By Jamillah Wright
Nearly 100 women entrepreneurs gathered at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the Women in Business New York event held last week. In honor of Women’s History Month, the inspirational evening celebrated six business owners who revealed their secrets to success.
Founded by Cassandra Tennyson and Koren Benbow-Fung, Women in Business New York is a network that connects,
empowers and fuels the growth of women entrepreneurs. As more women decide to venture into entrepreneurship, the organization is committed to offering its support. “We decided to host this event because it’s important to make sure women entrepreneurs are taking the right steps to successfully grow their businesses,” said Benbow-Fung.
“I am so proud of these dynamic women,” said Tennyson. “We want to give women business owners the tools, techniques and technical assistance they need.”
A panel of women business owners from the New York area shared personal stories on what inspired them to become entrepreneurs. Topics ranged from balancing work and family to learning how to budget effectively. Panelist Charell Star, a business blogger for the website Not Just a Girl In a Dress, discussed the importance of networking. See “Networking Tips for Women Entrepreneurs” for information shared in her presentation.
Panelist Courtney Arrington-Baldwin encouraged guests to follow their passion. She had a lucrative career as a civil engineer at Turner Construction before deciding to quit her job. She now runs an image consulting business with her husband called Mr. Baldwin Style, which focuses on groom styling, personal styling and photo shoot production.
“I spent a long time in a career I wasn’t passionate about,” said Arrington-Baldwin. With seven years as a construction manager and seven years as a project manager, she now uses her skills to manage the production side of the business. “I’m really passionate about encouraging women to follow their dreams,” said Arrington-Baldwin.
Nicole Ponseca, another panelist, is owner of two Filipino restaurants: Maharlika and Jeepney located in the East Village. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, she worked in advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi. “I loved advertising and thought I would be the next Donny Deutsch,” said Ponseca. “But I was frustrated that people didn’t know anything about my culture or food.”
Armed with a dream of opening a Filipino restaurant, Ponseca started working at restaurants at night, while maintaining her day job, so she could learn the business. Since opening her restaurants in 2011 and 2012, they have been featured in Time Out New York magazine, The New York Times, The Food Network and more. “Instead of branding other people’s brands, I now brand Filipino food,” said Ponseca. “My new dream is to be the Filipino Rachael Ray.”
Panelist Arkell Bailey Cox, owner of IHOP franchises in Brooklyn, said women could run businesses just as well as men. “As women, we are multifaceted and can do many things,” said Cox. “I ignore people who tell me I can’t do something. They become my motivation.”
Panelist Dr. Shalei Simms, professor of management at SUNY College of Old Westbury, advised guests to focus on their strengths. “Remind yourself what your capabilities are,” said Dr. Simms. “Also, you don’t have to make decisions so fast. Slow down and think things through.”
Moderator Melanee Farrah, chair of the Diaspora African Women’s Network, encouraged guests to stay motivated on their path to entrepreneurship. “The challenge is not really taking the first step, but finding the strength to keep moving forward,” said Farrah.
The evening left guests inspired. “It’s wonderful to hear these amazing women share their personal journeys,” said Sharufa Walker, a fashion designer and owner of the women’s clothing line Jinaki. “It’s so powerful to be in a room like this.”
For more information about Women in Business New York, visit www.wibny.com.
Networking Tips for Women Entrepreneurs
The success of your business depends on your ability to network. “Whether you want to create new business partnerships or escape the loneliness of being a solopreneur, making connections is vital for business growth,” said Charell Star, a panelist at the Women in Business New York event and business blogger for the website Not Just a Girl In a Dress.
First, figure out what connections you need to grow your business, then look for events that are relevant. Whether it’s an industry-focused conference or a monthly networking event for small business owners, commit to it by blocking out time on your calendar. Next, use these tips to network the right way.
- Arrive early. This allows you to meet the event organizer and other early birds.
- Meet at least three to five people. The goal is to make quality connections.
- Communicate effectively. Ask conversational questions like, “What brought you here tonight?”
- Nail your elevator speech. Include what you do and what sets you apart.
- Follow-up. Send an e-mail within 72 hours, reference your conversation and invite them for coffee. Be sure to include a few date options.
Successful connections will turn into solid relationships if you follow these tips. Remember: The goal of networking isn’t to sell, but to educate, build trust and create relationships.
– Jamillah Wright is Founder & CEO of Write It Up, a full-service writing and communications company.