“You probably have something inside of you that’s searching for more,” Laura Gallagher told a crowd at Monona Terrace in downtown Madison Monday morning. “Maybe you’re bored or stressed or restless. Maybe there's an idea inside of you you’re hoping will get sparked into a new idea and turn into something really big.”
It may sound like a religious invitation, but the only thing Gallagher was preaching was the power of entrepreneurship. She was speaking at the second annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Wisconsin, a leadership summit for women in business and tech.
“From beginning to end, you’re going to be encouraged, empowered, supported and yes, celebrated,” she said.
Women’s Entrepreneurship Day is celebrated in 144 countries around the world, and the movement meant to “empower women and girls to become active participants in the economy." Gallagher, founder and president of The Creative Company, started the first Wisconsin event last year after being awed by a similar celebration at the United Nations Plaza in New York in 2016.
Monday’s event hosted about hundreds of attendees, four keynote speakers and seven breakout sessions on topics ranging from raising capital to diversity and inclusion.
Gallagher said Monday’s event aims to support all women, not just those who have started their own business, helping them live out of an entrepreneurial mindset. That was the case for Tracy Brooks, an event volunteer.
“I was actually surprised last year,” Brooks said. “I came as a marketing director for a local businesses and was just part of the sponsor table and didn’t feel necessarily qualified to be there as a participant. I left that day just so inspired and really wanted to come back.”
Tom Nebel, a senior consultant with Giant Worldwide, started the day by asking the audience to consider three questions, “What am I afraid of losing? What am I trying to hide?” and “What am I trying to prove? To whom?”
Gallagher answered the questions herself on stage, talking about her desire to prove herself to her dad. She had participants write their own answers to the questions on post-it notes and "leave them behind." She said she started the event with vulnerability because “self preservation gets in the way of us actually accomplishing anything.”
“I just wanted to break down the barriers as early in the day as possible,” she said.
The first keynote address came from Allison Liddle, a leadership trainer and author of “Life Under Construction: Designing a Life You Love.” Liddle encouraged attendees to go for their “crazy huge goals," and preached the power of “imperfect action,” or letting go of perfectionism and taking bold steps. Liddle ended her talk by dancing around the room to Carrie Underwood’s “The Champion,” a song about resilience, and encouraged the audience to join her.
“I think we need a lot of positive feedback that, even though it might not feel like you’re going on the right track, it might be leading you to what’s right,” Cindy Brosig, owner of Operation H.E.E.L., said after Liddle’s talk.
Gallagher was excited to introduce breakout sessions this year, which allowed for more speakers and specialized talks.
“We wanted to include AI and blockchain but not everyone is interested in artificial intelligence and blockchain technology,” she said.
“I really believe that academia and business and government and faith-based organizations and nonprofits -- we can all learn something from each other and be stronger together, so I combine it all, I mix it up."
Women in business face unique challenges. Women receive business loans at lower rates than men, a struggle that's even harder for women of color. A recent study found that in 2017, women-owned firms received business loans of an average of $57,097, compared to $103,604 for men.
Because the conference is for women (though men are welcome to attend), the event addressed lack of confidence, Gallagher said. Last year, 96 percent of attendees said they felt more confident as a result of the conference.
“We tend to wait until everything's sort of lined up, then we move forward,” she said. “We just stop ourselves before even starting sometimes.”
If they attendees can leave with just one thing, Gallagher said, she wants them to “know that they’re worth it.”
“They’re worth investing in. They’re worth knowing. Their dreams matter, their ideas matter. We need them,” she said. “We need everyone on this planet to be thinking, doing creating, making.”