Cal Poly Pomona will join 144 countries around the globe celebrating women entrepreneurs.
The Student Innovation Idea Lab (iLab) is hosting the campus’ inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Day celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Ursa Major of the Bronco Student Center. The free, one-day conference will include panel discussions, a luncheon and a library exhibit of Cal Poly Pomona women through history.
University President Soraya M. Coley will give opening remarks and the luncheon will feature two keynote speakers; state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino; and Ngoc Nguyen Lay, who is the conference services coordinator for University Housing Services, an author and owner of an event planning business.
The aim of the conference is to get more women interested in entrepreneurship,” says Olukemi Sawyerr, the iLab director.
“Men are more aggressive when it comes to becoming entrepreneurs,” Sawyerr says. “A lot of women are not as aggressive and don’t see entrepreneurship as a career option. We need to change that.”
Besides the Cal Poly Pomona attendees, the conference will welcome 50 students from Ganesha High School in Pomona, in an effort to get teen girls interested in entrepreneurship early, she says.
The iLab opened in fall 2015. Sawyerr says that 90 percent of applicants for the 25 slots available in the lab are male.
Sawyerr says she would like to see more women apply, especially outside of the typical areas of study — engineering and business.
In the business world, most of the entrepreneurs, as well as the venture capitalists and other investors, are men. That can make the climb to get entrepreneurial backing steep, she adds.
“It’s a good ol’ boys club,” she said. “If they won’t let us in, we have to break the door down.”
Sawyerr recounts the success of a women’s clothing company called MM LaFleur. The company, founded by three women, offers busy female executives a chance to buy customized, tailored-to-fit wardrobes for work on line. The male venture capitalists they approached all thought the concept of tailored-to-fit clothing purchased online would not work, Sawyerr said.
Three years later, the company is thriving and sales are projected to total $30 million in 2016, according to an article on fastcompany.com.
Examples like this are why it is so important to increase the number of women entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investors, Sawyerr says.
“If you are making product decisions that affect women, you don’t make very good decisions if women are not in the room,” she says. “We need to encourage women to be entrepreneurs.”
Registration for the conference is available online.