USC OWN IT Summit makes its third annual return to campus

Tina Sharkey (left), CEO of Brandless, and Maryellis Bunn (right), founder of the Museum of Ice Cream, discuss their experiences creating their own companies. (Kevin Fohrer/Daily Trojan)

As the rest of campus lay dormant on a rainy Saturday morning, over a thousand people made their way to the third-annual USC OWN IT Summit, a day-long event celebrating women’s empowerment. The summit, full of glass-ceiling demolishers, eager academics and open discussions, was a sharp contrast to the day’s gloomy weather.   

The summit was put together entirely by students. Attendees attended two breakout sessions of their choice along with longer speeches and panels throughout the event. Among the 150 guest speakers were Erin and Sara Foster, co-creative heads for Bumble; Maryellis Bunn, founder of the Museum of Ice Cream and Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

In Bovard Auditorium, actress and outspoken transgender activist Laverne Cox addressed the packed house with personal stories of discrimination and spoke about the importance of intersectional feminism.

“Intersectional feminism … has really been about expanding the category of womanhood,” she said. “I stand before you today as a black transgender woman claiming my womanhood.”

Erica Wenger, co-executive director of USC OWN IT, said the rain affected the summit’s outdoor activities, such as the marketplace, where sponsors had booths for attendees to sample products.

“Thursday night we made a last minute-decision to do our rain plan, which was very expensive, but obviously very worth it,” Wenger said. “We moved the marketplace [from Alumni Park to VKC], and we put a huge tent over lunch.”  

In an afternoon breakout session titled “Wellness & Womanhood,” Jessie De Lowe, co-founder of the lifestyle blog How You Glow, spoke about her experience becoming an art therapist. De Lowe, who studied art and psychology at the University of Colorado, discussed the ways traditional Western medicine often fail to address women’s basic mental health needs.

“I found that in the art classes, there was way more [therapy] occurring than even in some of these other classrooms,” De Lowe said. “[Art has the power] to create this really healing environment for people to open up.”

The summit featured speakers covering topics from religion to aerospace engineering. Carlin Pappas, a senior majoring in journalism, attended a breakout session on corporate social responsibility.

“I learned a lot,” Pappas said. “I think one of the big takeaways [was that] consumers are more likely to associate with a brand that does social activism.”

Attendees also heard from three women who founded their own companies that focus on the needs of consumers in new and innovative ways. Tina Sharkey, co-founder and CEO of Brandless — an e-commerce company that sells all of its products for $3 each — said her company seeks to build trust with consumers.

“People don’t want to be buying from companies that they don’t trust or admire,” Sharkey said. “Every day for us [is] day two. Because on day one we listen, and on day two we build.”  

Francesca Macrae, a senior majoring in political economy, echoed Sharkey’s sentiments on brands.

“Consumers are more willing to support brands that no longer are just trying to push a product, but are using their platform to push a message,” Macrae said.

Wenger said she was happy with the event. She said Cox and the Bumble creatives were among her favorite parts of the event.

“One of my cousins actually said this was a day she was going to remember for years and [that] changed her life,” Wenger said. “Overall, we just kept hearing really positive feedback.”