A Cup of Constant Comment
High heels can be heard clacking on the stone floor as the group of women entrepreneurs gather in the nave of Washington National Cathedral.
The group is touring the cathedral as part of "Tea with TiE" a partnership between entrepreneurial group The Innovative Ecosystem and Success in the City, a company whose cut-line is "networking for successful divas."
After greetings, hugs and introductions, the women settle themselves in pews, listening to a docent talk about the history of the building. Hands slide in and out of purses, discreetly tapping iPhones, Blackberries and other handheld devices.
"The planners of the cathedral intended for the structure to be as large as it is from the beginning, even though it took 83 years to build," the tour guide says.
"That makes sense. I know exactly how big I want my business to be, even if it's not there yet," says one woman quietly.
"Helen Keller is buried here," the guide tells the group.
"Now there's a woman who's a role model in perseverance," says a tall blonde, whose hair sparkles with brilliant blue and green lights as the late afternoon sun streams through the West Rose window.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last Sunday service here," says the docent, who has now masterfully secured the group's attention.
"Now there's a model for inspiration," says one member of the group. Heads bob in agreement.
The group files past an altarpiece made by a group of women living in a poverty-stricken region of South Africa that has been hard hit by the AIDS virus. The last cell phones are clicked off. The women are riveted.
The tour stops in the Bethlehem Chapel inside the cathedral. "So this is where it all began," says the guide. "The foundation stone of the cathedral was placed on this site."
This easily segueways into a conversation about ideas, the keystone of any business venture. The group heads upstairs to the 7th floor to drink tea in a nook with an amazing view. They talk about "monetizing innovation," gathered five to a small table, sharing pots of tea and nibbling on tiny sandwiches and sweets.
One at a time, an executive from each table stands at the front of the room and explains her challenges.
A commercial real estate executive needs help because there's a glut of office space available and a ton of sublease space on the market. Fellow executives suggest she connect with a niche group to better her business, and she should get herself a Web site. Attendees agree when she says the country is in a recession.
Another woman describes outlines difficulties bringing a new technology to market. "We don't have wealthy friends or family and the [venture capitalists] and angels only want to invest tens of millions of dollars."
"Why don't you take it?" one woman shouts out, drawing laughter from others in the group.
"Because we don't have revenue stream," she replies. "We've been bootstrapping for 10 years." One table chimes in with "find a bigger partner."
"But I've spoken to [former Microsoft CEO] Bill Gates three times," says the dismayed executive. "If I had known better at the beginning, I would have gone the non-profit route. I want to give some of this technology to Walter Reed" Medical Center, but we don't have the money to manufacture this.
Another woman yells out "I have a couple of people for you to talk to. Let's connect."
Another executive takes the stage and outlines her idea to take a company's employees off-site to help them think "outside the box." One attendee recommends focusing on the huge generational differences in expectations from a workplace. "Like when the people in their 20s are adamant about taking Fridays off, and they want to be president of the company in four years because they spent a summer in the mailroom a couple of years ago," says another.
One businesswoman notes that it's cheaper to take people on a cruise for a business seminar rather than take them to New York City.
Other women outlines their issues - the head of a research firm is looking to syndicate her research, a bank lender has started her own consulting firm and is concerned about conflicts of interest while another is trying to start a one-stop-shop for sales development and coaching. Attendees offer solutions and bounce ideas off each other.
Next month the group will head off to Hillwood Gardens in Washington for tea. "It will be so nice to see roses again some time," muses one executive, looking out the window at the leafless trees.
But now it's time to go and everyone files back downstairs, clicks on their phones and walk back out into the cold February evening.
By Sharon McLoone |
March 3, 2008; 10:00 AM ET
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