To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re bringing back our popular “Strong Women Creating Value” series, telling the stories of four innovative women in Rochester. This year all four women were selected based on nominations from the community
To launch this series for 2019, today we chat with the amazing Christine Beech, Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.
In her role at the Kabara Institute, Christine fosters a spirit of entrepreneurship among her students and connects them to the surrounding entrepreneurial communities in both Winona and Rochester.
Christine’s nominator explained that she “goes very unrecognized for all of her efforts. As a newer member of the Rochester community, she put in a large amount of time and effort to meet with people in the community to understand the culture, understand what was needed, and understand where she could plug in. She always listens and asks advice of others. She does all these things without expectation of anything in return.”
Christine recently developed and launched a series of women-focused events, called WE (Women Entrepreneurs) forums, in partnership with Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. and others in the community. She held her first packed house event in January during a snowstorm. Her second event, a business development workshop, will be held in late March.
“What I think we are creating now is a platform for women-focused and women entrepreneurial community development with conversations around the issues that are facing them,” she explained.
Christine hopes to hold forums, which utilize a panel format, quarterly, and workshop events, where women focus on and work ona specific business skill sets, in between the forums.
“One of my hopes is that one of the things that we’ll do with this forum is to create a place where women can come together and collaborate and work together,” she said.
Christine sees many talented women in the community who can speak at these forums and lead the workshops.
“We would like to create a venue where we are tapping into that talent for the benefit of the growing ecosystem,” she explained.
She sees new businesses as the “lifeblood of the economy.” However, many entrepreneurs starting new ventures lack focused business training and don’t know where to go for support.
“I think there’s a need in the community for imparting those skills,” she explained. “We are starting with the female-focused group because I think that group specifically seems to be craving that kind of support for their business efforts.”
This initiative is partly driven by her own experience. Christine spent fourteen years in business development before joining Kabara and recognized a lack of support for these efforts in her community. After joining academia, she saw a chance to give back to people who were in the early stages of building a business or had reached a plateau in business growth.
Christine additionally sees an immense need for evidence-based information on business development- putting numbers behind what works and what doesn’t work- instead of the typical personal anecdotes supplied by most mentors. She hopes to gather this type of informative data through the WE Forum events.
While Christine knew these women-focused events were needed, there were several challenges she faced to get women to actually attend them. The first was brand recognition. Most people in Rochester associate the name “Saint Mary’s” with a hospital, not an academic institution. Many people are also unaware that Saint Mary’s even has a presence in Rochester, which is located in the northwest region of the city at the beautiful Cascade Meadow Wetlands. Her second challenge was connecting these events to the women most in need. To do this, Christine utilized her network, partnering with over twelve different institutions to help spread the word to diverse groups and get buy in from the community.
As a whole, Christine thinks it’s a good time to be part of the female entrepreneurial community in Rochester.
“We have incredible, brilliant physicians. We have women leading regional initiatives. We have women in a lot of very key points. So that, I think, is going to make a more attractive environment for female business startups,” she explained.
To accomplish this, Christine thinks women need to have their own network that’s collaborative, not competitive.
“And they need to plug in and start leveraging each other. I feel like that’s just building. It’s not quite there yet,” she said.