By Adrienne Corn I went to a local start-up conference this week called 36|86. (Not sure why it is called that, I risk being unhip and ask. Turns out it is the longitude/latitude of Nashville. Catchy, hey?) I go because I have a relatively new company and I am interested in perspectives/resources and meeting people who have perspectives and/or resources. Having been around entrepreneurship mosts of my life and career (plus the hubs is a successful “serial” entrepreneur), it probably seems strange, but I haven’t attended a great deal of these conferences or “pitch” meetings in the past–and now I’m pretty busy building a business, so I don’t have much time for them. So, while I try to be observant and perhaps help others gain from my experience, I thought I might share a snippet from that experience…in case you were planning on taking a valuable day away from your start-up to go to a conference. For the record, I’m a woman.
Day 1: They don’t have my badge. I’m not sure why that is, but I handwrite my name on the card (which can send the message “last minute or not real attendee”), grab a lanyard (which does NOT go with my cool necklace, btw) and listen to the first fireside chat with two guys who start the morning sessions offering up a healthy dose of testosterone. I look around. Where are the women? Are the ten women here all media, supporters or moderators? I tweet about the lack of women entrepreneurs represented. Like, in the first hour I’m there. There are more white men here than in the English literary canon. There’s an all-male review of VC (not like the Vegas kind, ladies) in which there’s some great info, but it left me wondering whether women dare venture into the world of venture capital, given the (lack of) representation. Lunch is great: I sit at a table of all men–trying desperately not to flash every man in line for Edley’s BBQ while I awkwardly maneuver my way into a picnic bench seat in a skirt. Good times.
After Lunch: The guy who introduced the panel on VC sits in front of me before the next session. He is a sponsor, and a big one from the size of the logo and his billing as an introducer. I take a lesson from the introducer to do the same. I shake his hand, offer him my card, referencing someone I know at the top of his organization (Nice to meet you. I’m familiar with your organization, done some work with you guys. Silence. Do you know so-and-so? Silence.) I mention that we (my new, innovative, entrepreneurial venture and his large corporate entity) share interest in the same industry. He does not really respond, does not offer his card, turns around and does not speak to me again. After his speech on how his company is interested in innovation and entrepreneurship, I guess I was expecting something different. Ah, well. I do meet one of the main organizers of the event itself, and he is honestly a nice guy–engaging, lacking the kind of aforementioned hubris. Connected and approachable. So the conference has that going for them. There’s a very informative panel on corporate VC’s (one woman and three men) and another all-male panel on tech talent in the SE (not very informative) before the day ends. I meet my best contact of the day (no joke) in the ladies room. Where there is no line. Because again, there are, like, five of us. As I walk to my car (I didn’t take an Uber. But a woman exec from Uber did get interviewed onstage about the company! ) I think that there seem to be more women in the pop up shops outside than there were on the stage today. Oh, did I mention the start up pitches? Yeah, I think there were two women who pitched. Every other pitch today was given by a dude. (I know, I’m tired of reading about the lack of women, too, and I’m the one writing this post.) There are some cool concerts and stuff after, but I have another meetup across town at 5th & Taylor, where over yummy bites and drinks, a group of local women business owners and entrepreneurs (a subset of a local Facebook group of roughly 200 women thus far–many of them in tech) gather for their monthly meeting to discuss everything from business issues and funny stories to reciprocal resource sharing. I wonder why more of them weren’t in attendance, or speaking, at 36|86.
Day 2: I’m not super excited to return to #3686South given that the day before the conference was mostly men speaking and too few women entrepreneurs on the agenda. I go to conferences for multiple perspectives and being a women with a new company is challenging-and it would be nice to hear from people like me who have done it before. But then, the co-founders of Eventbrite speak – YAY! A WOMAN! And there are women on some panels! YAY!
AND THEN: the men go crazy! Here is a glimpse into how a tech/ start-up conference can go all “drama”…and to think it happened even without an equal contingent of women. #andtheysaywomenaretheirrationalones. Perhaps all the women who didn’t show up knew something I didn’t about this group…and now there’s a War of Conferences and a hand extended to women entrepreneurs in the area. Perhaps ticket sales for Pandoland were slow, or perhaps someone at Pandoland saw a market need (start up conference friendly to women) and like any good entrepreneur, sought to address it (offering free tickets to women entrepreneurs and business owners). Still, even in the midst of testing the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the people of 36|86 voted for the best startup…and guess what? It was co-founded by, you guessed it, a woman! #allswellthatendswell
So, never fear: if you take time from your company to attend a conference, there WILL be some valuable take-aways beyond the schwag, some great connections made (although perhaps not who or where you might expect), and probably just enough drama to keep you from needing your third latte of the day. And just when you think there isn’t any more value to be wrung from your conference experience, you’ll watch a great new company win the pitch contest and you’ll head home inspired and determined to do even better work than before. And when YOU win the pitch/funding/award for your amazing technology/company, you’ll be glad you went to that conference 90 days before. #workhardANDFAST #goodluck