Festival of Female Entrepreneurs
Last Friday CEO Jess attended the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs in Bristol for a day of oestrogen-fuelled inspiration. It didn’t dissappoint – here are our highlights of business advice, resources and women for your heros list…
This is also available as an easily digestible (and highly entertaining!) instastory on our profile!
You never know when you take a precious day away from your business or your family whether it’ll be worth it. Will it be a day filled with ever-promised inspiration, or will it be a complete waste of time that makes you want to leave at 2pm and get back to that thing you have been frantically trying to finish all week?
This was the question in my mind when I was on my way to Bristol last week (a 3 hour journey each way!) to attend the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, hosted by Enterprise Nation. Supported by the She Means Business campaign, a joint initiative between Enterprise Nation and Facebook, my question was answered quickly.
Early start to a great day
If you followed my instastory (and first-ever time talking to camera – cringe!!) then you will know that I left in the dark at 5-something in the morning before any of my children woke up. That rarely happens! Three trains later I arrived in sunny Bristol to be taken to the event by my almost-famous taxi driver. He had appeared on Tipping Point just a few months before and delighted in taking me through his mighty game show appearance. (In case you’re wondering, he made it to the second round but answered the “Finish the name of this famous album – Dark Side of the _____” incorrectly, despite knowing 8 out of the 10 tracks. I know. Gutted).
I walked into a building with an incredibly glamorous woman in a powder blue suit. I knew she was “someone” but didn’t want to dive on her until I knew who. I followed her to the tea table, then to the toilets (coincidentally, I wasn’t stalking her). 40 minutes later I was watching her on stage. She was Jenny Tooth OBE, CEO of UK Angels Business Association.
She gave possibly the best presentation I’ve ever heard, if presentations were measured in practical advice. After listening to her 6-step guide on how to write a pitch to angel investors, I felt pretty confident that I could write and deliver a pitch on my business and maybe even win some investment. She was brilliant.
Emma Jones, Founder of Enterprise Nation, opened and hosted the event with her usual confidence and enthusiasm. Having met her before I knew what to expect. And she didn’t let me down! She’s one of those people you want to know. She is honest and warm but professional and inquisitive. You could learn so much from her. I later asked her to adopt me over Twitter and she said yes. New business Mum, ahoy!
Nisha Katona, Mowgli Street Food
Another favourite guest of mine took to the stage after Emma’s opening, Nisha Katona MBE. Having been in something of a black hole in the countryside for the last couple of years (predominantly child-bearing), I didn’t actually know Mowgli Street Foods but I feel like I do now and I can’t wait to go there. Gemma, our Comms Director (and my sister!) was devastated to have missed her. Which made me sit up and listen. If there’s one thing Gemma knows, it’s her food!
I didn’t even need a poke to listen to her, though. Nisha was fascinating. Her story, her philosophy, her culture and her beliefs all contribute to an incredibly successful business. I really warmed to her. In fact, I wanted to be her. And not just from a business point of view! She answered questions so honestly and she seemed so….normal! She was my first reminder of the day that all of these hugely successful business women are just that. Women. People. Mothers.
And that was the first time I knew that it would be a brilliant, not just worthwhile, day. Emma, Jenny and Nisha also gave me a little confidence boost I needed to make me think that I might actually be able to do this. I might actually turn That Works For Me into a real business!
Face to face with Carnsight Communications
During the coffee break, I met up with Jess and Steph from Carnsight Communications, who we have been working with on our PR.
Jess was previously a big PR Director in the City and, when having her two children, moved out to the Cotswolds and set up on her own. Steph joined Jess permanently last year and the dream team now work together supporting small and medium businesses gain coverage they might not achieve on their own. It was our first time meeting face to face, and it was fab to put lovely faces to familiar names.
