Inaugural conference offers support for Evanston’s female entrepreneurs
April 10, 2017
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In the eyes of Linda Del Bosque, women run the world of Evanston entrepreneurship.
“Evanston is known for empowerment,” said Del Bosque, publisher and editor in chief of Evanston Woman Magazine. “Women do dominate the entrepreneurship here in Evanston, and it’s because we are the fabric of empowerment and voice.”
Thirty-five female leaders came together at the Holiday Inn — 1501 Sherman Ave. — for the first Entrepreneur and Leadership Women’s Conference on Monday. Del Bosque said the five-hour event was organized by her magazine, and included networking opportunities and speakers designed to educate women in business about local resources.
The conference took about six weeks to plan, Del Bosque said, and was also sponsored by Acquirent, Northwestern and Hagerty Consulting — which is owned by businessman Steve Hagerty, who will likely become Evanston’s next mayor.
One of the conference’s speakers was Tricia Spellman, founder and CEO of Marketing Intelligence On Demand, an Evanston-based strategic marketing and public relations firm. In a speech, Spellman discussed strategies for expanding marketing power. Because women remain a minority in business leadership, she said, it was valuable for them to come together and exchange ideas.
Spellman said Evanston is generally a supportive place for both male and female business leaders.
“It’s great for entrepreneurship — it’s a very tight-knit community,” she said. “The culture in Evanston, especially with the University and Kellogg (School of Management), fosters creativity.”
The conference’s keynote speaker was Maudlyne Ihejirika (Medill ’87), a columnist and reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2016, Ihejirika published her first book, “Escape from Nigeria: A Memoir of Faith, Love and War,” after what she said was a 17-year writing process.
At the conference, Ihejirika read selections from her book and discussed President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration. She said if the United States had not been welcoming to refugees and immigrants in the past, she “would not be alive today.”
Ihejirika’s book tells the story of her family’s escape from Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War of the 1960s. Her father was studying at Kellogg at the time, and his instructor worked with four other couples to bring the rest of Ihejirika’s family to the U.S. in what she called “a heroic feat.”
“By hearing my story, I hope (people) now have a new point of reference to understand what is at stake,” she said. “To feel compassion and empathy for those who are forced from their home through no fault of their own.”
Other speakers included Linda Larkin, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce; Kellogg Prof. Robert Wolcott; and Ellen King and Julie Matthei from Hewn, an Evanston-based bread bakery.
Del Bosque said she hopes the conference helped spur further engagement between women business leaders and local support systems. Though women entrepreneurs in Evanston are talented and supportive of one another, she said the biggest challenge they face is a lack of education about available resources.
“We have a landscape right now of women who own small businesses,” Del Bosque said. “But the potential of them downsizing and closing is greater if they don’t seek the knowledge and the education.”