Last week I had the pleasure and opportunity to reconnect with the women of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) in Toronto. But it wasn’t in the usual meeting room, or hotel, in fact the event was hosted by Catherine Graham of commonsku — in her home.
In our hyper-connected world, of course we tweeted #DWENtoronto, and we added new connections on LinkedIn, but something else was happening beyond just the usual exchange of business cards. The generosity of a home setting seemed to create a comfort that generated an openness. The conversation was still business and yet, somehow less formal, more real.
A connected and collaborative networking experience is typical of women’s business networks, where women often do exchange their business successes and challenges. And the women of DWEN are not a group that would shy away from all types of business networks to advance their business goals. Indeed, Dell representatives, women entrepreneurs, women’s business media and academia were all present.
But was it just me or did others notice, the combination of the people in the room, with good food (Rose Reisman was there herself while her team catered the event) and wine, gathered in someone’s home, deepened the level of business conversation? Less self-promoting and pretending that we have all the answers, more real conversation about where we are at and what we are seeking. If indeed the purpose of networking is connection – not collecting business cards – then a more real conversation will generate better results.
Even Elizabeth Gore, an impressive woman who previously served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the United Nations Foundation, and now as Dell’s Entrepreneur in Residence spoke, connected with the “well-heeled” crowd as she joked warmly about how women’s entrepreneurship creates a growing economic impact globally, perhaps including shoe sales. Her message was serious though, about how women as entrepreneurs put 90 per cent of their business income back into their respective communities, having an impact on job creation and local economies.
She also spoke about Dell’s commitment to growing women’s entrepreneurship thorough their business networks. Indeed, sponsoring local networks like DWEN Toronto and this kind of event, builds the connections that support women entrepreneurs to gain access to capital, technology and business strategy expertise. Filling a critical space beyond supporting startup companies, Dell is focussed on the mid-market and up women entrepreneurs whose companies who are ready to scale, likely globally.
Among others, I connected with two emerging women technology entrepreneurs who told me their business stories. Grace Soyao, CEO of Self Care Catalysts — is a woman on a mission to improve health care. She founded the data and patient intelligence company with a patient-centred health tracking app, called Health Storylines. The corporate side of the offering provides patient intelligence from aggregated data for communications and research purposes.
I also connected with Eva Wong, Co-Founder and COO of Borrowell, a disruptive startup whose direct-to-consumer, low interest personal loan financing offers an alternative to credit card debt and the big banks. They are making some waves since their launch in April 2015, now with loans totalling over $225 million to Canadians. We talked about a few dimensions of business, including the challenge of recruiting women to her company – for a future post.
Real connection, real business conversations — that’s what networking does, when it’s done well. If your meeting location can deepen those, then where are you holding your next business networking meeting?