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TiE Atlanta presents panel of women entrepreneurs

By Umah Papachan
September 2011
TiE Atlanta presents panel of women entrepreneurs It takes guts and perseverance to make it to the top.

Most women entrepreneurs are asked this question: How do you balance your busy executive work with being a mother, wife, and keeping the house clean? This was posed to three outstanding women invited by TiE Atlanta for “Women at The Top – A Panel of Women Entrepreneurs” on August 10, 2011 at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta.

Moderator Marilyn Johnson, Vice President of Market Development for IBM, leads an organization responsible for developing strategy and marketing to businesses owned or operated by Asians, Latinos, Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. She began with her own experience as a mother: “It's difficult, but I love working for IBM. This job has taken me all over the world working with women in many different countries. It's a question of finding the right balance. That includes finding a spa to help me unwind and take away all the day's stresses!”—which drew appreciative laughter from the 30-odd women present.

Kanchana Raman, President & CEO of Avion Systems, is a mother and wife who tries to find that balance, too: “I was three months pregnant when I started Avion Systems, and I have not stopped in the last 14 years.” Avion has over 600 people working in offices in North and South America and Asia. It provides comprehensive next-generation broadband communication networks and engineering services in 3G & 4G Cellular Networks. Ms.Raman has been selected to represent three US delegations to promote and encourage women to move into the technological world.

“I have no children; just married to my job for the last 20 years,” said Jennifer Bonnett, Chief Chick and founder of Startup Chicks and CEO of Nexpense. She unwinds with members of her family, when she will not even answer her Blackberry. StartupChicks is a networking and educational organisation for women entrepreneurs focused on media, biotech, and green startups; it has grown to over 600 members.

“Being competitive builds character,” continued Ms. Bonnett as she recalled her days as a field hockey player. Being part of a team leads one to be the best; winning and being tough on the field can be a good thing! “I would use the other team members to bounce off ideas. I would say, I don't know how to do this! Next thing I know, being vulnerable helped me to get the job done! It helps to boost your team's morale that everyone chipped in.”

Ms. Raman was not part of any sports team, nor did she build her company thru the old boys' network—she did it thru hard work, persistence, discipline and leadership! “I had to multitask. I learned not to take NO for an answer. I am always asking, am I focusing in the right area?”

Those views were shared by Ms. Johnson, too. Working for a $161 billion company, her focus has always been to encourage women to build their own businesses. “I have been with IBM for 35 years and I am here for you, TiE Atlanta, to network and meet future entrepreneurs. IMB has created a tool kit for women-owned businesses all over the world. You can obtain contacts in Vietnam, China or Singapore, create a web-page or just network.”

“Mentoring helps you to do better. Get hold of a man in your office and have lunch with him and ask him how you can do better at your job. I would encourage the men present to support and mentor your women employees,” said Ms.Bonnett. A round of applause broke out for the few men present!

The panel encouraged young entrepreneurs: “Fear not; do not surround yourself with negative friends; have a conversation with God and be conscious of saying thank you,” they all said.

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