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Innovative Women’s Conference Celebrates the Power of Potential

Jenkins MBA students and conference organizers (L to R): Nina Keidel, Padmaja Soundararajan, Jen Wiles, Catalina Aguirre

A team of Jenkins MBA students organized the NC State Innovative Women’s Conference for one important purpose: to bring together women from diverse backgrounds to learn from one another and share ideas on topics related to innovation and entrepreneurship in business.

Over 160 students and businesswomen attended the second annual conference, held at NC State’s Talley Student Union on Nov. 13.

Jen Wiles, student in the Jenkins MBA program, said the purpose of the event was the opportunity for women to “help each other each other through the doorway of opportunity.”

Among those sharing their expertise was keynote speaker Valerie K. Fields, owner of a public relations firm and president of the Women’s Forum of North Carolina. Fields encouraged the audience to be determined and positive in their careers, and said women shouldn’t apologize for seeking success.

“If we can change one thing, we can change anything,” Fields said. “If we can change anything, we, collectively, can change everything. When we are ready and willing to change our minds, we can change our lives.”

Fields challenged women to go beyond simply exchanging contact information, but instead to leave the conference having exchanged ideas and made new connections.

“Every single person you meet knows something you don’t. They have experienced the world in some way you have not,” Fields said.

“This was a great initiative for women in the Triangle to come together, with a safe place they can network and learn from others’ expertise,” said Padmaja Soundararajan, Jenkins MBA student. “NC State has a strong brand, which helped us reach out to local businesswomen who have been really wonderful about supporting this event.

Panel discussions gave women attending the conference a chance to hear from experts on communication, persuasion and entrepreneurship. Industry leaders also provided insight on careers in sourcing, healthcare, technology and sustainability.

“It’s a chance for young women to see examples of businesswomen who are doing the things they want to do,” Wiles said. “There’s a community out there that will support them, and I hope that students will tap into that.”

Feedback from those attending was positive, with the women reporting a commitment to stay focused on networking and career development. “Students said they saw a lot of value in the content and in the overall experience,” said Catalina Aguirre Burneo, one of the organizers and a student in the Jenkins MBA program. Presenters were pleased with the experience as well.

Sarah Blacklin, NC Choices program director, was part of a panel discussion on opportunities in local food production. “I really enjoyed being here today,” Blacklin said. “I’m amazed by the number of women who are doing incredible work advancing local food.”

“Having an audience of women is gold, because women are still the primary shoppers of the household,” Blacklin said. “It’s a welcoming, inviting environment, and it’s good to have some visibility and hear their accomplishments.”

The conference was also a chance for students and businesswomen to give back to others. Net proceeds from the event were donated to Women for Success, a Triangle non-profit that helps underprivileged women enter the workforce and develop career skills.

Thanks to the generosity of attendees, the Innovative Women’s Conference raised over $2,000 for Women for Success, organizers said.

WRAL TechWire also covered the event, Lessons from the 2015 Innovative Women’s Conference, posted on November 17, 2015.

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