An air of excitement hung over the IP Centre in the British Library on May 13th as a group of female entrepreneurs came together for the Celebrating Women in Social Enterprise conference. The delegation that arrived ran enterprises that covered a whole range of disciplines from hair and beauty to divorce coaching! All came expecting to hear something that would teach or advise them how to make their enterprises even more successful.
The speakers did not disappoint.
A clear plan is critical
First up was Martino Cartella, a Business Advisor from Prevista. Martino opened the conference by schooling the audience on the various avenues available in securing financing for their businesses. He stressed the importance of having a robust business plan that had at least a three year projection, as well as the need for a fundraising plan, a concept that was new to some of the audience. The most eye opening revelation by far was what would happen if they ventured down the business angels route. While on paper they appear to be the answer to the fledgling entrepreneurs’ prayers and do have a lot of pros to their scheme, when business angels exit a project they do so with three times the amount of money they invested!
Passion can help you overcome all obstacles
Next was the formidable Erin Pizzey, founder of the first Women’s Aid Centre in the UK. Erin had the audience transfixed as she recounted the bruising trials and exhilarating triumphs she had experienced during the 12 years she ran her enterprise. Erin’s story made a powerful impression on the women present; hers was a tale of pressing on undaunted through incredible battles as she sought to create a better life for battered women and their children. “Passion is the knowledge that you can do anything you want,” Erin told the rapt group.
A change of perspective
Mariéme Jamme, founder of iConscience, challenged the women to radically change their outlook in order to realise what could potentially become very successful businesses. Her greatest strengths are creating social enterprise opportunities with women who were unaware they had any entrepreneurial skills and empowering them to become self reliant, especially those in emerging countries. Mariéme made the crowd laugh as she chronicled her discussions with Jacqueline Smith MP on finding ways of giving women in countries with high migration rates to the UK the tools to sustain themselves in their countries of origin. Mariéme’s refusal to accept any limitations placed upon her has resulted in her becoming a successful entrepreneur who runs several companies.
What is your impact?
Servane Mouazan, founder of Ogunte, discussed how to make an impact on society with social enterprise. She asked the women thought provoking questions to get them to crystallise what their enterprises were all about and what legacies such businesses would leave behind. During an exercise in which she asked them to say in one word or sentence what their companies were all about, it was clear that it was the first time a number of them had actually thought about it. “Ask yourselves difficult questions to facilitate change,” Servane challenged the women.
What did the delegates think?
When the networking session began the women discussed how the conference had affected them. Jacalyn Belgrave has been running her natural body products company, Ndulge, for three years. She said: “Today’s workshop has helped me decide to steer my business more in the direction of social enterprise. For years I have wanted to run it this way and now I want to network to find out how I can operate as a social entrepreneur and help other women; if not in the UK, then abroad.”
Brenda Drummond of Her Enterprise Solutions shared: “Servane provoked me to go away and think about what my values are and challenged me to consider running my business as a social enterprise. I do have values, but I need to ensure that I incorporate them into the vision of the business itself.”
Karen Hobson of Unltd explained: “I’m not yet in business for myself but it is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. I came because I wanted to get some inspiration from other women in order to encourage me to feel the fear and do it anyway!
The biggest learnings from the day
- In the first instance, businesses are all about relationships. It is vital that good relationships are established with your clients and those you want to support your vision.
- To protect your vision, bypass the bureaucracy and get to the public as these are the ones who will support your enterprise if what you are doing is what they need and want.
- Knowledge is power; make sure it is within the hands of the right people in your organisation.
- If your enterprise does not work in the UK look at running it in an emerging country.
- Dream big and just do it!
Many thanks to our fabulous photographer, Dianna Bonner, the British Library for sponsoring lunch and also our goody bag sponsors Divine Chocolate, Sublime Magazine, and Xocai chocolates and to Visionary Soaps for their fabulous gift boxes for the speakers.
About the Author: Belinda Nnoko is a writer for Women Unlimited.