In stark contrast to other posts, I’m just gonna come right out and say it: I have been accepted into the James Beard Foundation Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) Program! WEL is “an advanced educational, training, and networking program for owners or co-owners of brick-and-mortar food or beverage businesses in the United States… WEL alumnae form a strong and broad community, with regular opportunities to connect with each other and the Foundation.” James Beard Foundation contracts with Cornell University to explore topics on leadership, negotiating, strategy, business and financial models, funding, measuring success, and more. Now in its 7th year, each cohort includes twenty women from across the United States. I’m excited to find inspiration from and camaraderie with others in my group, including Austinite Sara Mardanbigi of Nixta Taqueria.* WEL alumnae include Austinites June Rodil, Sonya Cote, and Adrian Lipscombe.
I initially had lots of feelings about applying – and they ran the whole contradictory gamut:
- “I’ve been in business for over a decade; I don’t need this. I’m supposed to know what I’m doing and project an image of confidence and boss lady power.”
- “Oh my gosh. I’m not qualified to participate. People will find out that I’m a fraud!”
How can one person think both these thoughts – and everything in between – simultaneously?! I think a large part of it is that we’re often afraid to throw our names in the hat for fear of rejection. Thoughts include, “If denied the opportunity, does that mean I’m not worthy? And what does not being worthy even really mean?” Commence negative thoughts and self-doubt spiraling out of control. Well, every once in a while, I fortunately get a “what the heck?!” attitude and go for it quickly and impulsively, sort of like how I ended up with my latest tattoo (or the two before that). I’m gonna blame that impetuous spirit on my Sagittarius birth sign. And while it often lands me in hot water (ie acting/speaking before thinking), it can also serve me. In this case, it did. Last year, both Sonya and Adrian encouraged me to apply, but I let self-doubt win. This year, I was determined to apply before thinking it through.
Truthfully, this came at just the right time. Like many folks, I’m sort of peeling back the layers of post-pandemic/quarantine life and the effects of that on both my mental health, as well as our business operations. What served us before as a business model worked. When COVID-19 hit Austin and shuttered businesses, we pivoted hard – changing more in ten days than we had in the previous ten years of business. Those decisions made among our leadership team also served us well. (We led over 17,000 individuals in virtual cheese tastings – with a cheese box in front of them – over an 18 month period!) But today, the business model isn’t sustainable. We’ve been taking a hard look at operations, scaling back on offerings that don’t serve our business financially, while investing in areas of better growth potential. (Exciting news coming soon!) Constant change and iteration aren’t easy; in fact, the process is exhausting. But it’s part of entrepreneurship, small business ownership, and staying relevant. In fact, it’s so embedded in what we do, it’s one of our core principles: Improve Every Day.
Perhaps needless to say, times of change also come with a lot of fear of the unknown, self-doubt, and uncertainty. John and I are both big proponents of being lifetime learners – and we’re hopefully creating that culture among our team. Remembering that and being grounded in that firm belief, then it’s a no-brainer that I’d want to participate in this program. In some cases, that will mean going back to the drawing board and re-learning everything I already know. Perhaps I’ll be an expert in some topics; I’ll certainly be a novice in others. I’ll definitely find new ways to do things, learn from others, and hear what strategies have worked that I may not have thought of previously. I’m really not afraid to say, “I have a lot to learn.” Indeed, it’s that hunger and yearning for knowledge that drives me and keeps me going. And ultimately, I’m “first day of school” nervous yet excited to meet some other powerhouse women who’ve been in the metaphorical trenches of trying to keep a business afloat, surviving, and maybe even thriving. One thing I know – every business goes through all those peaks and valleys, and it’s a lot easier when you have a support group cheering you on. Stay tuned; I look forward to sharing updates! And hopefully you’ll see those practices employed at Antonelli’s Cheese!
Just for fun, here are some stats from previous cohorts. Most of the women have owned at least one business for over 10 years. What’s amazing to me is the wealth of knowledge we’ll share simply as a group of female business owners. A “taste” for previous groups (ie cohorts):
- Number of businesses owned: range from 1-8
- Average annual revenue: over $3.3M
- Years in business: range from 1-46 (average: 10)
- Number of employees: range from 9-360 (average: 65)
- Number of businesses: range from 1-7 (average: 2)
- Average annual revenue: over $2.5M
- Years in business: range from 2-26 (average: 11)
- Number of employees: range from 8-200 (average: 50)
*Nixta Taqueria has run into some challenges that could use your support; more info here.
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