A chair’s function is not just to provide a place to sit; it is to provide a medium for self-expression.” — Evan Davis


Around a small conference table in ‘the Vault’ of American Underground, some of the brightest minds in the state of North Carolina are seated in the chairs hugging its sides and corners. Whenever it seems there is no room left at the table, everyone moves closer together, and space is created. Chairs are added, and access to the table—as well as the conversation—is made available.

NC IDEA Conference Room

Making room for others is what this meeting is all about. The brilliant minds gathered around this table are female entrepreneurs, working to solve the problems of tomorrow today. Representing industries ranging from agriculture to software development, their companies are among the 17 percent of startups in the country to have a female founder.

As part of NC IDEA’s SOAR program, not only do these entrepreneurs discuss strategies for strengthening their businesses, they share strategies for successfully maneuvering through a male-dominated industry that only provides seed funding to roughly 9 percent of women-led startups. According to Fortune, in 2017, women-led startups received only 2.2 percent of total venture capital dollars, while their male counterparts received four times as much.

Despite the abundance of research supporting the need for women in all parts of the entrepreneurial process, the presence of women in this space is very low. Only 7 percent of partners at venture capital firms are women. This lack of female representation has produced a reality where–no matter how strong the numbers, how detailed the logistics, or how right the answers–female entrepreneurs must jump through additional hoops to prove the validity of their businesses.

“I have to constantly prove that what I do is not a hobby,” says Jennifer Turnage, CEO and co-founder of myBeeHyve–a contact management system for those in direct sales and network marketing (pictured right).

Cathy Maready (left) and Jennifer Turnage (right) waiting for Mentor Madness, one-on-one sessions with business experts in the NC IDEA network.Many at the table nod their heads in agreement and support. Entrepreneurship is hard, and being a female entrepreneur has additional challenges, but the purpose of this meeting is not to complain. The objective is to share the tools needed to build better businesses, stronger leaders, and a more representative industry.

This two-hour conference focused on identifying the roles we play in reshaping an entrepreneurial culture. The conversation included tactics for detecting preventative language in talks with possible investors, a roadmap for answering tough questions, and instructions on building long-lasting networks and connections.

At the end of the conversation, each entrepreneur met with a series of mentors to address specific opportunities facing her respective company. While the major funding gap for women pursing equity-backed capital may have not been closed, important changes to this entrepreneurial landscape have begun.

“Generations throughout my life have struggled with the same concept, and I don’t think it’s changed a tremendous amount. I think the way we approach it is changing dramatically,” says Cathy Maready, founder and design director of Vavaroom, a virtual platform for interior design consultation (pictured left).

“Change happens from within,” says Turnage. “Have your eyes open to the situation, and have the tools available to navigate it more effectively.”

A chair’s function is not just to provide a place to sit; it is to provide a medium for self-expression.” Through programs like NC IDEA SOAR, we aim to empower entrepreneurs to achieve their potential by providing spaces and opportunities that invite discussion and welcomes self-expression. Because when seats at the table are plentiful, the impossible becomes feasible and problems turn into solutions.