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USC Marshall hosts second annual MBA conference urging women to ‘Lead, Empower, Thrive’

USC Marshall's Graduate Women in Business
Check it out: MBA students display their prizes in the New Venture Seed Competition. (Photo/Alison Stateman)

What does it take for women to empower, lead and thrive at the highest levels of business?

The second annual USC Marshall MBA Women’s Conference, held by the USC Marshall School of Business on Jan. 23, tried to answer that question, examining both challenges and opportunities for female leaders in corporate and entrepreneurial environments.

The conference, hosted by the school’s Graduate Women in Business — a student-led organization focusing on the advancement of women in business — featured presentations by executives from several industries.

Discussions centered on the conference theme of “Lead, Empower, Thrive” with breakout sessions on mentorship and sponsorship, life after the MBA and emerging industries for female leaders.

“Our conference was an outstanding success,” said Debra Langford, senior director of the MBA program. “Our participants heard successful strategies on how to thrive in a company as an entrepreneur and in life. Our keynote speaker in particular, Carolyn Blashek, of Operation Gratitude, set a remarkable tone for the day.”

Love the ones you’re with

Carolyn Blashek, founder and CEO of Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit that ships care packages to U.S. soldiers deployed overseas, spoke about natural leadership skills during the keynote address.

“The best lesson in leadership that I ever got was from the military. Love your soldiers. Let them know that you care about them,” she said. “In the civilian world of leadership, that translates into loving the people who work for you whether it’s management, employees or volunteers.

“Remembering your workers’ names and that of their family members is a small touch that can make a big difference,” she added.

Balancing a thriving career and fulfilling personal life was a topic of particular interest. Panelists shared what worked in their lives, from finding a supportive workplace to being their own bosses.

Doing it all

Candice Lu, founder and managing director of OnPrem Solution Partners, spoke about starting her consulting firm while pregnant and raising a young child at home.

“I wanted to have a career, and I wanted to have a family and I wanted to do it all. And starting my own business was really the only conceivable way of doing it,” she said. “It’s hard and tough with kids, but I wholeheartedly recommend doing your own thing.”

Entrepreneurial ventures may be a way women can create a culture and work schedule that aids in work-life balance, but female entrepreneurs are underrepresented in gaining venture capital funding.

Darya Allen-Attar, financial adviser and vice president at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and creator of the Women Founders Network, an organization focused on helping female entrepreneurs, spoke about the dilemma.

Women need to ask themselves, ‘What kind of business am I building?’

Darya Allen-Attar

“Only 7 percent of female-founded companies are venture capital-funded. We also know that in the United States, women are creating businesses at a far greater rate than men,” Allen-Attar said. “So what’s the problem? Women need to ask themselves, ‘What kind of business am I building?’ Because you are not going to get funded if it isn’t scalable and high-growth.”

Seeds of growth

Early stage financial support for entrepreneurial ventures can make a difference between those that excel and those that flounder, she said.

The conference offered support for fledgling entrepreneurs through the second annual New Venture Seed Competition.

For the past two years, $40,000 has been given to enterprises created by female USC Marshall MBA students.

Protégo, a safety GPS tracking bracelet aimed at the college market, placed first and garnered $25,000. White Coat, a mobile app connecting patients to nurse practitioners on an as-needed basis, took second place and $10,000, while Alpha Video Medical Interpreting placed third, earning $5,000 in funding.

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