Showing the resourcefulness and ingenuity embedded in its name, the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation has reinvented its 7th annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Week as the Weekly Women Entrepreneurship series that runs online through Nov. 13.
Instead of one week capped by a large in-person conference in October, the virtual series includes 80 talks and interviews with female founders and entrepreneurs through Montclair State and the Feliciano Center’s global network of colleges, universities, businesses and nonprofit organizations. NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka is among the female leaders interviewed as part of the project.
“It’s an opportunity,” says Mimi Feliciano, CEO and founder of FEM Real Estate and a board member of the Feliciano Center, who welcomed the eight-week extension because “our partner schools could participate and have an opportunity to get involved, and it allowed us more virtual connectivity. There are lots of opportunities to join us and participate, and hopefully learn something and grow with us.”
Carley Graham Garcia, executive director of the Feliciano Center, launched the first week by posting two recorded interviews: one with Denise Woodard, the founder of Partake Foods, which creates “delicious, nutritious and allergy friendly” cakes and cookies for kids; the second with Kris Ohleth, founder and operator of Garden State Kitchen, which provides other food entrepreneurs with professional kitchen space and connects them to resources and education. Garcia wrapped up the week live-chatting with Katie Jesionowski and Silvia Gianni, co-founders and “enthusiasts” of MySuperFoods, maker of healthy snacks for children.
The women shared stories from their entrepreneurial journeys as well as “nuggets of wisdom” on everything from quitting your day job, giving back to the community, learning from failure, financing, packaging, marketing, networking, distribution, e-commerce – and, yes, dealing with a global pandemic.
Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Executive Director Carley Graham Gardia interviewed Denise Woodard, founder, Partake Foods.
Woodard advised others not to worry about attracting a lot of capital or hosting a big, splashy press event to launch. “Just get started and start small. Your consumers will tell you what they want.” She said that “as a woman, as a woman of color, as a first time entrepreneur, I knew it was going to be very hard to raise venture capital. I wanted to prove the product first.” Ultimately, Partake attracted Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners – when the time was right.
While Woodard left Coca-Cola to focus on Partake, Ohleth has been running Garden State Kitchen as a “side hustle.” Not quitting her day job has offered stability, but “over the past five years, there haven’t been many vacations or many days sleeping past 5 a.m.” Despite the long hours, Ohleth cherishes the “creative outlet” and the discovery of a supportive network she didn’t previously realize she had.
Jesionowski noted that MySuperFoods had inked an institutional distribution deal with schools last winter. Then COVID struck.
“All of that disappeared.”
Still, Gianni reported that 2020 was shaping up as MySuperFoods’ best year, due to difficult and smart choices around cost-cutting.
“This has been an emotional year,” said Jesionowski, who added: “If something is not working, let it not work and then go find something else that you can put your effort behind.”
“There is no one way to do this. Your journey is your journey,” added Gianni.
In 2019, more than 240 universities and colleges in 32 countries and 49 states, plus Washington, D.C., organized at least one event featuring a woman entrepreneur on their respective campuses.
“This year, we have the opportunity to grow even more. I’m excited about the new weekly format,” Garcia said after wrapping up the first week. “It was inspiring to connect our global community for the first time with content sharing across our platforms in this way.”
“I think this could be our best year yet.”
Register to receive the full Weekly Women Entrepreneurship 2020 lineup for the remainder of the series here.
To view the interview that NJBIA President & CEO Michele Siekerka did as part of the university’s series with female entrepreneurs, click on the video below.