More than 900 gathered at the Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley Thursday for the 19th annual Women’s Fund Luncheon, supporting the work of the Women’s Fund for the Fox Valley Region. The event is dedicated to providing empowerment and inspiration in support of women and girls in the community.
Hannah Davis, founder and CEO of BANGS Shoes, delivered the keynote and shared her story of starting her company at the age of 24. By investing 20 percent of the company’s net profits, BANGS has helped more than 2,100 entrepreneurs start businesses in 70 countries around the world.
The event also featured an Issues Spotlight panel discussion fearing women entrepreneurs from around the Fox Valley. Panelists included Julie Stoffel, owner of Cradle to Crayons Learning Center and Small Business Consultant at Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp.; Yee Lee Vue, owner of Bowl 91; Maggie Kauer, owner of Culver’s of Darboy and Little Chute; Nea Hahn, owner of Whisk & Arrow, Little Chute and Grand Chute; and moderator Amy Pietsch, director of the Fox Valley Technical College Venture Center.
The four women discussed the joys and challenges they’ve faced in running their own businesses. Vue and Hahn both shared stories of bias they’ve faced. Vue, who owns Bowl 91 with her husband, says contractors often gravitate toward dealing with her husband and assume she isn’t knowledgeable.
“It’s really difficult when you’re a woman and you’re trying to approach a company that you need to come and do plumbing (or) electrical work or just anything that is more a man’s job or a stereotype,” she says.
Hahn says when she was starting her bakery, she and her husband sought the help of an accountant, who directed all questions and comments to her husband instead of her.
Stoffel, who owns an early childhood center, discussed the importance of staying open to change when running a business and listening to the ideas of staff members. For example, she’s embraced social media and added an app that allows parents to track their children’s activities during the day.
“I really look at my staff and empower them to come to me with these ideas,” Stoffel says.
Kauer says running your own business is often demanding, and it’s important to celebrate successes. She recounts a time when she was driving and passed one of her billboards on the highway and realized that her hard work had paid off.
“It just struck me that, ‘wow, that’s mine. I own that business.’ It was an aha moment, where I’m like, ‘You need to pat yourself on the back,’ because you forget to do that when no one is doing that for you,” she says.
The Women’s Fund invests in the needs of women and girls through grants, advocacy and education. Since 1994, the Women’s Fund has awarded more than $1.6 million in grants to innovative programs that improve women’s and girls’ physical and mental health, ensure their economic security, promote their safety and enhance their lives.