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Female Entrepreneurs Look to the Future at Inaugural REDe Summit

Shikha Shrestha
Contributed to HottyToddy.com

Liza Cirlot Looser (left), Leigh Reeves, Gail Pittman, Donna Barksdale and Jan Farrington discuss women in entrepreneurship at the recent REDe Entrepreneurship Summit hosted by the UM School of Business Administration. Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

An estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses operated in the United States as of January 2017, employing nearly 9 million people and generating more than $1.7 trillion in revenues, an American Express report revealed.

And 62 percent of women entrepreneurs say their business is their primary source of income, according to Small Business Trends, an online data tracking source.

“It takes a special kind of person to become an entrepreneur,” said Robyn Tannehill, mayor of Oxford, opening the second day of the inaugural REDe Entrepreneurship Summit at the University of Mississippi. “Women who are leaders have a responsibility to aid in the success of other women.”

The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship welcomed Ole Miss students and the general public for the panel discussion on Oct. 19, the second day of the conference. The discussion was followed by student mentoring sessions with the panelists and CIE-linked entrepreneurs.

The panel included some of the state’s most successful women entrepreneurs: Donna Barksdale, president of Mississippi River Trading Co.; Jan Farrington, executive director of Medical Support and Development Organization Inc.; Gail Pittman, CEO of Gail Pittman Inc.; Leigh Reeves, founder and CEO of Snapshot Publishing; and Liza Cirlot Looser, CEO of the Cirlot Agency.

Looser opened the discussion by asking each panelist to reflect on her college curriculum and what she might have done differently. All wished they had taken one course: accounting.

“I would have taken some accounting had I known I was going to be where I ended up,” Pittman said. “Accounting is what makes everything work.”

Most admitted to moments of discouragement at various points in their career but encouraged audience members to persevere and to always “bring your A game.”

Audience members at the inaugural REDe Entrepreneurship Summit listens as women business leaders discuss entrepreneurship in Mississippi and the importance of ‘bringing your A game.’ Photo by Megan Wolfe/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“We tend, as women, to minimize ourselves and our work and our accomplishments,” Barksdale said. “We are hard-wired to not appear too aggressive, too forward, but I encourage you all to not minimize yourself, ever.”

Farrington offered a different perspective based on her experience investing in businesses in Mississippi.

“I didn’t have anyone who didn’t support my ideas,” she said. “But I realized early on that it wasn’t about having people say ‘no,’ but finding people to encourage you. It’s important to find those people or the mentor who will be supportive of you.”

Reeves told participants that she tries to “hire my weaknesses.” She explained that she considers writing to be her weakness, but she doesn’t allow that deficiency to hurt her brand or slow her success.

“I hired an editor early on and they added much more to it,” Reeves said. “We worked together and learned from each other, pulling stories together and building content.”

The group concluded by providing words of wisdom to an audience filled with future entrepreneurs.

“Your dream is your dream, and you are the CEO of you,” Pittman said. “You’re in charge of your corporation, building your own dream, and Mississippi is a great place to start it.”

CIE leaders and others who helped organize the summit felt the panelists’ messages resonated with students and reinforced the objectives for the gathering.

“Our goal for the REDe Summit is to inspire students with varied academic backgrounds, such as the arts, engineering, pharmacy or business to engage in entrepreneurship,” said Clay Dibrell, CIE executive director. “This year’s summit theme focused on women’s entrepreneurship and change.

“There were several female and male students, from diverse backgrounds and majors, who are now thinking about the power of entrepreneurship to positively change not only their lives but those around them.”

The panel highlighted accomplished women in Mississippi, UM alumna and student-entrepreneurs who are trying to move forward with their own business ideas.

“It was wonderful to see so many students gather to learn from these successful women from across the world,” said Richard Gentry, CIE director. “The CIE was happy to have the opportunity to partner with members of our board and the Oxford community to put on such a well-attended and exciting program. We are looking forward to next year’s event.”

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Adam Brown
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