Editor’s Note: Our readers might recall seeing press on StartWheel about the Women in Venture RAISE event. For those who weren’t able to attend, here’s a recap of what you missed.
From Inside Business
More than 225 people, mostly women, gathered at William & Mary on Feb. 21 to “raise awareness, raise capital and raise the bar” for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and potential investors.
The half-day Women in Venture conference featured keynote speaker Lara Merriken, founder of LÄRABAR, in addition to professionals in the fields of technology, education, law, finance and business.
U.S. Representatives Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger opened the conference with remarks reflective of their success in male-dominated arenas.
Luria, who completed her naval career as a commander and is also the owner of two Mermaid Factory locations, said she was pleased to see so many women come together with the goal of helping other women succeed in business. She stressed the importance of taking chances and risks.
Spanberger, who was a case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and later worked with colleges and universities, spoke of her road to politics and emphasized the importance of setting an example for children with a can-do mentality.
Women in Venture was established in 2017 with the goal of helping women create wealth via private investment, supporting female entrepreneurs and facilitating economic development by providing access to capital for entrepreneurs.
One of the group’s co-founders, Monique Adams of 757 Angels, gave opening remarks.
“We’ve come a really long way in a short period of time and the purpose of our group is to get women off the sidelines and get them educated, inspired and engaged in innovation and entrepreneurship,” Adams said.
She went on to explain the conference was designed as a mega-region event drawing from the combination of talent and opportunity from Hampton Roads to Richmond.
Adams said feedback from previous Women in Venture events showed education is what matters most to women in accomplishing their goals, and topics were selected with that in mind.
Those topics, addressed through workshops, panel discussions and breakout sessions, covered how to find and vet startups, strategies to take after making investments, how to bring investors onboard and use their expertise on founding teams, and the nuts and bolts of term sheet negotiations.
In a nod to technology and additional feedback indicating the opportunity to network was important to women, Adams introduced a conference app that allows attendees to contact speakers “so that the power of the network lives on.”
In the “So I Made an Investment, Now What?” workshop, facilitator Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurship Center at Old Dominion University, said you have to kiss a lot of frogs when raising capital and when an entrepreneur finally does get those investors, that is just the beginning of a long process.
She said once that investor-entrepreneur relationship has been established, a multistep process follows that includes a lot of engagement, meetings, paperwork and decision-making.
In her keynote address, Merriken talked about her road from fifth-grade entrepreneur to Division I volleyball player at the University of California where her coach was instrumental in turning her from junk food to a no-sugar diet. That, she said, planted the seed for her future business as she developed a passion for natural foods.
Later, she said, after burning out as a social worker and looking for a change in her life, she took a job at Whole Foods in Denver. There, while eating trail mix on a hike, she had a eureka moment when she thought, “Why hasn’t someone made something that is truly healthy and good for you, but tastes indulgent and delicious?”
After experimenting in her kitchen, she struck gold with an energy bar with a few healthy ingredients and managed to get them into the hands of a Whole Foods regional food buyer. From that point, her cottage business took off. The company is now owned by General Mills where she serves as an adviser and the face of the brand.
Merriken said while the market may appear inundated with health food items, her approach to simple, minimal ingredients was unique and the key to her success.
“There’s always room for new products. Even today, you go to a grocery store and say ‘How can there be another whatever on the shelf?’ Well, innovation begets something great,” she said.
From Inside Business By Joy Vann Correspondent
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