Laura Bennett told herself shortly after co-founding Embrace Pet Insurance that if she could share her knowledge with other women and people who were looking to start a business, she would.
“I couldn’t find any women who had raised venture capital funding,” she says. “There were a few men, but not many. And I knew that it was sort of different for women. You’re just looked at differently. So I couldn’t find any.”
Fortunately, she hooked up with JumpStart Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to Northeast Ohio entrepreneurs to start and grow their companies. That allowed Embrace Pet Insurance to get off the ground, but Bennett still felt the need to help women in business.
It was time for her to start her own network. A little more than a year ago, she founded the Burning River Coffee Community, best described as a loosely knit mentoring organization.
“It’s a gathering of women every month or so, mostly at breakfast time at either Panera Bread or in the Embrace offices,” she says. “It’s to help women move their businesses forward.”
And it’s not just a case of a small business that receives attention from the mentors. There is a range of entities, from high-growth-potential companies to those who struggle to raise money. Some don’t have to raise venture capital funding but at this point want to take their business to the next level, to sell across the U.S. or globally.
Bennett has been there and done that and wants to share how to get in deeper. She could have just taken the attitude of, “I’m here now, and I’m taking no prisoners!” But she didn’t, and took her message to the Burning River group.
“I say to them, you know, it is incredibly hard but if you share your struggles and your challenges with the group, you would be amazed how invigorating it is,” she says. “It’s energy from the group that you get. When you have a group of business people together, there is always some benefit that will come out of it.
“I encourage women to network, and to find other women in the same boat because it is very lonely being an entrepreneur,” she says. “I think women benefit more from finding other women in similar circumstances who they could relate to. It doesn’t matter if your business is related to the other woman’s business, but perhaps you are at the same stage, you have the same issues — a lot of people have the same issues; it’s just a different business.
“It’s that sort of strength, camaraderie and resilience that you need, because you need someone to keep encouraging you. That is what I recommend that women do, and I thought of this organization to help with that.”
We couldn’t have said it better. That’s great advice for anyone, and especially for women as we feature our annual “Perspectives — Women Who Excel” issue. ●