Three UM departments will host a four-day symposium to introduce students and the community to the challenges and successes of entrepreneurship in the inaugural Women and Entrepreneurship Week, set for Tuesday to Friday next week.
Cobie Watkins, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) director of student and alumni programs, said the speakers and panelists, who are from across the region, will provide insight to women interested in business.
“We just felt like, over the last few years, entrepreneurship is really starting to gain steam as far as being a viable option for students’ careers,” Watkins said. “So we thought now would be a good time to introduce it on a larger scale and pull women into it, as well, because women are a very under-targeted group as far as entrepreneurship is concerned.”
For a couple of years, the center talked about offering an event similar to WE Week but with more time and resources and the mindset to promote entrepreneurial efforts. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Career Center and the School of Engineering collaborated to form a committee and kick start the week.
“Our goal here in CIE is to really expose and assist students with whatever entrepreneurial efforts or innovative thinking measures that they might need help with or might want to learn more about,” Watkins said.
She said that in the past, the Career Center held events specifically focused on women in the workplace but felt it failed to catch the anticipated attention.
The panels will be interactive, allowing the audience to address the panel with any questions. Another incentive of the sessions are giveaways, including free manicures, jewelry, overnight stays at The Inn and merchandise from Campus Rec.
“Be You: Branding Your Life” will be held at noon Tuesday in the Overby Auditorium. Specialists in the session will communicate how the way people portray themselves physically and in character will directly impact the type of career they will have. The panelists will discuss real-world challenges of balancing volunteering, working and having a family.
At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, a panel on small business will offer insight on professional business strategies. Sophomore Lakia Taylor, a 20-year-old general business major who runs her own business, will speak on the panel.
Her company, Kia’s Jewels, offers personalized jewelry. Taylor began making jewelry at the age of 8 and said she fell in love with it.
“For some reason, I couldn’t stop creating pieces at a young age, so it grew on me,” Taylor said. “When I was in middle school and high school, I was selling jewelry to friends and family, and I knew that one day I was going to turn it into a full-time business.”
When Taylor came to the university, she connected with business professionals and was encouraged by family, friends and those professionals. With that guidance and her studies, she applied her knowledge to her business.
“I knew that receiving help with business guidance and majoring in marketing, I can apply my knowledge to my business, and that’s what I did,” she said. “The more knowledge I gained, the better my business was.”
Watkins said Taylor made an impression on faculty and staff, and they wanted her to be a part of the panel to give a student’s perspective on owning a business.
“I feel that this week is very important because there is a chance for women to express their thoughts on what it is like to be a woman in business,” Taylor said. “We push ourselves so much that sometimes we feel that we are overlooked. Therefore, we want to make awareness of that. Not only making awareness of the life as an entrepreneur but guiding aspiring entrepreneurs, as well, on advice.”
In Overby, “Up, Up, and Away: Following Your Passions Beyond Expectations” will spotlight “Shark Tank” winners Juli and Richard Rhett in a talk show setting at noon Thursday.
“They’re basically going to talk about their entrepreneurial journey,” Watkins said. “I’ve known Juli for a very long time, so it’ll be very cool to see, as an outsider, how that’s progressed.”
The series of events will end with Brittany Wagner discussing overcoming obstacles. Wagner was an academic counselor at East Mississippi Community College, which was highlighted in the Netflix show “Last Chance U.” She left the show prior to season two and began a business.
“We wanted to bring somebody in that’s had a pretty big audience recognition, so that’s why we reached out to Brittany Wagner,” Watkins said. “I saw that she left and created her own company, so what better way to show people that you can do it at any point in your life?”
The event will be at held at noon Friday in Overby.
“I think it’s really important for people to realize, especially in Oxford and especially at Ole Miss, that innovation and the development of new businesses is going to be paramount for us to move forward as a community and as a state,” Watkins said.