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Women Entrepreneurs Share Insights, Experiences at ODU Forum

The panel of female entrepreneurs reflected wildly different personal experiences, but referenced the same attributes: Determination. Fearlessness. Curiosity. Willingness to adapt.

Their insights were shared with an audience at Old Dominion University during the women and minority-owned business forum, "Creating or Growing Your Business through Innovation and Entrepreneurship," on Monday, June 22.

The event, sponsored by state Sen. Lynwood Lewis, featured a keynote address from Maurice Jones, Secretary of Commerce and Trade for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The crowd of more than 100 was particularly interested in the insight of the female entrepreneurs.

Nancy Grden, executive director of Old Dominion's Strome Entrepreneurial Center; Nisha Witt, founder of solar energy innovation firm Aesop Technologies; Lucy Gibney, founder of Lucy's Bakery; Tracy Gregorio , president and CEO of G2 Ops; and Elaine Horn-Ranney, president and CEO of Tympanogen, told the audience how they came to be entrepreneurs.

Referencing past setbacks, and encounters with mentors, each of the businesswomen suggested that while traditional business may be a male-dominated world, there is opportunity for female entrepreneurs willing to take risks, and stand up to be counted.

"My experience is that we still need to find a way to work with the old boys' network," said Nancy Grden, hired as the first executive director of Old Dominion University's Strome Entrepreneurial Center, which opened in fall 2014. "The key is talking to those who are truly willing to help, who can adapt and change, and accept an invitation to work together. There are so many who are willing to help."

Monday's forum was created to help minority and female entrepreneurs better connect to experts in planning, funding, contract management, training and other skills essential for start-up companies. Many of those services are offered at Old Dominion's Center for Enterprise Innovation (CEI).

CEI executive director Marty Kaszubowski said that Old Dominion University has not always realized its potential as a key knowledge hub for the local business community. "The reason we wanted to do this is there is so much good stuff happening at ODU, and we wanted to get the word out," he said.

Kaszubowski said there are several organizations within CEI who were created to be partners for aspiring local entrepreneurs, particularly minority and women entrepreneurs. He said offices such as the Hampton Roads Veterans Business Outreach Center, the Women's Business Center, the Procurement Assistance Center, the Technology Applications Center and Launch have specific assets that can help young entrepreneurs succeed in a challenging environment.

He added that the CEI has "big plans" to bring Old Dominion's expertise out into Hampton Roads communities, with the creation of local incubators designed to provide assistance tailored to the unique aspects of each community in the region.

"Too often in this region we have aimed low and undershot," Kaszubowski said. "It's time for us to achieve to our true potential."

Sen. Lewis represents the 6th District, which comprises Accomack County; Mathews County; Northampton County; and parts of Norfolk and the City of Virginia Beach.

Maurice Jones, who was appointed Secretary of Commerce and Trade by McAuliffe in January 2014. Previously, he served as Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from April 2012 through January 2014. Prior to HUD, Jones was President of Pilot Media, the largest print and digital organization in Hampton Roads.

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