Handing Out Awards to Women: How it Fosters Success

hautehonorscheckin (1)This past Thursday morning a sold-out crowd gathered inside of Albuquerque’s Balloon Museum at 7 a.m., not for an early morning hot air balloon launch, but to celebrate fifty nominees and honor the finalists and winners. The nominees – mostly women, but some men – were being recognized for their contributions as humanitarians, leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and as advocates for women. While some of the Haute Honors 2015 nominees were well-known, for many others, it was the first time anyone beyond a select few were learning about their accomplishments and contributions.

Hautepreneurs’ Strategic Plan

The annual breakfast awards banquet and shop local event, which also provides free booth space to twenty women-founded businesses to offer attendees local options for holiday shopping, is the final event which culminates a yearlong agenda of events, workshops and classes through Hautepreneurs, an organization which I cofounded in 2013 along with Jessica Eaves Mathews, who is a national speaker and author, successful serial entrepreneur and personal coach through her Brave Wings program. With the help of our dynamic board of directors, who are all successful women entrepreneurs and community leaders, we are executing on a bold, strategic plan to create a sustainable framework built on a strong support network, targeted training and peer mentoring in order to increase the ratio of women entrepreneurs and leaders achieving high level goals and running successful companies.

Public Recognition

HauteCollage
Why does Hautepreneurs’ strategy include an awards event? Because it turns out that women, as a collective gender, aren’t all that good about bragging up their own accomplishments. This results in a dearth of visible examples of success to serve as inspiration and validation for other women beginning their journey or struggling to overcome barriers. By creating an environment that celebrates the accomplishments of women from a wide variety of industries and at varying stages of their journey, we create an atmosphere that encourages women to lift each other up, to share their own accomplishments, and to believe it is possible to achieve high levels of success.

Training, Mentoring, and Access to Capital

In addition to our awards program which fosters a mindset of celebrating accomplishments and our annual national women’s leadership conference, which teaches women the value of learning from successful peers, our Hautepreneurs strategy also includes Design Councils, which provides ongoing privacy-protected peer mentoring and weekly free office hours to provide one-time mentor sessions with those seeking help within the community. More focused programs address training for successful crowdfunding campaigns, access to peer-based micro lending in partnership with Nusenda and Living Cities as well as women-led venture investing, and our signature yearlong accelerator program with both a nonprofit arm for women facing significant barriers to success, Haute Hopes, and Hautecelerator, a fee-based accelerator for women-led businesses which do not fit within the more common but tightly defined accelerator models open to investable startups; Hautecelerator offers these businesses vital mentoring and training needed to achieve the next level of growth or to resolve current challenges or barriers to success.

Showcasing Successful Women in Male-Dominated Industries

One of the things I love most about the Haute Honors awards is the wide variety of industries and experience levels represented by the nominees. It includes highly underrepresented demographics like Women in Tech, like Akamee Baca Malta, who was honored for the innovative work she and her team are doing at As Girls Grow to help expand options within the hot industry of girl-focused STEM toys thanks to the continuing success of groundbreaking, women-led companies like GoldieBlox. But Haute Honors awards also include women who may not see their work as groundbreaking or worthy of praise, despite overcoming significant obstacles. This year’s honor, Kathleen Edwards, is one such woman. She cofounded Hear Kitty Studios with her spouse, initially running the company out of their home; today, she has grown the studio into a high-demand audio post-production studio that now serves New Mexico’s film industry, contributing to projects like In Plain Sight, Battlestar Gallactica, The Night Shift, and Manhattan.

Highlighting Trail Blazers as Role Models

12313620_1010233905685690_5342308703444982121_nEach year, the annual awards banquet recognizes the achievements of several women who have served as trail blazers, offering a clearer path to success through their own successful careers, such as one of this year’s honorees, Ann Rhoades, the founder of People Ink. She was part of the founding executive team which launched JetBlue Airways and continues to sit on their board. She previously served in top leadership positions for such corporate giants as Promus Hotel Corporation and Southwest Airlines. When women who are hitting the wall within their own journey, it is vital that they know where to look for inspiration. Honoring women who have served a trail blazers proves that other women have accomplished great things – and they’ve done so without losing ties to community.

Recognizing Men Who Champion Women

Haute Honors also acknowledges the inspiration we find in teens who are already pursuing big ideas as well as those making significant strides towards success. And each year, the awards culminate in recognition of men within the community who have gone above and beyond to create opportunities or support the efforts of women. One of this year’s honorees actually emailed our organization after discovering he was among the nominees, suggesting that perhaps there had been a mistake. He was completely unaware of the number of women-led startups which put forward his name for consideration for the Champion of Women honor a result of his support and mentorship to their teams. He never pictured himself as a champion for women despite his actions directly affecting the potential of success for several of those he’d mentored.

What happened this past Thursday morning was exactly what we’d hoped: several women who were initially surprised to find their name among nominees were even more surprised to receive a top award. Men discovered through anecdotes and feedback from others that their support and advocacy of women had not only been noticed and valued but that it had changed the trajectory of success for others. And new role models were held up as inspiration and hope for the rest of those in attendances.

Fostering a Culture of Support

It was a morning of celebration, support and hope for the future, with those in attendance taking to social media to lift each other up and inspire others to be braver, bolder and bigger in their dreams and goals.

Accolades as Inspiration for Growth

The Haute Honors Awards event is but one of a wide variety of programs offered as part of a successful framework for women to become successful, but it is a vital one and the perfect way to end the year. With public recognition comes confidence, and with confidence come bravery. And when bravery leads to bold new steps of growth, that is when the potential to shift the ratio of highly successful women-led businesses gets that much closer to reality.

