On Friday Orla and I made the trek down to the Strand Hotel in Limerick for the National Women’s Enterprise Day, an annual event organised by the Enterprise Board. To tell the truth we weren’t sure how it would go, neither Orla or myself like to segment ourselves in terms of gender and have had some so-so experiences with ‘women only’ events. However we were more than pleasantly surprised with the day – it was an excellent event and was (and this is rare) actually quite inspirational.
The event was very well organised and the venue was great, however it was the speakers (in all but one case) that really shone. It’s worth saying to that Paula Fitzsimons, the MC was brilliant – moving the event along and adding in insightful comments and stories throughout.
First up was Mary Fitzgerald from Woodland’s House Hotel and Spa in Adare. Mary gave an engaging talk about the development of her business from a small B&B to 2 hotels in Adare and Cork. What we really took from it was her dedication to her customer (as welcome as any personal guest in her own home), her insistence on gathering a excellent team to support you and her struggle with getting people to pay for real quality and personal service in the face of so much competition from 5star ‘tax break’ hotels.
Next was Minister of State Mary White, T.D who put politics aside (a good move) and spoke of her own trials of entrepreneurship from her early days of catching and selling eels to running successful book stores. It was refreshing to hear from a politician who seems to have had a solid life of entrepreneurship (and campaigning) before entry into politics. I’m a sucker for a good talker but she really had me believing that as Minister for Equality, Integration and Human Rights she does give a damn about equality of women in politics (oops I got sidetracked there!). I liked her closing statement along the lines of ‘you women keep on entrepreneuring and we’ll keep funding’ – a reference to the €500,000 of European and Exchequer funding supporting female entrepreneurs.
Following this was an great case study section. I particularly like the effort put into the production of the video bios of each woman. It was well done and ensured the QA panel afterward was valuable.
After lunch was Sahar Hashemi who setup the UK’s first coffee chain with her brother bobby in the late 90s. She then wrote (with her bro) the hugely successful book on entrepreneurship ‘Anyone Can Do It- building Coffee Republic from our kitchen table’. I hadn’t actually heard of her 🙂 but I’m fully paid up fan now. She gave a wonderful presentation on their journey from the very inklings of an idea to full blown success. It was entertaining and highly practical.
Last and I’m afraid least was Ivan Yates. I was getting ‘mentored’ during the first half of his chat and when I returned I could only bear him for about 10 minutes. He was the only speaker who felt that he had to shove the ‘recession’ down our throats. I left the room after he said that in his opinion the property market had a LOT further to drop, only then could we think about recovery and isn’t our government a bunch of … etc. I snuck out and sat just outside and tucked into the fabulous goody bag that were packed with actual goodies!! Jams, gorgeous chocolates, a stunning lip balm, chocolate biscuit cake… Nice one.
The one comment I would make about the event (and many events) would be ‘informal networking’ segments. I don’t believe informal networking works well (except when there is a free bar). Both women and men can be a crap at it really, especially those starting off in business. It’s such an integral part of running your own business but for most of us it’s a learned thing. People may groan but having a formal networking session where people are forced to break away from the groups they came in with and pull out their business cards is the best way to get the crowd moving. Before you know the crowd is buzzing and some real contacts are being made.
So ladies – the next NWED is about 12 months way but it’s probably worth noting in your diaries so you don’t miss out. Many of the speakers mentioned their reliance on and gave thanks to the local and national enterprise boards. We’d concur – our local Westmeath Enterprise Board has given us great support over the years and are well worth the visit if you’re in business or in the process of setting up.