Next up was a digital panel from Ruby Lee (Studio 77), Emma Alexander (Mother Bran), Martina McDonnell (Marketing Director Small Business Group EMEA at Facebook) and Rachel Wilkins (UK Marketing Director for Dell). This was a really interesting discussion around digital trends and what you can do in your business. Martina talked about Facebook Boost, the site for small businesses by Facebook which includes regular meet-ups and other resources. She also mentioned that Facebook will be looking for the best Sharing Stories later this year to feature in their campaigns. You heard it here first!
Rachel talked about how Dell help their female entrepreneur customers; Ruby talked through web designs and mentioned how they do a charity website build for free each quarter (loved that!); and Emma gave fantastic advice on digital resources to help grow your business and how to keep ahead of the game when it comes to all things digital. My takeaways from this session were:
- take time out to learn
- find your local network
- share the knowledge and power
- be authentic and ask yourself why you’re on social media?
- What are you giving to your followers?
Nimisha Raja, Nim’s Fruit Snacks
Nimisha Raja of Nim’s Fruit Snacks took to the stage next. This woman blew my mind. She sold her house to fund her business! Talk about backing yourself! Or being crazy….I still haven’t decided. She was also super interesting and a stark reminder to closely monitor every penny and question what you’re spending and whether you really need it.
More success stories
After a pre-lunch presentation from Square and some of the Enterprise Nation retail business success stories they have worked with, it was lunch time. Which was delicious in case you were wondering! Lunch was in the Members Showcase area where numerous business advisors had stands and were open to conversations. I spoke to at least twenty people I had never met before, dished out a load of business cards and before I knew it, we were back in for the next speaker.
Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley
This time it was the big guns. Dame Stephanie Shirley. If you haven’t heard of this incredible 85-year old lady, she was the first female to launch a software house, Freelance Programmers in the Sixties and used what we still call flexible working practices to staff it.
She was a pioneer but couldn’t win a single piece of business under the name of Stephanie and was forced to sign off her letters with the name Steve to get a response. Can you imagine?! She went on to create a global business, became a very rich and successful lady and personally made 70 of her staff millionaires. I kind of wished I’d been around then!
I bravely stuck my hand up to ask the first question after outlining what I was trying to achieve. I asked what advice she had for businesses who still didn’t adopt flexible working practices today. Dame Steve said she had never witnessed such tumultuous times and it seemed just a matter of time until businesses were forced into change. She mentioned all of the many ways the world is changing – the gig economy, job shares, shared parental leave – and said the world was changing. I believe her.
As I sat down, the lovely Nicola from the Gender Equality Collective thrust a card my way and said we needed to talk. I spoke to her and her Cat in the break, I really liked them both and was immediately convinced that we could do great things for one another that change the world outlook for mothers that want to work.
I bought my copy of Dame Stephanie’s autobiography Let It Go at the end, and excitedly had it signed. She was as charming then as she was on stage.
Female Entrepreneur of the year
Next up was a chat with two of the Entrepreneur of the Year contenders, Claire from PlayHooray and Molly from Books That Matter. They both talked about the experience of growing a brand on social media and proffered some great advice on how to manage a Facebook community and communicate with digital customers.
Later they both did fantastic pitches to a panel of judges including last years’ winner Ruth Bradford, founder of The Little Black and White Book Project and Emma Jones (Enterprise Nation). Molly just won it but they were both brilliant. I learnt a lot from them both, but particularly Claire, as her audience is made up mostly of mums.
A very worthwhile day
After a quick glass of fizz (we’d all earned it!) and a chat with Dan Martin from Enterprise Nation, I checked my watch and realised that I would definitely miss bed time so it was probably time to leave. I walked back to the station, and three hours later, in the dark again, returned home to annoy my husband with all my buzz and learnings!
It really was a brilliant day. Often these days have highs and lows – but I was kept engaged, excited and/or amazed for all of the seven hours I was there. I wrote oodles of notes, made a tonne of new contacts, and left all fired up by the possibility of being the next Female Entrepreneur of the year. Wouldn’t that be nice?! First step, read my (signed) copy of Let It Go…