USC Marshall holds Inaugural ATHENA Summit

Soul and folk singer Victory Boyd gave an acoustic performance at the ATHENA Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit on Thursday. Photo by Julia Erickson | Daily Trojan

The USC Marshall Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosted its first ATHENA Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit on Thursday, an event focused on the empowerment of female entrepreneurs, from the acceptance of different definitions of success to the in and outs of investing.

The event kicked off with a welcome address from Lloyd Greif Center Director Helena Yli-Renko. Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, was the inspiration for the summit’s name, Yli-Renko explained. As a warrior who was known for her compassion for others, the goddess was a fitting namesake, she said.

Yli-Renko also discussed female underrepresentation in the workplace, stating that in the realm of entrepreneurship, there is still much to be done about gender equity.

“Women own 42 percent of all businesses, but only 3 percent of companies receiving venture capital have female CEOs,” Yli-Renko said. “We’re here to spark dialogue on issues and topics that are relevant and important to women entrepreneurs on their own entrepreneurial journeys.”

Amanda Daflos, director of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s innovation team, also emphasized the necessity or female leaders in a male-dominated workforce.  Female leaders are not hard to come by, Daflos said, and they deserve the support and respect from others.

“Diverse workforces are more productive and innovative, and they make products that appeal to broader audiences,” Daflos said. “Also, we know it makes a difference when young girls see a doctor, city councilwoman, entrepreneur … They see someone who is just like them.”

The speeches, panels and workshops encompassed a broad range of topics related to entrepreneurship, like happiness and creativity.

One panel, titled “Everyday Hustle as an Early Stage Entrepreneur,” highlighted the initial challenges that came with starting a company from the ground up.

In the panel, five female C-level executives discussed the pros and cons of founding a business, as well as juggling their working lifestyles while deciding to start families. Chewse CEO Tracy Lawrence, a USC alumna, said that running a company causes her to constantly assess herself as well as the overall culture of her company.

“You are building what the team cares about, so Chewse is a ‘love company,’” Lawrence said. “I care about being emotionally intelligent at work, and all my managers care about that, too.”

Panelist AngelaSutherland, the CEO of Hello Yumi, noted that in order for women entrepreneurs to succeed in the future, they need to be more willing to support each other via networking, which for her seems to be more male-dominated.

“Men have [a] million opportunities to build a network,” Sutherland said. “The CEO will go to a baseball game with an intern, but women wouldn’t go shopping together because [to them],  everything sends a signal. But that makes for a world where networking is just built-in for males.”

The rest of the event included a performance by soul and folk singer Victory Boyd, as well as remarks from Marshall School of Business Dean James Ellis.

After the summit came to a close, attendees participated in a networking reception, building relationships with fellow business leaders.

According to Umamah Syeda, founder of virtual relocation service GuideMe and a USC alumna, the event inspired thoughtful dialogue among female entrepreneurs.

“It’s amazing to connect with people who are in the same game as you,” Syeda said. “We were talking about how this is still kind of a man’s world, and to be able to appreciate yourself within that is amazing.”