What a fantastic night it was! Women Unlimited held its first ever Extraordinary Entrepreneurs evening in the British Library last night, and judging by the fact that the women had to be asked to vacate the dining area twice, it is safe to say it was a resounding success! What better way to celebrate Women’s Enterprise Day than by having female entrepreneurs who are at the top of their game spend an evening encouraging and sharing their experiences with other women who are on the same journey?
The idea behind the Extraordinary Entrepreneurs evening was to create a unique opportunity for up and coming business women to have dinner with the entrepreneur that inspired them the most and find out how they accomplished what they did and to gain insight and advice on how to take their own ventures to the next level, and of course, to make those all important contacts!
The entrepreneurs hosting tables were Karen Darby (Call Britannia), Polly Gowers (Everyclick.com), Karen Hanton (toptable), Saira Khan (MiaMoo), Rachel Elnaugh (leading business mentor), Laura Tenison (Jojo Maman Bébé), Gita Patel (Stargate Capital), Natalie Ellis (Road Refresher) and Kanya King (MOBO awards). These women were wonderful hosts who had their guests captivated one minute and in fits of laughter the next! The one comment I heard repeatedly by the women who sat at their tables was that they were amazed at how down to earth these entrepreneurs were despite their incredible success. Sheila Holdsworth who sat at Natalie Ellis’ table remarked in amazement “she’s a normal woman!”
The whole evening kicked off with cocktails after registration and as the number of women swelled in size (and the volume of excited chatter increased), the sense of anticipation in the air was palpable. A number of the women who attended had come straight from work or from another event, but they still stated that they were really looking forward to the evening.
After they were ushered into the dining room, Julie Hall, Founder of Women Unlimited, welcomed each woman and introduced each of the entrepreneurs who were hosting that evening. Julie shared her passion, frustration and concerns about the current state of female enterprise in the UK at present. Women in the UK still lag way behind our American cousins when it comes to owning our own businesses; a breach which must be corrected by women being encouraged to think like an entrepreneur. Julie challenged each woman to go against the culture in the UK which has a tendency to jeer at success and to dare be Tall Poppies, i.e. to stick their heads unashamedly above the parapet and accomplish in their businesses far more than they had ever dreamed possible.
Lord Young, Minister for Postal Affairs and Employment Relations, spoke next and reinforced Julie’s message. He shared the little known fact that female entrepreneurs contribute £50billion to the economy at present, and pointed out that if women started businesses at the same as men there would be 150,000 more businesses in the UK than there are at present. Lord Young determined that women should be encouraged to be entrepreneurs right from school so as to grow up with the mindset that owning your own business was perfectly normal. Lord Young rounded off his speech with the rallying cry of the Suffragettes: deeds, not words.
Sue Stockdale, author of Secrets of Successful Women Entrepreneurs, also hosted a table, and she shared with the audience her passion for excellence and what makes women exceptional. Sue boiled down the secrets of exceptional women to six key attributes:
1. They operate from a core set of values, i.e. respect, honesty and integrity
2. Self belief, taking risks and thinking big
3. The desire to be in control of your own destiny
5. Concern for others and a high level of openness in business
6. Resilience – the ability to bounce back after major setbacks and disappointments.
As the sumptuous dinner was served the volume and energy level went through the roof as the ladies on each table eagerly got acquainted with each other and their hosts! Isabel Oswell of the British Library described it best when she said that if she could bottle all the energy and passion in the room she would make an absolute fortune!
As the evening drew to a close, a lucky lady from Table 7 won a hat which was kindly donated by Mary Spiteri from Titfertat Hats. But the other women didn’t go home empty handed as a heavily laden goody bag awaited them as they made their way home!
What the ladies said:
“For me, the evening proved we have nothing to worry about. Women already have the commercial savvy, integrity, passion, openness, courage, resilience, insight, cooperative spirit and more needed to create great enterprises. At the moment any of us commit to creating something new, we are all extraordinary entrepreneurs. We just need to be reminded of that often.” Cally Robson, Founder, She’s Ingenious!
Saira Khan’s table: she really was a great table host; very down to earth and engaging. She involved us all, and got us to offer advice from our own experiences when someone said they had hit a snag. It made us realise that we each had something to offer. I have definitely been inspired to take more risks. Robyn Hadley – The Athena Network
Saira made me realise the bottom line is that I need to charge people for the services I offer and not to apologise for it. At the end of the day I am a business and I need to make money! Joanna Tall – off to see my lawyer.com
Rachel Elnaugh’s table: Speaking to Rachel has encouraged me create a lifestyle brand of my name and company. Julia Boggio – Julia Boggio Photography
Natalie Ellis’s table: Talking to Natalie made me realise that I am on the right track with my business. This gave me great encouragement. Sheila Holdsworth – Know Knockers
Laura Tennison’s table: I learnt not to be so fearful of to dwell on other people’s negativity and to stop being my own worst enemy! I got lots out of this evening! Delieane Ashley – Ashley Professional Association
Kanya King’s table: I was incredibly inspired speaking to Kanya. I was able to very clearly define my thoughts and weaknesses. Isabel Oswell – The British Library.
Gita Patel’s table – Gita is a very inspiring woman; I don’t know how she does so much! I feel that I can stay here all night and talk to everyone as they are so interesting! There have been many points of contact so far! Gaby Koppell – Vanilla Film Productions Ltd.
Karen Darby’s table: Speak to Karen was very inspiring. Women are very good at networking – I loved it!Vivian Jaeger – Squid London
Sue Stockdale’s table: I was encouraged to remain true to and confident in my own values. Lisa Booth – Starr and Partners LLP
It was a truly memorable evening, which I have no double will prove to be the turning point for many of the budding entrepreneurs who got to pick the brains of their hosts.
Watch out for our Stepping into Success conference on International Womens Day (March 8th, 2010), where we have Liz Warom, founder of Temple Spa and the woman behind Virgin Vie as our inspirational speaker.
Note from Julie: I’d also like to say a huge thank you Kelly Brown from KC events for all her support, Clare Harris from the British Library for keeping everything running on the night, and Catherine Monfils for her fabulous photographs! We’ll be putting a gallery of some of the photos up a little later on today.