the resident teachers with students," Dupre said. "It will make the new teachers more comfortable."

Ormond said their idea was a cost-effective way to keep teachers in the classroom, and would allow them to have a greater impact on students.

Team Aqua -- Erica Howard, of Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts; Larissa Lagria, East Hamilton Middle; Brooke Mathews, Central High, and Alli Standefer, of GPS -- took first place by developing an online questionnaire to help Chattanooga Film Festival attendees decide what movies to see.

Lauren Wade, an associate with PEF's STEM program, said she thinks all of the businesses involved in the event will probably use the team's ideas in some capacity.

"We don't ask girls for their ideas enough," she said. "These girls are not as afraid as adults to try things."

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