My daughter Jenna is on a mission. She wants to start a business, and has been dreaming up all kinds of ideas. First it was a lemonade and popsicle stand, then a car wash service. That was followed by a babysitting service and a kids party service. Her goal is to start something, and she’s not one to quit. My wife and I have been supportive, but slightly cautious wanting her to latch onto one idea and really run with it. We’ve come to learn our daughter is tenacious, but soft-spoken at times which comes off as being timid around others. That’s why when I heard about an event GPS, an all-girls school in Chattanooga, TN organized to empower aspiring women and girl entrepreneurs, I had to bring her.
The one-day event featured a number of prominent local women – professionals, entrepreneurs and executives. Panel discussions featuring women of distinction with a focus on diverse topics such as entrepreneurship, funding, personal branding and work/life balance were held throughout the day.
A marketplace expo displaying 50+ women-owned businesses was open throughout the event. Girls (and boys whose parents were wise enough to bring them) were given a bingo-like card and encouraged to visit various booths to learn more about the companies represented and get their card stamped. My daughter took the expo floor eagerly to get her card filled in order to enter a drawing for unnamed prizes. We both had fun visiting the various companies and learning a bit about what they do. I saw many familiar faces, and met some new ones too.
One booth in particular caught our eye. It was “manned” by several young girls. We stopped to chat with the 11-year old founders of Scrubs Of Love. What a great opportunity for Jenna to see other girls who are doing what she wants to do. These girls started with an idea, and brought it to fruition. We enjoyed chatting with them, and were pleasantly surprised to find not one, but two pre-teen, girl-owned companies represented at the expo.
Between lunch and panel discussions there was plenty to do. The Tech Tinkering Lab featured a number of organizations featuring fun techie stuff like 3D printing, coding and video games. Girls of all ages, their dads and even boys were engaged in activities throughout the day. My daughter was specifically interested in checking out the 24-Hour Generator: Girl Edition which was an event within the MBD event. Designed to inspire high school girls to develop their entrepreneurial skills, students from a variety of schools from the area were assigned to projects with the task of solving a problem for the assigned organization.
The teams worked through the night prior to the MBD event to come up with solutions, and polish their presentations. Seven teams were competing for a $1,000 prize to seed their ideas. After each presentation, a panel of judges asked questions. All the teams were quite impressive with their presentations and responses. After the three minute presentations Jenna and I discussed which ideas we liked best. It was great father-daughter interaction.
The winner would be announced after the keynote presentation. Despite being there all day, Jenna expressed her interest in staying till the end of the event for the big reveal. The keynote was delivered by the mother and daughter co-founding owners of Blamtastic. Lily Sandler and her sister dreamed up the company in their kitchen after being encouraged by their mom that they could do and become anything they wanted. Seven years later, Blamtastic is a multi-million dollar company with products in several major retail outlets including Walmart. They started with lip balm and later expanded into skin and baby care products.
The Blamtastic story is both uplifting and inspirational. It struck me upon hearing “entrepreneurship is the new women’s movement.” I kept looking out of the corner of my eye to gage Jenna’s interest level. She was enthralled. When the emcee opened the floor for audience questions I could see a boost of confidence rising in her. Without looking at me she raised her little hand in that big auditorium. When the mic was put before her, she bravely grasped it and asked “when people told you to give up on your business what did you?”
Lily Sandler, the 16-year old cofounder of Blamtastic, answered her by telling the story of when she was 11 or 12 years and went to a show to pitch her company. She practiced her pitch till she knew it up and down, and delivered it confidently. After hearing her presentation, a ‘stuffy old guy with a briefcase’ patted her on the head and said, “you’re cute.” Lily told her mom what had happened and vowed “I’ll show him cute – wait till he sees what we do with this company.” That’s the kind of tenacity I want my Jenna to have.
The keynote wrapped up with generous applause. The judges came back on stage to announce the winner of the 24-Hour Generator. It was announced that the presentations were so good the judges decided to award two prizes instead of one. The first place team would receive the allocated $1,000, and a $600 prize that the panel kicked in would be awarded to the second place winner. A generous gesture by the judges which showed not only the quality of presentations, but the commitment of the community to provide spark to these budding entrepreneurs and their ideas.
First place was awarded to the Chattanooga Film Festival team. Their idea to identify the personas of movie goers and provide genre-matching festival film recommendations caught the attention of the judges. Jenna and I both agreed it was a great idea. Second place was awarded to the PEF Project Inspire.
Throughout the day there were many memorable sound bytes:
She’s not bossy – she has executive leadership qualities.
Never let a man define you.
You had the power all along, my dear.
Entrepreneurship can be lonely. You need strength of character & friends who “get” you.
What a fantastic event. I believe Mad Bad & Dangerous will have a lasting impact on the development of my daughter. Thank you to the organizers, sponsors, panelists, volunteers and participants of the Mad, Bad and Dangerous event. Jenna will definitely be back next year, and she’ll be bringing her little sister. Watch out old stuffy guys — together they’re exponentially powerful!