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September 10, 2014

Q&A With Heather Wentler of the Doyenne Group

Heather Wentler, Doyenne Group
The Doyenne Group has made major strides in supporting women entrepreneurs in the Madison Region. Co-founder Heather Wentler gave us the scoop on what's next for Doyenne and the many talented and innovative women in this region.

Q: The Doyenne Group has some major plans in place, with your big announcement about raising a $400,000 angel investment fund and upcoming retreat in October. What else is on the horizon that we can expect to see in the coming year?

A: Those are our biggest objectives for the rest of 2014. In early 2015 we hope to be able to start awarding $5,000 grants to 1-2 women-led businesses per month. These grants are meant to help women who are thinking about or just starting their businesses. We want to be able to give them a small amount of money to help pool resources and build out their idea before looking for other sources of capital or loans.

Q: What advice would you offer to women entrepreneurs in the Madison Region?

A: Madison is already a great place for women entrepreneurs! When Amy Gannon and I first started Doyenne in 2012, part of the reason was because we didn't know of all the resources that were already available. WWBIC, Wisconsin Women Entrepreneurs, American Family DreamBank, as well as about a dozen networking groups (most can be found on meetup.com) offer a plethora of ways for women to get more plugged in and find the right spot for them.

Doyenne works to be the conduit to help entrepreneurs find the right spot for them, provide support in the community for events where women aren't present, and help get more women in the pipeline towards other sources of funding besides traditional bank loans, which are getting harder to get, or taking a second mortgage out on their homes, which should not be the best solution to funding their businesses. We have formed strategic partnerships with gener8tor, Madworks, WWBIC, as well as other groups and event organizers in Madison to help get more women-led businesses participating.

If you look at the data, Wisconsin only invested 11% of all capital into women-led businesses in 2013, and only six of the 23 successful companies who have gone through gener8tor have been women-led. These numbers -- plus Wisconsin ranking 46th in the nation for women entrepreneurs -- means that while we have some great resources in place, there's still more that needs to be done.

Q: How can the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem -- both its male and female participants -- better support women entrepreneurs?

A: One problem that Doyenne hears about is the definition of an entrepreneur in our community. Many women don't feel they fit those stereotypes and norms and therefore identify themselves as small business owners instead of entrepreneurs.

When the message that we keep seeing in the press or at conferences is that entrepreneurs are only individuals seeking venture capital or angel investment, or are tech startups that are looking to build quick and sell within 3-5 years, then we're missing the vast majority of entrepreneurs in our communities!

Creating an all-inclusive ecosystem that supports slow-growth businesses, brick and mortar or lifestyle businesses, as well as the high-growth, technology industry businesses will have more support for all entrepreneurs, and help more women feel comfortable in that space.

Doyenne has also started an Ambassador program. This is for men and women to give of their time, talent, or treasure to support women entrepreneurs. To be an Ambassador, you must have knowledge and background in key business building areas (i.e. marketing, legal, finance) and be willing to either meet with entrepreneurs, participate on panels or in the press, or donate to Doyenne to support our programming and investing.