Written by Michelle Kerstein
All entrepreneurs face challenges when starting a business. But female entrepreneurs often face more. To support women with an interest in entrepreneurship, NC State University’s Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) hosts events and workshops focused on networking, skill building, mentorship and engagement. Dr. Kate Annett-Hitchcock, an associate professor in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management at Wilson College of Textiles and current AWE director, wants the organization to be a network that builds students up and gives them the confidence to move their ideas forward with the help of a supportive community.
“It [AWE] is really something to help students in the zero step, who might be interested in entrepreneurship but might not have time to take advantage of the amazing classes and minors that we have here on campus. We acknowledge the personal aspect of starting a venture. Women thrive on connectivity and need a support network when they get started. That’s what we want to be.”
In 2015, Dr. Rosanna Garcia founded AWE with a grant from the NC State Extension, Engagement and Economic Development seed funding program. Annett-Hitchcock joined the team shortly after. Her experience in entrepreneurship has prepared her to help future entrepreneurs. From freelance designing to working on a startup at Wilson College, Annett-Hitchcock has been privy to all the nuances of starting a business. Her most recent entrepreneurial adventures are as half of the locally-based folk and bluegrass band The Barred Owls Band and as a vocalist with the NC State rock ensemble The Quadrivium Project
Other members of the new leadership team share Annett-Hitchcock’s motivations for joining the program. Dakota Batch, a graduate student pursuing her Master of Textiles, at Wilson College and the future AWE project manager, wants to make a real impact by giving women the tools they need to succeed as female entrepreneurs.
“I would like to provide women with a space to feel comfortable asking questions. In class and in other areas of our lives, we want to ask the question but we’re too scared or too nervous. I want to provide that space and the tools to seek out more information outside of AWE; so you feel comfortable with having the base understanding of how to create your own business, how to solicit information from investors and how to feel confident about what you would like to do with your business.”
Budding entrepreneurs can gain a lot from these programs. Even those not interested in starting a business can learn valuable professional skills. Annett-Hitchcock explains, “We talk about networking, making connections, copyright issues and more. So even if you’re not wanting to run your own business, there are a lot of skills that can help you in the real world. Even if you end up working for someone else.”
AWE is open to everyone and is dedicated to fostering an atmosphere of inclusion. Behnoosh Farashahi, a Ph.D. candidate at Wilson College and the current AWE project manager, stressed that entrepreneurship is an area that should be accessible for anyone interested.
“We would like students to think of entrepreneurship in a more inclusive way. We saw that often times in start-ups and entrepreneurship, the language, the wording and the environment can be intimidating, especially for female students. There are more male students involved in the process. We wanted to make it more inclusive to everyone in all areas of entrepreneurship – art, textiles, pharmaceuticals, technology, anything. They will be able to get the support they need and the resources that they want.”
To ensure that AWE caters to all areas of entrepreneurship, they have created a group of AWEbassadors – student representatives from every college at NC State. They serve as a bridge between AWE leadership and the students AWE hopes to reach. Their feedback and ideas are an integral part of AWE’s programming. Through their roles, the AWEbassadors get experience planning events, hosting speakers, and connecting with others.
Students interested in learning more about AWE can visit AWE’s website to learn about upcoming events, read success stories and find a wealth of resources. It is filled with useful information from links to helpful organizations to inspirational quotes that inspire ingenuity. Featured is a quote by Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, which embodies AWE’s goal to help entrepreneurs push past fear:
“Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.”