UNR’s Ozmen Center aims to foster female entrepreneurial goals

Dick Bartholet

Dick Bartholet

RENO, Nev. — Just over a year ago, Greg Mosier, dean of the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno, noticed something troubling when he attended an event for the finalists of the Sontag Entrepreneurship Competition, which awards $50,000 to the best team in UNR’s entrepreneurship program.

Among the five finalist teams at the March 2017 competition, none included even a single female student. Ditto the year before.

“My reaction was, ‘half of our students are women, why am I seeing this?’” Mosier told the NNBW.

After all, the Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship — a program of the College of Business at UNR — launched a “Women’s Initiative” in 2016 as an effort to engage more young women in entrepreneurial activities following the lack of women involved in the Sontag competition.

Fast forward a year, and Mosier realized a lot of work is still to be done.

“We are very interested in making sure that we provide support mechanisms for women to achieve their goals in entrepreneurship,” Mosier said.

A balanced, inclusive infrastructure

Which is why the Ozmen Center is currently developing a program that goes beyond hosting women’s initiative events and speaker series, as it’s done in years past.

More importantly, the center is aiming to be a program with a balanced and inclusive infrastructure, said Dick Bartholet, the new director of the Ozmen Center and Sontag Competition.

“Some of the best ideas people come up with across campus — not just on campus, but in life — are from the women,” Bartholet said. “And that wasn’t reflective in our entrepreneurship activities. We think that more women could be directed toward entrepreneurship if we create the right programs to reach out and support those efforts.”

In doing so, Bartholet said faculty is examining all aspects of the program’s foundation — from the Sontag Competition mentors, which have been predominantly male in years past, down to the verbiage used in the program’s newsletters and literature.

“If I’m writing something to attract students into the entrepreneurship program, I’m going to have a male perspective that may not attract them,” Bartholet said as an example. “So it’s everything from the terminology to where we hold events, so that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Mentor importance

Moreover, Bartholet said, the program is putting extra emphasis on building a network of mentors and supporters for women entrepreneurship in the community — “there’s a huge number of successful women entrepreneurs in Northern Nevada, and we want their help,” he added.

After all, adults with mentors are five times more likely to say they are planning to start a business, according to a Gallup study from 2011. In addition, small business owners who have access to mentoring report higher revenues and growth rates, per the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“Regardless of gender, mentors have been shown to exponentially improve entrepreneurship motivations, success levels and even inspiration in some instances,” said Kelly Northridge, an instructor of entrepreneurship at UNR. “When you think about mentorship of women, it’s very important that not only you have someone to guide you, but you also have someone to aspire to as well; someone who has been there, done that; someone who can tell you the process, can show you their scars.”

And each year, there are more and more such role models in Northern Nevada, as women’s entrepreneurship has been on the rise in the United States for the last two decades.

In fact, as of January 2017, there are an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses that employ nearly 9 million people who generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenues, according to the 2017 State of Women-Owned Business Report.

What’s more, according to the report, the state where women-owned businesses have most increased their economic clout is none other than Nevada.

“The statement ‘you can grow as big as you want to be’ tends to be heard by boys and men, and girls and women usually don’t,” Northridge said. “So if we can start putting that message forward, that we can help you grow to any size you want to be — it might be small, but I guarantee there’s going to be some that will be on that Fortune 500 list.

“And it starts here, it starts with this type of a support system.”


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