As I boarded my plane to Orlando last June, I had doubts. “I don’t own a business and I certainly don’t call myself an entrepreneur… so why am I going to a ‘student entrepreneur’ program?” I thought. I had applied to attend the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council’s (WBENC) National Conference on a sheer whim.
I had ideas, passion and a love for free trips to tropical locations. However, that accidental internet stumble onto the WBENC home page turned out to be a mindset-altering leap into the professional world.
WBENC is the largest third-party certifier of businesses owned, controlled and operated by women in the United States. This 501(c)(3) non-profit operates with the understanding that diversity often promotes innovation, revenue growth and the building of strong networks.
With a love for women entrepreneurs and the students who hope to follow in their footsteps, WBENC developed the Student Entrepreneur Program. This unique experience brought a group of over 20 passionate students together for a week of professional development and intense networking that coincided with WBENC’s larger event. The result was what those of us in the program referred to as “Business Women Summer Camp.”
In Orlando, we were each partnered with a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) representative and a corporate sponsor. After discussing my interest in communication law and the private sector, I was matched with Cindy Towers, the president and CEO of JURISolutions in Philadelphia. She acted as my key contact for the week, providing tips and tricks for large networking events like this one.
Those tips came in handy when we were released onto the convention center floor to shake hands with over 150 rows of WBEs and corporate sponsors.
With a well-practiced elevator pitch detailing my dream of opening a boutique law firm that defends struggling artists and inventors, I walked from table to table, introducing myself to presidents, CEOs and diversity supplier specialists from some of the largest corporations in the nation. It was equivalent to a shopping mall of business cards and informational pamphlets, except that the currency was a confident smile and a sales pitch detailing how you could benefit each company.
Some of the other student entrepreneurs and I developed a successful repartee, where one would discuss her app or product idea, and I would jump in with a swift “And I want to represent people like her at my firm.”
Entrepreneurship is often thought of as an independent, self-driven creation of a business. However, entrepreneurs are not alone in their endeavors. WBENC believes in mutually beneficial relationships, which it fosters through membership and annual events. Once connected to the WBENC family, there is an endless line of successful business owners looking to guide those of the next generation.
I am lucky to say that I am now one of them.