Founders’ Roundtable Provides Critical Peer Exchange

Aug 28, 2018

Mary Alice Duff is an ascendant entrepreneur, a woman who is focused on growing Alice Alexander, a company that sells ethically and sustainably made clothing and accessories.

She came to the Alliance of Women Entrepreneur’s monthly Founders Roundtable to meet like-minded business owners and gain insights into running a high-growth enterprise. It’s an exclusive, invitation-only opportunity available to AWE members and selected guests, such as Duff.

“There are not many chances to get together with successful women with a great range of experience, all in one place,” she says. “As a woman with a growing business, I find it tremendously exciting.”

Duff and more than 20 other women founders gathered on August 2, 2018 at JG Domestic at the Cira Centre. After networking and introductions, each roundtable is led by a thought leader with experience and expertise in a selected topic. Each business founder introduces herself and says a few words about her enterprise—and the conversation begins.

It’s an open yet confidential think tank, where entrepreneurs are free to share challenges and successes.

“Whatever we discuss stays here,” says Rose Cook, CEO of the FlexPro Group, a provider of project management for life sciences, and an AWE board member.

On this day, the discussion leader is Marcia Zaruba-O’Connor, president and CEO of The O’Connor Group, a talent acquisition and human resources firm.

“Talent is my passion,” she says.

Like many of the founders at the roundtable, her business is expanding and her topic, Making the Right Hire, is timely.

O’Connor encouraged her peers at AWE to make recruiting employees an ongoing initiative.

“Why not be Zappos? Why not be that company people are dying to get into?”

Establishing—and promoting—a referral program is an effective way to generate high-quality leads.

“Make a big deal of your employee referral program,” she says. “They should be constantly putting people in front of you.”

Internships are a frequently underutilized opportunity. Business leaders should think of interns as goodwill ambassadors, who take news of their positive on-the-job experiences back to college. They tell their friends, who, in turn, want to come to work at a great company.

“We’ve had a lot of great interns who have gone on to work for us,” says Ellie Stang, AWE president and CEO of ProgenyHealth, LLC, a provider of managed care in Neonatal Intensive Care Units.

These conversations are just that: conversations. There’s ample room for attendees to ask questions and share their own experiences.

Questions that arose at this session included: Does bringing in workers who aren’t full time on a W-2 versus a 1099 inspire a sense of ownership in their work for the company? What about taking interns to business development lunches so they can learn how to interact with clients on a more personal level? Should you reach out to returning citizens who are rejoining the workforce after getting out of prison? And do you really need to fill a vacant position?

To the last, O’Conner responded, “If I hear about a position that has been open for a long time I have to wonder: do you really need it?”

While the Roundtable provides a forum for founders to dig deep into common issues, it also allows them to discuss new strategies.

When it came to hiring, offering flexible hours and other perks to attract talent if you aren’t yet in a position to pay well was suggested. That might include accelerated time off.

If you are in a competitive sector, mirror the benefits of your competitor—or offer slightly more. One founder says she started attracting high-caliber staff after she started paying 100 percent of health care benefits for employees.

Paying tuition costs for employees who earn MBAs has been a win-win for Stang at Progeny. Part of the deal is agreeing to work for the company for two years after they earn their degree.

Being thoughtful works, too. Bringing in dinner for employees who work late. Offering chair massages. Organizing barbecues in summer and chili cookoffs in winter.

Duff left the roundtable feeling engaged, energized and enthusiastic.

“AWE is a group that I want to become part of,” she says. “There’s so much I can learn—and so much I can contribute.”

The Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) leads the mid-Atlantic region in advancing high-growth businesses founded by women. Through its powerful network, access to funding, and community of role models, AWE identifies companies with the potential to scale and helps them grow.

Founders Roundtables are held monthly at the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Philadelphia West on the first Friday of the month from 8-10 am except for the April and August Roundtables, which are held on Thursday afternoons at JG Domestic from 4-6 pm.