UConn’s New Xcite Conference Draws 200+ Women; Strives to Increase Connecticut’s Women Business Leaders
It was a simple assignment that YouTube executive Kathryn Friedrich gave to the audience of 200 business women: take a minute and think of an entrepreneur.
“If you’re not thinking of yourself, think again, because you are an entrepreneur,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is a mindset. You don’t have to start your own company to be an entrepreneur. You can start working on it right away!”
An entrepreneur is a creative, innovative problem solver, Friedrich said. She isn’t focused on past achievements, but instead is looking to create the next great invention or take an established company to new heights.
“If you want to be innovative, start with your passion, not the goal of making a lot of money. Think about things that make life better. Solve a problem. Fill a gap,” she said.
Friedrich was the keynote speaker at the UConn School of Business’ first Xcite Conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Stamford on Sept. 16. The day-long event catered to women in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.
Workshops focused on everything from negotiation skills to emerging alternatives for seed funding, from exporting to proactive networking. The speakers included established entrepreneurs, state government business experts, venture capitalists and more.
At YouTube, Friedrich’s responsibilities include working on revenue generating strategies, content development, branded entertainment, marketing and sales education. She has been instrumental in the company’s growth from $1.6 billion to upwards of $85 billion since Google acquired YouTube 10 years ago.
As companies grow and become more successful, they tend to become more conservative, take fewer risks and fail to think long term, Friedrich said. That combination led to the demise of once-big household names like Blockbuster video entertainment, Borders bookstores, and Pan Am airlines, she said.
If your company doesn’t grow, it won’t survive. Google, for instance, started as a search engine and later developed the Google Glass, Google News and driverless cars.
She went on to tell the audience that in this economy, getting your new product to market quickly is critical. Aim for speed. If you wait until your invention is perfect, it will be too late, she said.
“The real work starts when you launch your idea,” Friedrich advised. “Be working on version three as you’re launching version one!”
Don’t be so focused on your original dream that you lose sight of something else that’s great, Friedrich said. An engineer for 3M worked for years to find an adhesive for the aerospace industry. He never achieved it, but his research led to the creation of Post-It Notes. “Always think about how you can pivot,” she said.
That said, if an idea turns out to be a dud, accept it.
“If you’re going to fail, fail fast,” she said. It is important to know when to cut your losses. Pay attention to feedback, listen to your team, watch for signals, she said.
Don’t get so bogged down in details that you lose sight of the big picture. Apple, for instance, had only a few products and created them exceptionally well. If you’re not paying attention to your core business, it will become mediocre. “Be exceptional!” Friedrich said. “If it’s working, make it better. Don’t stop improving.”
If you’re taking on a new project or a new business, depend on the kindness of strangers, she said. “Maximize your resources. Take as much help as you can get. If someone wants to help, say yes and give them something to do!” Friedrich said.
Perhaps most importantly, give yourself time to innovate and explore. At Google, engineers are given one day a week to take a risk and try something new.
“As you go out into the world and do new and exciting things, give yourself permission to think big, set a 10-year goal and strive for big ‘moon-shots.’ Hit amazing milestones. Allow yourself to fail at the big problem for the benefit of the world solving little problems.”
Margaret Keane, president and CEO of Synchrony Financial, who gave the conference’s opening remarks, said events like Xcite give women the courage they need to succeed in business. Keane has consistently been recognized as among the Top 30 most powerful women in finance and one of only a handful of women to attain the pinnacle position at a multi-million dollar bank.
Sulin Ba, associate dean of the School of Business, told the audience that women will play a big role in moving the Connecticut economy forward, noting that our state has a higher percentage of women in technology than the national average.
Among the other speakers at the event were UConn Management Department Head Lucy Gilson, UConn Chief Diversity Officer Joelle Murchison and Connecticut State Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-144th District.
Admission from the event also funded nine scholarships for UConn women business majors, including Laura Spelling ’13, an MBA student, who was awarded a free semester.
A group of area high school students, who are already embarking on careers in entrepreneurship, were also invited to attend the event, because “entrepreneurship doesn’t just begin at 30,” said management professor David Noble, who organized the event with Michelle Cote, managing director of the School’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
At the close of her keynote speech, Friedrich was asked what exciting initiatives she is involved in. She paused and then said she can’t disclose any proprietary information.
“But if you sat here for five minutes and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…’ Google is working on that!”