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Building a 'fempire' together

Business leadership: Gayle Jennings O’Byrne founder of WOCstar Fund (Photograph supplied)

American venture capitalist Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne is urging Bermuda's female entrepreneurs to work together to build their "fempires".

As the keynote speaker at the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation's Women's Entrepreneurship Day Conference 2020 she said too many women are solo entrepreneurs.

"You really need to collaborate if you are going to do things in a global way," she said. "Unfortunately solo entrepreneurship limits growth, revenue and clusters into service businesses like consulting, business coaching, marketing, retail, food, tourism, cleaning services, health and childcare.

"That is all beautiful but what if you were building a consulting empire as opposed to a solo consulting firm?"

Ms Jennings-O’Byrne is the founder of the WOCstar Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in women of colour and diverse inclusive teams in the tech sector.

At the virtual conference on Thursday, she said Bermuda as a country and a brand is world class.

"Great ideas are being rooted here and being sold in marketplaces around the globe," she said. "Lean into that. You have great examples in your own backyard, such as Tabs, and Lili Bermuda.

"I love the Nab app, created for people to find local Bermuda products. You are a hub of innovation and resourcefulness so let's share this with the world."

She urged Bermuda's female entrepreneurs to think globally.

"Think in terms of fempires," Ms Jennings-O’Byrne said.

She said if three women each with their own accounting firm, merged into one firm, they'd have an accounting fempire.

"You could cut down your costs, and increase purchasing power to negotiate with vendors,“ she said. ”I know if I had three of you across the table from me I would be scared about negotiating with you. You’d have three people out there locking in clients, selling products, getting the word out. You could offer a wider selection of products and services. You'd be amazing."

She said entrepreneurship can be scary, hard and lonely.

"All the big and little decisions rest with you," she said. "Think of collaboration and partners as much needed business companionship. Folks who build their businesses with you are sharing those wins and losses.

"There will be days when you don’t feel like a ’WOC star’ or badass and they can take the lead on those days."

She said the key is getting people smarter than you working with you to advance your vision.

"No one is expecting you to be a pro at all parts of the business," she said. "Take WOCstar – my dream was to invest in women of colour but it is the team and folks around me that are making it a reality."

Ms Jennings-O'Byrne first visited Bermuda last year and met with many local leaders including Erica Smith, executive director at the BEDC.

"I knew I wanted to be a part of her vision," Ms Jennings-O’Byrne said. "I knew I wanted to connect with what she and her team were doing for business owners, especially women business owners."

She said one of the secrets to being a successful entrepreneur is being a problem solver.

"I look at a lot of pitches from entrepreneurs and I have to tell you that there are not a lot of new, new things out there," she said. "At the end of the day it is about building a better mousetrap. Your ideas need not be radical or new technology that never existed, it simply needs to solve a problem that many people have and make it widely available."

"I left a 20-year plus career in tech and on Wall Street to focus on women building their businesses," she said, "and more important to invest in companies."

She started WOC star, because she saw investing in women as a smart, profitable business move.

"We invest in early stage start-ups that are led by women of colour or as we like to call them, ’WOC stars’, but that also includes diverse and inclusive teams," she said. "Caucasian women are part of our sisterhood, and men are allies, but our epicentre starts with women of colour."

Ms Jennings-O’Byrne grew up in the Bay Area in San Francisco, during the early days of Silicon Valley.

“When I was a little girl I was surrounded by women in science technology,” she said.

Her mother, Thelma Bataille, was a trailblazer in computing, beginning with her work on the McDonnell Douglas F-15 fighter jet and the DC-10, as the only female Fortran programmer on the IBM mainframe in the department.

"She was much like the women in the film Hidden Figures," Ms Jennings-O’Byrne said.

For more information about the Wocstar Fund see www.wocstar.com. Also learn more about BEDC programmes at www.bedc.bm.

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Published November 23, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated November 22, 2020 at 2:03 pm)

Building a 'fempire' together

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