Women from across North Texas recently converged on the campus of The University of Texas at Dallas to learn about entrepreneurship. For those who attended — three students in particular — the Women’s Summit presented a great opportunity for education, inspiration and empowerment.
Harshini Rallapalli, a cognitive science junior and vice president of the UT Dallas E-Club — a student organization focused on entrepreneurship — described the second annual event as a way to see through a window of possibilities for her future self.
“It gave me an opportunity to imagine how life can be a little different, how I can do something different — take that risk or dare to even do something different,” she said. “Giving people a space where[they] can imagine themselves being changed is a very powerful thing.”
The summit was part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Week, a global movement during the week of Oct. 19 in which thousands of women in 43 states and 30 countries converged on more than 200 universities. At UT Dallas, more than 350 people — mostly women — attended the sold-out conference at the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center. Half were students, staff and faculty, and the other half were entrepreneurs and corporate professionals.
Dresden Goldberg, director of programs and operations at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the summit was started last year to show women in the UT Dallas community that entrepreneurship is available to them.
“We realized that even though we have 43% women on campus, very few were taking advantage of our entrepreneurial programs,” she said. “The summit is an inspirational event, a way to bring women around to see that we offer these programs to support them, too.”
If the composition of the E-Club’s leadership this year is any indication, the summit last year was a success. The co-presidents and vice president of the E-Club this year are all women.
The institute presented the Women’s Summit in partnership with the Dallas Entrepreneur Center’s WEDallas program. Nearly 40 speakers presented on a variety of topics that provided nuts-and-bolts advice on starting and operating a business — along with healthy doses of encouragement and inspiration.
Keynote speakers included Courtney Caldwell, MBA’06, and her husband, Dr. Tye Caldwell, co-founders of ShearShare, a mobile app that connects hairstylists with salon or barbershop spaces. Rallapalli served as the moderator for their interview. The Caldwells’ and others’ presentations highlighted the need, Rallapalli said, for women to break free of the boxes they put themselves in when they do not envision themselves as entrepreneurs.
“That’s what we’re trying to do at the summit,” she said. “We’re trying to break that box.”
Goldberg agreed that moving forward in trying to realize a dream, whether or not the resources are available, is the best thing a woman can do.
“I like one of the things that Courtney said in her session about how the only thing she regrets is that she didn’t start sooner,” Goldberg said. “All the connections that were made and the stories that were shared during the summit were really incredible, and will help inspire women toward pursuing their dreams.”
For the lunchtime “fireside chat,” KRLD radio’s afternoon anchor Susy Solis interviewed Tiffany and Leon Chen, co-founders of Austin-based bakery Tiff’s Treats. (Tiff’s Treats is known for delivering warm cookies, and warm cookies were handed out to the audience.)
Lila Stewart, co-founder of footwear company Hari Mari, which specializes in high-end flip flops, gave the closing keynote address.
The morning and lunchtime keynotes bookended two breakout periods during which attendees selected from a wide variety of sessions. During the sessions, entrepreneurs and subject-matter experts made presentations on topics ranging from pitching business ideas and building networks to strategic planning, building websites and creating podcasts.
Rashi Daga, a sophomore mechanical engineering student, attended the summit expecting to learn some of the finer points of pitching the company she started in India with her mother. She went to a breakout session in which Leah Frazier, owner and founder of Think Three Media, spoke about “Cost-Efficient Public Relations, Media Outreach and Communications Strategies for Your Business.”
During the session, Daga gave an impromptu pitch to Frazier’s audience. Frazier was so impressed that she introduced Daga to some colleagues. Daga left the event having gotten some pitching practice as well as a sense of empowerment from giving away all her samples.
“When I stood up in the middle of 50 people and gave my pitch, everyone was looking at me and listening to me,” she said. “That was the empowering moment when I thought I could really take that first step, voice things out, get the opinions that I need and might even be able to sell my product.”
Coraima Saavedra, a business administration sophomore, served as a volunteer at the summit. As an aspiring entrepreneur, she saw the event not only as a networking opportunity but also as a way to empower women such as herself..
“Seeing these women entrepreneurs who are making it out there as entrepreneurs, they’re role models to follow,” she said. “When Courtney Caldwell and Tye walked in, they looked like super-cool people who seemed so down to earth but at the same time looked like they had been through life. It’s crazy to think what they had to go through to get where they’re at. It makes me think that I can be like that.”
—Jimmie R. Markham