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"I think women underestimate how powerful they can be." - Rose Miller, Owner & CEO of Pinnacle
Despite the growing number of women entrepreneurs, women hold a mere 10 percent of the board seats and executive officer positions in corporate America. In Upstate New York, a growing number of women are breaking new ground and seeking to foster innovation and leadership in the entrepreneurial community in New York's Capital Region, the home of Tech Valley.
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Panelists for Leading a New Era, Women Entrepreneurs of Upstate New York, an Albany Law school discussion held on Feb. 3, 2015, honed in on this energy, encouraging women to follow their entrepreneurial goals and remain undeterred by potential changes. This discussion featured five women, all entrepreneurs, all at different stages of their entrepreneurial experience.
Catherine Hill '88, Professor of Business Administration at Skidmore College, moderated the discussion asking questions about living with biases, panelists' personal experiences, and how gender has shaped each panelists' business leadership.
Colleen Costello, CEO and Co-Founder of Vital Vio Inc., a company that specializes in industrial lighting design that disinfects surfaces, began the conversation presenting her entrepreneurial story and strategies that made her company successful. A fresh face to the field, Costello co-founded Vital Vio, Inc., in 2012 after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).
"I was personally driven by my grandmother contracting a disease from a hospital and it was eye opening," Costello said. The experience inspired her to start her company.
Panelists Elizabeth (Beth) Coco, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University at Albany; Annemarie Lanesey, President and Co-Founder of Green Tree Technology Group, LLC; Christine Tate, an Angel investor of ARC Angel Fund; and Rose Miller, Owner and CEO of Pinnacle Human Resources discussed their entrepreneurial experiences, and offered advice for other women entrepreneurs.
One of the things that the panelists focused on was the importance of having a strong mentor. "I leaned on people a lot," Tate said. "I found that they know many things that you may not know, and I'm starting to take the training wheels off after all the advice I received."
Coco, mentor to more than 100 students at the University at Albany, stressed the importance of "alignment" in order to give and receive help. "Alignment is when you meet someone who opens the door and advances your career." Coco also noted that fostering a network of growth and opportunity is critical for personal and entrepreneurial development and success.
Women have many reasons to pursue creating their own business, Miller explained. "They want to empower themselves, basically to call their own shots. Secondly, they tend to go into fields that excite them. It is not always about the money, but a correlation of something deep in their heart."
While gender is often seen as something that may hinder career growth, the panel discussed how being a woman can be used as an advantage in the business world. "Women are natural relationship builders, we look for alignment and it works towards our advantage," Miller explained. A natural relationship builder, Miller's use of her network provider her the opportunity to take over her company. Similarly, Tate excelled because she could provide superior client counseling. She felt that her gender gave her the freedom to ask, "Okay, what would work for you?"
The topic of gender biases was a prominent subject. Each women reflected on how bias could hold women back, and also how bias could hold their own businesses back. "Biases are real, gender biases are real. I don't think we are born with them, I think we develop them over time," Coco offered. Lanesey added, "The more that we think about our biases, we can determine them as a bias or not. You can control your mind and change your thinking."
Each panelist offered insight and strategies that help them shift their mindsets to stop bias, to overcome biases against them, and to better understand the work dynamic of men and women and how that dichotomy could foster good business.
Final words of wisdom for women starting a business? "Just do it. Be confident, and present yourself as confident even if you don't feel it. Everything will fall into place with hard work," declared Tate.
To look at the program from this event, click here.
By Megan Lounsbury
Video created by Elyse Oosterman