RALEIGH – Clustered into small groups, a room of about 125 women came together on a recent Friday night to discuss entrepreneurship. In one of the small groups, a participant was responding to the question: “What do women entrepreneurs need more of?”

The participant gestured to the room, which buzzed with the sound of female voices engaged in conversation.

“This,” she said. “We need more of this.”

On Nov. 17, women across the Triangle celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship Day [WED, launched in 2014] with a Women’s Entrepreneurship Happy Hour, hosted by HQ’s Cannon Room. This inaugural event was incredibly well attended, with a wait list of more than 40 people (and with coordinators receiving calls throughout the day from people trying to get tickets—yes, clearly, we need more of this).

The small groups were part of the event’s World-Café-style discussion, during which women were invited to share their thoughts about:

  1. Things that keep women up at night
  2. Things that women entrepreneurs need
  3. Systems and tools that women entrepreneurs use and find helpful
  4. Recommendations that we’d provide to a North Carolina Council on Women’s Entrepreneurship, if one were created

When it was time to present takeaways, the groups came together and shared the mic. We heard women entrepreneurs discuss barriers to finding female mentors and investors; we heard women who were considering entrepreneurship ask for more varied funding and loan programs, perhaps based on milestones; we heard women share advice on tools to use for invoicing and motivation and scheduling; and we heard women propose new policies like tax breaks, tax incentives, salary match programs, mentor programs, and more, to help women entrepreneurs start, survive, and thrive.

“I usually dread attending ‘networking’ events because I am somewhat of an introvert…” said attendee Shontae Hogan, “But I must say that this experience, from the time I walked in the front door until the time I left, was a positive one.  I met and conversed with so many down to Earth, positive, supportive, and encouraging women… It was an honor to be in a room with so many movers and shakers and influential, powerful women.” Hogan attended with her business partner and her daughter.

Why do we need Women’s Entrepreneurship Day?

We know that women perform 66% of the world’s work but earn only 10% of the world’s income.

We know that women now make up 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in the United States — the highest percentage since 1996—but that still only 3 percent of female-owned US firms earn over $500,000 in revenue.

We know that relatively few women-owned firms grow past the $1 million annual revenue barrier, and that only 27.8 percent of firms with $1 million in revenue or more are owned by women or equally owned by men and women.

We know that just 18.6 percent of companies with 500 employees or more are female-owned or equally male and female owned.

And finally, we know that only 10 percent of venture capital around the world went to women between 2010 and 2015.

One way to acknowledge and discuss these challenges and potential solutions is to get groups of women together and invite them to envision change. It’s about more than understanding what is, and it’s about more than inviting women to dream of “what could be”—it’s inviting women to dream of how they could be the ones to make “what could be” happen. The Happy Hour event provided just that.

The big day

The Happy Hour was part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day celebrations. Founded by Wendy Diamond, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day was celebrated worldwide on Nov. 19 as a movement that carries throughout the year in support of women in business globally. WED ignites women leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs to initiate startups, drive economic expansion, and advance communities worldwide.

And a few days later, Governor Roy Cooper declared November 19th Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at Cindy Whitehead’s Pink Ceiling, joining the national movement and helping to highlight these challenges across our state.

The Women behind the WED Happy Hour

Friday’s Happy Hour event brought together some great female leaders and entrepreneurs. The event spotlighted Jess Ekstrom, founder of Headbands of Hope, who was named the NC Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, and was also attended by Kristin Cooper, First Lady of North Carolina.

The event was coordinated by Jess Ekstrom and other #girlbosses in the area, including Leslie Woods, Owner of Raleigh Raw; Liz Tracy, Director of HQ Raleigh; Rebecca Holmes, Owner of Ello Raw; Magdalyn Duffie, Owner & Designer of MD Creative; Katelin Kennedy, Attorney and Co-Founder of Fallone SV; Sarah Glova, President of Reify Media; Kelly Caldwell, Co-Founder of Sonaya Properties, and Heather McDougall, Founder of Leadership Exchange.

And of course, being a Happy Hour, there were ways to celebrate—all provided by female-led companies and by companies who support women’s entrepreneurship. Drinks were provided by Social House Vodka, Raleigh Brewing, and Bond Brothers Beer Co. and served by On the Rocks Bartending; there was great food thanks to Ello Raw, Bittersweet, and Raleigh Raw; the event logistics were mastered and funded by sponsors like HQ Raleigh, Citrix, Cannon Catering, Compost Now, The Cloth Mill, and Jamie Robbins Photography; and there were door prizes provided by the great sponsors, Headbands for Hope, Insperity, Renaissance Dental, Wyrick Robbins, and Fallone SV.

What’s Next

You can follow Jess Ekstrom on Twitter at @jess_ekstrom. Keep an eye out for her announcements about more women’s entrepreneurship events focused in our area. Because, yeah—we need more of this.