It was a cloudy morning, but the energy was high at the Power of WE (Women Entrepreneur) Conference at the SteamPlant Friday, May 19. The impressive turnout honored the name of the conference and the strength of women in business.
To use Power of WE founder Jamie Billesbach’s words, the day’s theme highlighted “amplifying purpose, people, and profit brought to you by the sun, the moon, the stars, and all of you.” This sense of togetherness and resilience continued throughout the event.
Emcee Heather Barron began by acknowledging that these are the traditional lands of the Ute people. She then moved into a grounding exercise before the speakers took the stage. “I belong here in myself. In this moment. In this place. Exactly as I am” led Barron. “I am not alone. I belong here. I am ready.”
Though one of the goals of the day was to celebrate the feminine, the audience was reminded “the feminine” is not necessarily about gender. Businesses gain when purpose and profit go together said Billesbach. According to Small Business Administration (SBA) Deputy District Director Francis Padilla, women are 20 percent more likely to start a business based on their passions, and passion fuels purpose.
Padilla was the first speaker to take the stage. She presented statistics with which to frame the rest of the conference. Out of 33.2 million small businesses in the U.S., 13 million (43.3 percent) are women-owned. According to the National Women’s Business Council annual reports, women-owned businesses grew three times that of their male counterparts. All this despite women being overrepresented in industries that experienced the worse job losses during the pandemic. Visit the SBA website for more data.
In Colorado, 309,980 (44.7 percent) of businesses are women-owned. In fact, Colorado consistently ranks in the top three states for women of business in various polls from organizations such as Deputy and Clarify Capital.
Padilla acknowledged there is still a lot of work to do. Priorities include increasing diversity among female founders, expanding to a greater variety of industries, achieving equal access to capital, owning accomplishments, being taken seriously, attaining the same success with the same amount of work, and overcoming barriers during growth. To attain these goals SBA listed resources, such as Ascent Learning, which is free and available on their website.
Central Mountain Small Business Development Center Director (SBDC) and conference founder Billesbach next took the stage. Jamie’s passion for the event was clear as she spoke. Her mother passed away on March 30, and she delivered a moving tribute in her honor describing her as a “profound example of the divine feminine.”
Billesbach also shared SBDC resources available for entrepreneurs. In 2021 and 2022 the Central Mountain SBDC helped 1,146 clients in our region. The center provides no-cost confidential consulting and free or low-cost training funded by the SBA and managed by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). Lean Up and Leading Edge are available online to uplift small businesses.
Each speaker had a unique story to tell of their own successes and failures. Mukuyu Collective Founder Taishya Adam’s keynote focused on mixed messages and a mono narrative.
“We have been surgically miseducated,” said Adams. “There has been a concerted effort to divide us. Conferences like this bring us together.” She mentioned a distaste for the word privilege, preferring responsibilities and obligations. She emphasized that everyone in the room had responsibilities and obligations as women, business owners, and human beings to find “the audacity to believe in a world that has not existed.”
During a Q&A with Adams, an audience member posed the question, “What is something that water has taught you?”
Adams grew up with a love of nature, particularly water. Adams explained that we all have six to eight gallons of water in our bodies at any given time. “When I see a river,” said Adams, “I think. Oh, that flows in me too.” With the Arkansas River flowing just a short distance from the main stage, the sentiment connected everyone in attendance to each other and to the world around them.
Denver Scholarship Foundation’s Marketing and Communications Director Olivia Omega’s breakout session was another big hit among attendees. Omega’s session, one of three held simultaneously, was so popular that staff brought in extra chairs to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend, including Adams and Billesbach.
During the lunch break, AVV spoke with the founder of Alpine Critter Care and Shaklee representative Erin Barrett. Erin traveled from Bailey to attend the conference after discovering it last minute from the Mountain Women in Business page.
Barrett explained that she was born and raised on farmland where DIA is located now. She brought her girls to Tomahawk Ranch near Bailey and fell in love with the area, eventually moving there to escape the big city.
Barrett started her business after recovering from a bad fall. She began by doing gig work through Rover and realized the desperate need for animal care services. She started Alpine Critter Care posting on social media sites like Nextdoor. The key to increasing sales is word-of-mouth and repeat customers, said Barrett to the lunch table inspired by a discussion prompt featured in the centerpiece.
The energy continued throughout the conference with an impromptu dance party on the main stage breaking out before the afternoon session packed with inspiring speakers and more breakout sessions.
The day’s themes were embodied by President and CEO of High Country Bank Niki Stotler who spoke of the ups and downs of her own journey from being told not to apply for a COO position because there was a man that was up for the job to becoming COO, and eventually, CEO herself.
“Every time I wanted to quit, I couldn’t,” said Stotler citing her children as her north stars. “Would I let my kids quit? Hell no.”