Third Annual Women Who Launch Symposium Highlights How Female Business Leaders Have Been Thriving in Uncertainty
Taking place in late January, the third annual Women Who Launch Symposium at the Ross School of Business showcased how a diverse set of business leaders have been successfully navigating the challenges of uncertainty and capitalizing on new opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA members of Women Who Launch organize the WWL Symposium each year to engage women interested in entrepreneurship and investing through speakers, panelists, workshops, and networking opportunities. As a result, the symposium is one of the most popular events for women in business school at Ross and beyond.
This year, the WWL Symposium’s theme was timely focused on “Thriving in Uncertainty,” and it featured an impressive lineup of female speakers — from business founders to venture capitalists and executives.
“Moji and I kept reading inspiring stories about small-business owners, women, and people of color doing things for their communities, from providing free meals to making masks to creating new ways for people to connect,” said Chelsea Parker, MBA/MS ’22, one of the symposium’s co-chairs. “We knew then and there that we wanted to highlight the amazing things people were doing and understand how they had the motivation to keep going.”
Parker said WWL made a concerted effort to highlight women with diverse backgrounds and paths into the entrepreneurial space. The keynote speaker was Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital. Other speakers included Helen Lo, founder of Lo & Sons; Claire Coder, founder and CEO of FLOW; and Monica Wheat, executive director and co-founder of Venture Catalyst.
Helen Lo’s story particularly resonated with Parker.
“Throughout her career and adult life, she's held numerous different jobs and did not start Lo & Sons until the age of 65,” said Parker. “I have taken a number of pivots in my career so far and came to Ross to change paths again, so it was inspirational to see how Helen has really embraced change and seized new opportunities. She also leveraged all of those experiences and her strengths to build a successful company.”
The virtual format of the event provided a unique opportunity to expand the reach of the WWL Symposium beyond the Ross community this year.
“Because we were doing a virtual symposium, we made a push to include the entire University of Michigan community, prospective and admitted students, as well as the general public,” said Moji Jimoh, MBA ’21, the other co-chair of the symposium. “Being virtual also allowed us to invite speakers from all over who might not have been able to travel to Ann Arbor in previous years.”
Jimoh’s biggest takeaway from the conference was realizing the importance of community.
“Many of the entrepreneurs who spoke talked about advice they had gotten from other female entrepreneurs about who to approach for funding, how to navigate different situations, or just simply being able to bounce ideas off of them. It was really powerful to see women lifting other women up,” she said.
Women Who Launch at Michigan Ross
The WWL organization at Michigan Ross aspires to create gender-equal entrepreneurial ecosystems by empowering women to engage with entrepreneurship — whether as founders, funders, or team members. The organization has more than 400 members, including MBA students from the Full-Time, Weekend, Executive, and Online programs.
Jimoh and Parker joined WWL during their first year at Ross.
“I attended a number of WWL events and found the leadership team to be so impressive,” Parker explained. “They accomplished a lot of incredible things in a short period of time, including hosting education events, a holiday party, and the WWL Symposium. I left every event feeling inspired and empowered and wanted to continue that tradition.”
Jimoh also attended the 2020 WWL Symposium.
WWL hosts events throughout the year - many featuring female entrepreneurs and venture capitalists - such as educational treks, networking opportunities, and social events for students pursuing similar career paths.
Advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs from the WWL Symposium
"Give yourself the opportunity to pivot and change. Change is not frightening, it’s exciting. If you allow yourself these opportunities, you learn about yourself, and that gives you strength." - Helen Lo, Founder of Lo & Sons
"Be honest with yourself about who you are and what makes you happy." - Kate Hernandez, Principal, Detroit Venture Partners
"Strike a balance between being humble, while at the same time, having an unshakable level of self-confidence." - Kendra Mitchell, Chief of Staff and Head of Belonging at Duo Security