Fifteen female entrepreneurs from Australia were part of an exclusive group of 149 women from 11 countries at the third annual Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network Event this week, including our woman on the ground Valerie Khoo, who has filed this report.
Held in New Delhi in India, the event is for female founders and entrepreneurs. It might seem an unusual investment for the technology giant but Deborah Harrigan, Dell’s general manager of its consumer, small to medium business division in Australia and New Zealand, says that supporting female entrepreneurs has become a priority for the company.
As a result, the cornerstone of this focus is the annual event, first held in Shanghai in 2010; Rio de Janeiro in 2011; and now New Delhi. It’s no surprise that the destinations have centred around the world’s emerging economies or BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), each boasting massive populations (India alone has well over 1 billion people). As technology becomes more affordable and whole sections of the population experience an increase in their earning power, the opportunity for growth is huge.
No doubt, this is what Dell’s betting on. However, they are also sharing this opportunity with this group of female entrepreneurs, facilitating sessions on “Doing business in India” and providing the Australian delegation with a meeting with an Australian High Commission representative.
However, while you would expect a Dell-organised conference to be heavy on IT, cloud computing, sexy ultrabooks and technology-based solutions, the sessions are more focused on wider issues facing growing companies. These include sessions on accessing funding, collaborating, strategic giving (to charities), and social media.
While much of the knowledge shared from the stage at the event is not necessarily new, it’s the global networking that many participants find invaluable. At a previous DWEN event, Sydney-based businesswoman Wendy Simpson met Kay Koplovitz, chairman of US-based organisation Springboard Enterprises, which coaches female entrepreneurs in pitching for funds and facilitates access to investors.
At the time, Simpson was about to start pitching to venture capitalists to bring additional funds into her business, a precision engineering firm. She realised that there was nowhere in Australia for women to get advice, coaching or introductions. Inspired to provide these services to other women entrepreneurs in Australia, Simpson launched Springboard last month in Sydney.
An event like DWEN indicates that Dell has clearly recognised the buying power and influence of female entrepreneurs. But the question of ROI is on everyone’s lips. What is Dell getting out of this event? There actually seems to be a whole lot of “give” (including a complimentary Dell XPS13 ultrabook for every delegate, recently launched in Australia), with very little hard sell.
Harrigan says: “We’re committed to supporting female entrepreneurs and providing resources and ways for them to connect and grow their businesses. The reality is that the next time DWEN members are making their buying decisions or recommending a technology solutions provider, we hope that Dell will be top of mind.”
Australian businesswoman Emma Isaacs attended the event. Isaacs is CEO of Business Chicks, Australia’s largest network for corporate and business women with over 25,000 members. “It’s important for entrepreneurs to come to events like this,”says Isaacs. “They give you the chance to expand your thinking and the opportunity to meet someone who may become a strategic partner, supplier or customer of your business. I’ve already met a woman from The Netherlands who also runs a women’s network. We’ve been able to share business models and ideas that we can take home to use in our own businesses.”
For female entrepreneurs who have not been able to attend the event, Dell is also rolling out a series of seminars and events for the wider DWEN community. Events have already been run in Sydney and Melbourne, and Harrigan says there are plans for more.