Female entrepreneurs from around the world gather in Istanbul

Today 150 female entrepreneurs from 14 countries have converged on Istanbul in Turkey for the annual global Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) conference.

A contingent of 14 women from Australia are attending the event despite the unrest currently plaguing the city of Istanbul; protestors and riot police have clashed due to anti-government sentiment.

However, there has been minimal activity from protestors near the conference venue, about 20 kms from the key areas being occupied. Instead, the women entrepreneurs have been ensconced in a series of sessions ranging from how to do business in Turkey, to how to encourage creativity and innovation.

However, many attendees agree that the opportunities to network with other high-powered women are far more valuable than the session topics.

The value of women-only entrepeneur events

Catriona Pollard is CEO of public relations firm CP Communications. She says that it’s vital to attend female-only conferences such as DWEN. “We live in a male dominated business environment so it’s really important for women to surround themselves with other women who have achieved success but who are also willing to talk about the challenges along the way,” she says.

“It’s about you being able to model yourself on people who you can relate to. Every day, when you open the business pages of a newspaper, there are stories about men in 99 per cent of the publication. One per cent of the stories might be about women and often the focus is about work-life balance. I’m a business woman and I want to read stories and have role models about women who are running successful businesses.

“For conferences like DWEN, it’s really powerful to hear the stories of women on a global level. It means you’re broadening your perspective and getting out of the bubble that we tend to be in, in Australia.”

This is the fourth annual conference held by Dell focusing on female entrepreneurs. Previous locations included Shanghai, China; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and New Delhi, India.

Who is attending?

Other Australians attending include founder of Healthy Habits Katherine Sampson; past winner of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards Cathie Reid, who is managing partner of APHS Packaging; and 2013 winner of the Small Business Champion Awards (Educational Services) Tina Tower, founder of Begin Bright, tutoring services for young children.

Deborah Harrigan is Dell’s general manager, consumer small and medium business division.

Also attending the event in Istanbul, Harrigan says: “The act of bringing together high calibre, highly engaged and business savvy women from around the world results in a remarkable force of innovation and camaraderie. We focus on women for the event and the broader DWEN network because women entrepreneurs have communicated a need for greater access to information, to networks and to capital to fuel growth – and Dell is well positioned to help in all these areas. We also know the worldwide economic influence of women today is greater than ever before.”

Corporations targeting the female entrepreneur market

While women’s networking groups have existed for a long time, it’s only in the few years that corporations have zeroed in on female entrepreneurs with specific programs. Dell isn’t the only corporation that understands the power of the female entrepreneur market.

The Commonwealth Bank’s Women in Focus program also runs an annual conference within Australia for women entrepreneurs, as well as a series of seminar throughout the year. It recently ran a story our to Silicon Valley for female entrepreneurs.

Katie Mihell is head of Women in Focus at Commonwealth Bank. “Our purpose for running the Silicon Valley tour was to provide an experiential learning opportunity that our community members would not otherwise have access to, and that we hoped would open their minds to new opportunities and approaches to accelerate the growth of their businesses,” says Mihell.

Ten female entrepreneurs took part, paying for their own flights and accommodation. However, the Women in Focus team provided what the women wanted most: connections and introductions to key Silicon Valley operatives.

Karan White, business director of legal firm Pod Legal, took part in the tour. While White says that she didn’t choose the tour because it was a female-only event, she admits this approach has its benefits.

“Communication channels open up in a way that might not have otherwise been possible,” says White. “This was certainly the case with the study tour as the group forged deep and meaningful relationships as a result of this very unique and shared experience.”

Meanwhile, in Instanbul, the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network announced an initiative called Pay It Forward, a structured program designed to encourage members of the network to help other femake entrepreneurs around the world. For more information: www.dellpayitforward.com/

Valerie Khoo is an journalist, small business commentator and entrepreneur. She is national director of the Australian Writers’ Centre. You’ll find her personal blog here.

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