Rachele Downs Kickoff Event

Women in Entrepreneurship, otherwise known as WE, launched at MSU’s Hive in Wilson Hall on Tuesday, February 23rd. The E-board began our first meeting by introducing the reasons for starting the club and their place in the executive team, Zoe Zappitell, President; Cole Knight, Digital Media; Andrea Batten, Treasurer; and Marie Clark, Secretary. Emphasizing our mission of empowering women to cultivate worthwhile and inspiring friendships, we started by asking everyone to break into smaller groups and explain what they thought being an ‘entrepreneur’ really meant.

The ideas were outstanding and diverse. All members participated in coming up with long lists composed of ideas like:

  • “Someone who creates their own ideas and pursues their own business”

  • “A confident, intelligent person who uses their leadership skills to design innovative, empathetic products and services.”

  • “Words that describe them are leaders, creative, innovative, savvy, builder, confident, intelligent, empathetic.”

  • “Has the ability to manage a company, possess their own business idea, is sure in their ability to make a profit and reach their goals.”

  • “Someone who pursues an idea no one else had before- makes an idea reality.”

  • “One who acts on ideas, innovative ideas, leadership, is creative, unafraid to fail, passionate, markets ideas, is cooperative, driven, and an active listener.”

When reconvening and sharing each other's ideas, it was evident that every lady’s perspective on an entrepreneur was a bit different, but undoubtedly everyone was right. The overall theme seemed to be that ‘an entrepreneur was confident they had value to add to a cause they had passion for and they wanted to work towards their goals’.

Next, the group was delighted to welcome our first speaker, Rachele Downs, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Strategies at Inforum located in Detroit, MI. Rachele spoke about how she originally thought she wanted to be and orthodontist like her father and after just a short 6 months, got bored of doing the same thing everyday. From this experience, she knew everyday for her had to look like a challenge and be different for her to stay engaged. Luckily, she got involved with real estate just shortly after high school and claims “I was really lucky that the right job fell into place for myself”. She talked about the turnover for her of starting as a receptionist and then working to 100% commission as an investment broker at just 24 years old due to her hard work and persistence. Right around this time, she found entrepreneurship. In the wake of the 2008 crash in housing markets, she shared how she went 3 full years after without solid paychecks but only saw that time of challenges after challenges as a stepping stone. It was at this time she remembered a supervisor of hers earlier in life tell her “the worst thing you can do is nothing.” These words continue to ring through Downs’ head often and have influenced a lot of her risk taking moves. She related this time of operating in a constant state of chaos but just thinking about what the next best step was. She was always looking forward to the next thing which is so important when you get knocked down and have to build yourself back up again.

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Moving more into her current experience of working with women entrepreneurs in their ventures, she presented how a lot more women are opening and operating businesses than before- up 25% from 2007- which is huge! Also, she mentioned how studies have shown - as well as her personal experience has displayed - that having a diverse team around a project (in every sense of diversity) helps aid a successful business to be more comprehensive of different viewpoints. She gave examples of women she has helped coach in promoting and developing their businesses. It was surprising when she said that “most women are 40 years old on average when they become an entrepreneur which is evident of many women just letting their careers ‘happen’ to them”.

As for advice, Rachele was loaded with helpful hints. Some of which included:

  • Never underestimate the power of a meeting. You must take yourself out of the equation and simply connect with others like a friend because then you are most genuine.

  • Don’t be afraid to self promote. Let others know what great and innovative things you are working on.

  • Have good mentors and sponsors supporting you in every step.

  • Learn how to communicate succinctly, detailed, and persuasively. Pitching is an invaluable skill everyone should learn whether you own a business or not. Being able to present who you are briefly and wholistically is necessary in everything!

  • It is important not to just create a business plan but also have a growth plan for your future.

  • Know that within us are great new products, services, technologies, and innovations that are the fuel that keeps the economy running and society progressing.

WE is very thankful we could start our organization’s meetings with such great wisdom from Rachele, getting to know more of what entrepreneurship means to each other, and sharing the first steps of the club’s journey with a large turnout of wonderful women! Our journey to reaching more women and providing the right tools, mentors, and connections to our members has just begun. It is evident that women have a great value in sharing their ideas and empowering each other to follow their passions to change what they can. WE is so glad that we can be a part of this journey within all of our members! See you on March 15th at 5 pm for a discussion based event about “Building Brands”!

For more information on projects Women In Entrepreneurship is working on, follow us on Twitter @we_msu, like our Facebook page: MSU Women In Entrepreneurship, and check out our website msuwe.com. Interested in hearing more from Rachele Downs? Follow her on Twitter @rachelejdowns.

Article by Marie Clark.