Women and Entrepreneurship Week Kicks off Monday

Campus and community agencies partner to host slate of events

OXFORD, Miss. – A new weeklong observance at the University of Mississippi focuses on women and minorities in entrepreneurial businesses, with a goal of encouraging more women to launch their own business ventures.

The inaugural Women and Entrepreneurship Week begins Monday (Nov. 13), hosted by the university’s Career Center, School of Engineering and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, housed in the School of Business Administration. The series of events is sponsored by the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation and the Mabus Agency of Tupelo.

Staff at the CIE have wanted to host an event for almost two years to demonstrate to women that entrepreneurship is a vibrant pathway to a career, said Cobie Watkins, the center’s director of student and alumni programs.

“Historically, men have possessed a greater hold on the entrepreneurial market, but that’s changing now,” Watkins said. “We want women to see they can be just as successful in this field as men.”

More women are imagining themselves as business owners and entrepreneurs – almost 42 percent in 2015, up from 36 percent in 2012 – and those numbers are continuing to grow, Watkins said.

The center’s goal is to have students think about starting their own businesses and broadening their opportunities to become more innovative, said Richard J. Gentry, associate professor of entrepreneurship and CIE strategy director.

“The job market today is much less stable than it was a generation ago,” Gentry said. “A primary mission of a college is to help students appreciate the range of employment opportunities in both small and large businesses.

“WE Week is a central part of that and we’re so happy to be partnering with our friends across campus to present it.”

The week features four events, each of which focuses on a different aspect of business. The events are designed to coach students in professional development areas that affect women students with entrepreneurial aspirations.

The first event, “Be You: Branding Your Life,” is set for noon Tuesday (Nov. 14) in the Overby Center auditorium. It includes regional experts who will advise attendees on how to best market themselves in their careers.

Up next is a small business panel, set for 2 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 15) in Holman Hall, Room 30.

“We believe entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial careers are going to continue to shape the economy of Mississippi and the region,” Watkins said. The speakers and panelists at these events will be a wonderful example for our attendees.”

Set for noon Thursday (Nov. 17), “Up, Up and Away: Following Your Passions Beyond Expectations” will feature representatives from Sierra Madre Research, a startup in Calhoun City, and Juli and Richard Rhett, a couple who scored a deal with entrepreneur Richard Branson on the television show “Shark Tank.”

The closing event, at noon Friday (Nov. 18), will feature Brittany Wagner from Netflix’s “Last Chance U,” discussing her success story. Both Thursday and Friday’s events will be in the Overby Center auditorium.

“I feel like these topics will offer good information to so many students who are interested in these areas for their careers,” said Casey Cockrell, assistant director of employer services at the UM Career Center. “There is something for everyone all week.”

A committee of six women, ages 19 and up, developed the events with the goal of getting attendees to think about the career challenges they face as women, Watkins said.

“We took those ideas and narrowed down the list to showcase subject areas and speakers that would represent a multitude of viewpoints of women in their careers and women as entrepreneurs,” she said.

“The world of work is constantly changing and trends develop,” Cockrell said. “Right now is a good time to learn about entrepreneurship as it might be the best and most rewarding career path for a student.”