A group of women pose for a photo at the Women's Entrepreneurship Symposium
From left: Susana Santos, Kate Deurloo, Dani McVety, Chloe Epstein, Nola Miyasaki, Brianna Bean, Gigi Butler, Megan Buttel, Bryanna Connor, Katherine Anthony, Sophia Li, Alexandra Craissati and Michelle Helmer.

Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium inspires generations of female entrepreneurs

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –  Over the past 10 years, there has been an explosion of female-owned businesses in the United States. From 1997 to 2017, women-owned businesses have increased 114 percent, resulting in 11.6 million female-owned business in the U.S. today.

It’s no wonder then that the 2018 Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium was filled with more than 300 people eager to hear from successful female entrepreneurs from across the nation.

The annual event, hosted by the UF Warrington College of Business Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, featured keynote speakers Gina “Gigi” Butler, founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes, and Chloe Epstein, co-founder and president of Chloe’s Fruit, as well as Stephanie Hollis, co-founder of Solar Stik, Annette Cornwell Bauer, founder of Blakeland Construction Services, Brianna Bean, founder of The Job Scouts, and Dani McVety, founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice.

Chloe Epstein opened the event with her presentation “Entrepreneurship as a Life Journey,” where she discussed the doubt she faced from others and herself when she was initially considering pursuing her entrepreneurial dream of creating a satiating and clean alternative to frozen yogurt and ice cream for herself and her children.

“There’s nothing in your professional career that can be more rewarding than pursuing your passion,” Epstein said. “There will be skeptics but use those voices to motivate you. Be true to who you are and why you started.”

Pursuing her passion has led Epstein and her company Chloe’s Fruit to incredible growth. Since opening her flagship store in New York City in 2010, Epstein has been able to break into the food service and grocery store industries to sell her soft serve fruit and pops across the nation. In 2014, Chloe’s Fruit was sold in 179 grocery stores across the U.S. Now, her pops are sold in more than 10,000 grocery stores.

Attendees then heard from a panel of UF alumnae including Stephanie Hollis (MD ’00, HS ’04), Annette Cornwell Bauer (BSCE ’96) and Brianna Bean (MSE ’11) during the discussion “Thinking and Acting as an Entrepreneur: Three Stories.”

Hollis echoed Epstein, saying that she never intended to be an entrepreneur, but finding her passion motivated her to start Solar Stik, a company that produces portable power systems for the defense and commercial markets.

“You’re never stuck in what you do,” Hollis said when discussing how she went from anesthesiology physician to chief operations officer of Solar Stik.

She also encouraged attendees to lift up other female entrepreneurs instead of only seeing them as competition.

“You will be even more successful as a human being if you lift each other up,” Hollis said. “Be good to other women.”

Dani McVety (BSA ’04, DVM ’09) then spoke to attendees about how she had to coach herself through self-doubt to complete veterinary school, but once she discovered her value and motivation, it helped her create her business Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice.

“It just takes one good idea,” McVety said. “It’s not about finding your passion, but rather, your motivation. Finding your motivation is one of the most important things as an entrepreneur.”

McVety, who was also named the 2018 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year at the event, said she was able to find success in learning how to focus, and suggests it could help other female entrepreneurs, too.

“Stay focused,” she said. “Don’t ever lose your drive or desire to learn more. Don’t let someone else distract you.”

Gina “Gigi” Butler closed the event with her presentation “Sweet Dreams Die Hard,” where she talked about how letting go of her dream of being a county music star led to her greatest success, Gigi’s Cupcakes.

“We’re taught to never let our vision go,” she said. “Sometimes in life you just need to let [your dream] die in order to find out what it really is. In brokenness, you can find freedom.”

Today, Gigi’s Cupcakes has sold more than 100 million cupcakes, is located in 24 states across the U.S. and is the largest cupcake franchise in the world.

Butler closed her talk with a challenge for the audience – to dream, and not be afraid to lose.

“We have to let go of the dreams we [once] had in order to realize the dreams to come,” she said.

Learn more about entrepreneurship initiatives for women from the UF Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center.