The University of Texas at Dallas’ Women’s Summit recently attracted more than 350 people interested in learning more about entrepreneurship; they left the daylong event with ideas for further education, inspiration and empowerment.
One of those attendees was Harshini Rallapalli, a cognitive science junior and vice president of the UT Dallas E-Club — a student organization focused on entrepreneurship. She described the second annual event as a way to see through a window of possibilities for her future self.
“It gave me an opportunity to imagine how life can be a little different, how I can do something different — take that risk or dare to even do something different,” she said. “Giving people a space where [they] can imagine themselves being changed is a very powerful thing.”
The summit was part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Week, a global movement in October in which thousands of women in 43 states and 30 countries converged on more than 200 universities. At UT Dallas’ event, about half of the participants were students, staff and faculty, while the rest were entrepreneurs and corporate professionals.
“It gave me an opportunity to imagine how life can be a little different, how I can do something different — take that risk or dare to even do something different. Giving people a space where [they] can imagine themselves being changed is a very powerful thing.”
Harshini Rallapalli, a cognitive science junior and vice president of the UT Dallas E-Club
Dresden Goldberg, director of programs and operations at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the summit was started last year to show women in the UT Dallas community that entrepreneurship is available to them.
Administrators at the institute realized that even though 43% of UT Dallas students are women, “very few were taking advantage of our entrepreneurial programs,” Goldberg said. “The summit is an inspirational event, a way to bring women around to see that we offer these programs to support them, too.”
The institute presented the summit in partnership with the Dallas Entrepreneur Center’s WEDallas program. Nearly 40 speakers discussed a variety of topics that provided nuts-and-bolts advice on starting and operating a business, along with healthy doses of encouragement and inspiration.
Breaking Free, Moving Forward
Keynote speakers included Courtney Caldwell MBA’06, and her husband, Dr. Tye Caldwell, co-founders of ShearShare, a mobile app that connects salon and barbershop owners to licensed stylists to fill unused suites and stations on demand.
From left: UT Dallas students Rashi Daga, Rallapalli and Coraima Saavedra attended the summit along with Dresden Goldberg, director of programs and operations at the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Rallapalli, who served as the moderator for their discussion, said the Caldwells’ and others’ presentations highlighted the need for women to break free of the boxes they put themselves in when they do not envision themselves as entrepreneurs.
Goldberg agreed that moving forward in trying to realize a dream, whether or not the resources are available, is the best thing a woman can do.
“I like one of the things that Courtney said in her session about how the only thing she regrets is that she didn’t start sooner,” Goldberg said. “All the connections that were made and the stories that were shared during the summit were really incredible and will help inspire women toward pursuing their dreams.”
For the lunchtime “fireside chat,” Susy Solis of radio station KRLD interviewed Tiffany and Leon Chen, co-founders of Austin-based bakery Tiff’s Treats. Lila Stewart, co-founder of footwear company Hari Mari, which specializes in high-end flip flops, gave the closing keynote address.
Rashi Daga, a mechanical engineering sophomore, hoped to learn some of the finer points of pitching the company she started in India with her mother. She attended a session in which Leah Frazier, owner and founder of Think Three Media, spoke about “Cost-Efficient Public Relations, Media Outreach and Communications Strategies for Your Business.”
During the session, Daga gave an impromptu pitch to the audience, and Frazier was so impressed that she later introduced Daga to some colleagues.
“When I stood up in the middle of 50 people and gave my pitch, everyone was looking at me and listening to me,” she said. “That was the empowering moment when I thought I could really take that first step, voice things out, get the opinions that I need, and I might even be able to sell my product.”
Coraima Saavedra, a business administration sophomore, volunteered at the summit. As an aspiring entrepreneur, she saw the event not only as a networking opportunity but also as a way to empower women such as herself.
“Seeing these women entrepreneurs who are making it out there as entrepreneurs — they’re role models to follow,” she said. “When Courtney Caldwell and Tye walked in, they looked like super-cool people who seemed so down to earth but at the same time looked like they had been through life. It’s crazy to think what they had to go through to get where they’re at. It makes me think that I can be like that.”