By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
One speaker after another told an inspiring story about her entrepreneurial journey during Saturday’s “Mad, Bad and Dangerous” (MBD) event held in Downtown Knoxville.
Women of all ages and ethnicities attended the first MBD held outside of Chattanooga where it was conceived at Girls Preparatory School and launched in 2015. For good measure, there was even a smattering of men at the Southern Railway Station on Depot Avenue and a good delegation of supporters from Chattanooga.
Ita Ekpoudom, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Tigress Ventures, kicked-off the program with an inspiring and somewhat emotional story of her evolution as an entrepreneur. She is one of several children of two Ethiopian parents who came to the U.S. to earn their degrees and later returned to their native country, only to return to the U.S. when Ita was five years old.
Her father was a Professor at Hampton University. After her parents retired, they made the move back to Ethiopia where they died.
Ekpoudom said the death of her parents – three years apart – and the unexpected death of her 33-year old sister provided the impetus she needed to pursue a new career path outside the Wall Street corporate track she was following.
“There’s more that I want to do and more that they would want me to do,” she said about the decision. “My mother always told me to start a business.”
Ekpoudom was one of those really gifted speakers who use humor, an engaging style and an effervescent delivery to provide a very meaningful message. It’s something that comes natural since the entrepreneurial pivot she took led her to found Tigress Ventures, an advisory and consulting firm with a mission to engage, educate and elevate the next generation of successful female business leaders and investors.
Under the heading of “What do you know now that you wish you knew earlier,” Ekpoudom offered this sage advice for the attendees.
- Don’t take it for granted that your best role models and biggest cheerleaders live right in your own home.
- Never underestimate the power of a good education and a natural curiosity about the world.
- Be willing to take risks and go outside of your comfort zone. Learning to lose is an important part of life.
- Never forget the importance of building meaningful relationships and leverage technology but, when you can, come together in person.
- A single life doesn’t have to be filled with fame and fortune to fundamentally impact another’s for the better.
To illustrate the final point, Ekpoudom told the story of a very successful female executive she met who told her it was Ita’s father who offered the guidance she needed to pursue the path she did.
“Never underestimate the power that a single life can have,” she reiterated.
Another of the speakers was Liza Graves, Co-Founder of StyleBlueprint.com, a digital media company providing tips on fashion, interior design, travel, wellness, and more. It also showcases Southern women who make an impact in their community, and the company has localized editions about six Southern cities.
Graves told the attendees she was a stay-at-home mother of three children who was “convinced I was ADD. My husband was, too, and so were my friends.” She was tested by a professional who told her she was not ADD. His advice was four simple words: “You need a job.”
Finding the right path outside the traditional employer-employee role resulted in the launch of StyleBlueprint.com. Based on her experience, Graves offered several tips to the attendees.
- As entrepreneurs, you’re big, complicated people, and you have to embrace it.
- You’ll have some messy dark days.
- Feed your insatiable appetite to grow, evolve and compete.
The inaugural MBD was coordinated by the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center.