The room was positively buzzing, not simply because the weather in New York City looked like it had finally turned to "Spring", but more in anticipation of the start of the Women's Entrepreneur Festival (WE Festival). Now in it's sixth year, the event launched by investor Joanne Wilson (back in 2011) continues to grow, expand and attract enthusiastic entrepreneurial attendees. Initially the attendees were primarily in tech, but now women pursuing a diverse range of ventures take time away from the day-to-day of growing their businesses to attend this industry event.
I caught up with first-time attendee Catherine Cassidy to discover what was the big buzz about WE. Catherine is the founder of Ustyled, a company committed to serving women leaders and empowering women to step into their power as a leader using their style as a catalyst. Catherine launched Ustyled in 2008, just in time for the great recession and she has persevered to scale her vision (so really not surprising to that this D.C.-based entrepreneur would invest the time to travel to New York City for WE Festival).
Why did you apply to attend WE this year?
Catherine: I have been able to grow my business organically through revenue and I can continue to do so, but I know that to scale more quickly (which is the next milestone for my venture) I need to bring in outside funding. The questions that I keep butting my head against are 'what are the terms going to look like?' and 'how much do I need?', so I came to WE Festival for insights to get more clarity.
What stage is your business or venture? Did that factor into your decision to attend?
Catherine: My business is straddling infancy and pre-teen years, but feeling a bit like a teenager! During those seven years, I've built a very solid foundation and learned a LOT from each little mistake or challenge. Because WE Festival felt targeted to more seasoned entrepreneurs, it definitely factored into my decision (since this is quite a busy time of year for Ustyled, so it meant taking a day and a half away from my business).
What are you hoping to gain from attending WE?
Catherine: Ustyled is positioned to at least triple and possible quadruple sales from last year because of various seeds we've been watering for some time, so managing growth and continuing to up-level our systems and operations is a big focus for this year. The reading and conferences and self-study haven't quite demystified all of this for me. I made the commitment this year to connect with those entrepreneurs who have successfully raised funding so I can have a #powerposse to reach out to for support, questions, etc. as I move through the seed-stage funding process.
What was your biggest takeaway from WE?
Catherine: My biggest takeaway not surprisingly relates to funding! I know now that an angel investor or family office funding route is definitely the best for me since I am looking to build this business into a company with very long-term audacious goals, so I need a team of investors who see that vision as well.
Why is this THE conference for women entrepreneurs?
Catherine: I was quite impressed with the caliber of entrepreneur. Even those who were newer in their businesses were that blend of visionary and action that creates success types (a community of peers that I'm excited to continue to get to know and support). It's also a bit of a 'no excuses' crowd. The types that make shit happen--this was abundantly clear with the impressive number of women who had closed various rounds of funding. I've personally never been in a room like that. And it's connecting with those who have done it before who are in the room, not just the speakers, that is huge because that's how we connect to the idea that we can do it, too
If you missed WE Festival this year, you can watch the recorded sessions on LiveStream and connect with the community on Slack (WE Festival continues their weekly #slackoff hourly sessions, connecting the community with industry thought-leaders and providing them with the opportunity to ask questions).
Looking to plan a conference or industry event that keeps attendees enthusiastically coming back every year? Here are some tips from the CEO of event marketing platform Splash on how to increase your event ROI.