When building a company, there’s a lot entrepreneurs want – capital, resources, advice. But business partners Joanne Wilson and Susan Solomon say there’s one thing female entrepreneurs want more than anything.
“Women are hungry to hear the honest truth. I think there’s a lack of honesty in society,” Solomon says. “Most people don’t want to tell you the truth. They frame their answers in a way that’s politically correct because they don’t want to get into trouble. Joanne and I were somehow not raised that way.”
Sister duo Wilson and Solomon are the women behind the 6th annual Women’s Entrepreneur Festival in New York City. The two-day event features speakers and panelists like Rachael Ray, Ringly founder Christina Mercando and STORY founder Rachel Shechtman. They say the event is all about unfiltered advice and honest discussions.
Wilson, who is also an angel investor known as “Gotham Gal,” co-founded the WE Festival in 2011. Wilson says her goal is to build a tight-knit community of women entrepreneurs – “the women who are in the trenches, not women in corporate.”
The event wasn’t always exclusively for female entrepreneurs. In the first year, five men applied to attend. The second year, that number went down to one. “We then decided to keep it to a women’s event because when those walls are down, women speak freely about their businesses and lives.”
And it all goes back to the craving real, genuine advice. Solomon says the walls come down faster when there are no men in the room.
“When men aren’t there, there is this veil that’s dropped, and women can be honest about the good and the bad of what’s going on in their business,” she says. “When there’s more of a mixed company, it’s a little different. There’s an honesty that comes through when all women are together.”
So far, more than 1,600 women – compared to 421 the previous year – have applied for the 400 open spots at the event. The deadline for applications is Feb.1. Serial entrepreneurs, first-time entrepreneurs and innovative “intrapreneurs” are encouraged to apply.
Women who are not accepted are encouraged to be part of the community by joining a Slack channel. The criteria? You must be a female entrepreneur or investor. Each week, Wilson and Solomon organize a “Slack Face-Off” where an expert answers questions in real-time around a specific topic such as investing, hiring and raising funds. The Slack channel launched in November, and it already has over 600 members.
“We’re trying to ensure there’s this conversation that goes on all-year round because clearly, there will be women who are not accepted to the event but we don’t want them to feel left out,” Solomon says.
So why does an event like the WE Festival exist in 2016? Because the aspiring entrepreneurs are watching, Wilson says.
“This is something so important for the next generation of female entrepreneurs coming down the pipeline,” she says. “You hear this from young girls – 'Who am I looking up to?' It’s important for the people in the room to see the people they could become.”