How One CivicTech Partnership Will Revolutionize Access to Mobile for Governments

I am so pleased to announce our exciting new partnership at APPCityLife with Accela. With over 2000 communities using Accela permitting solutions across the globe – and over half of the largest cities in the US, this will completely change what is possible.

Read more:  How One CivicTech Partnership Will Revolutionize Access to Mobile for Governments

Adopt These 3 Traits for a Positive Mindset

EntrepreneurWordArt

In a mere .40 seconds, Google serves up 79,800,000 results on “how to be a successful entrepreneur”.

That’s a lot of advice.

  • Bold headlines: Build Your A-Team … Pitch Like a Pro … Know Your Competitive Advantage
  • Name dropping : Zuckerberg … Jobs … Sandberg … Omidyar … Wozniak … Corcoran 
  • Videos on sleep habits of successful entrepreneurs … from dropout to billionaire … rocking your pitch
  • Catchy words: unicorn … killer … crushing it

With almost eighty million results to sift through, it is possible to find advice or information on just about anything and everything. But, in reality, the biggest determining factor in achieving success cannot be found on a website, in a book or in advice personally shared from the best of mentors. The ultimate success or failure of an individual has far more to do with their own mindset than any other factor. While there are many traits that contribute to mindset, here are three that, when adopted, lead to a powerful shift in thinking and outcomes when confronted with difficulties.

Gratitude

Gratitude is not an emotion but a mindset that allows for the possibility of good being derived from the worst of circumstances.

cropped-img_3192.pngSir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Grouppublished a letter earlier this year with advice on how to be happy, and none of his advice had to do with wealth, success or achievements. Instead, it had to do with mindset. “Happiness shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a habit. Take the focus off doing, and start being every day. Be loving, be grateful, be helpful, and be a spectator to your own thoughts.”

By embracing a mindset of gratitude, we allow ourselves to hope when facing defeat and to feel joy in the midst of difficulties. When we are grateful for the good despite the bad that is happening, we are empowered to move forward, to remain tenacious, to summon the energy to struggle on. Gratitude fuels an entrepreneur to persevere, iterate, pivot or close down one venture with the courage to begin again.

Generosity

A mindset of generosity helps maintain the emotional resources and the social goodwill to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

I first met Alex Wirth, the cofounder of Quorum Analytics, Inc., at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City earlier this year. I had asked a panel of investors and founders for advice on growing visibility for our civic-focused startup, APPCityLife, which is based in the sparsely populated state of New Mexico. Immediately following the session, Alex sought me out and introduced himself as a fellow New Mexican and offered to provide introductions into his own network where it might be of help.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex Wirth, Cofounder, Quorum Analytics, Inc.

Alex is one of those inspiring individuals who has found success in his own company by embracing a philosophy of generosity. He opted to extend his own network to another startup founder simply because he could and because he knew it would help. Not once has he asked for anything in return, and he has more than made good on the offer he made to me that day.

A mindset of generosity does not mean we operate in a state of naivety. We can be generous by sharing our network while respecting the privacy of those within our own network by gaining prior permission before sending introductions. We can share insight, give advice, and help others while still protecting our own intellectual property. But when we operate from a protective mindset or a scarcity mentality, where we make sure we get ours by keeping it away from others, we not only fail to help where we could make a difference, but we also fail to surround ourselves with others who embrace a mindset of generosity and who could, in turn, support and help us in a time of need. A wide network built on goodwill that we can access in times of difficulty can mean the difference between survival or failure.

Positive Pragmatism

Positive pragmatism is the ability to clearly identify barriers and flaws while maintaining a hopeful environment for exploring creative alternatives.

via Humans of New York: “I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.I work at a tech start-up. We design sailing drones. I was the tech guy but my cofounder quit and moved to Singapore. So I just bought three suits at a Brooks Brothers outlet, and now I’m the CEO.”

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where some devastating setback threatens to derail all progress forward. It is the self-talk, the story that we tell ourselves about that moment which shapes our perceptions, reactions, and ultimately, our decisions. If we’ve learned to frame those moments in a mindset of positive pragmatism, we are far better equipped to endure the extreme lows that are a common occurrence within the startup industry.

A recent post by photographer Brandon Stanton, the creator of the popular blog, Humans of New York, perfectly depicted this attitude of positive pragmatism. A young entrepreneur’s comment about becoming CEO was met with derision by many readers who questioned how the purchase of a suit could turn anyone into a CEO. But the truth is this: when someone leaves a startup, it leaves a hole. Somebody else has to step up and fill the gap – – and it is usually someone who cares a little more, is a little more committed, and who isn’t yet willing to give up no matter how ill-prepared they are to fill that new role. They assess the new challenges created by the loss of that team member and weigh those new challenges against the potential for success with the remaining resources, talent and traction. And little by little, the remaining team often learns new skills and acquires the knowledge to fill the gaps to the startup forward.

While there are a multitude of factors which affect the outcome of a startup such as team, skills, knowledge, and even luck, adopting the right mindset can help an entrepreneur access deeper reservoirs of mental and emotional energy to overcome the difficulties and barriers which, otherwise, might derail the best of teams.

Civic Tech: Refining the Vision to Focus on Problems that Really Matter

image
After spending two days absorbing a wide array of perspectives and ideas presented at the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) hosted by Civic Hall in New York City, I am more convinced that ever that it is vital for companies like mine which are focused on civic tech to continually push the boundaries of the status quo and find ways to use emerging technologies to disrupt the way we interact with our cities and each other to solve problems that really matter. Sometimes we get so immersed in our own particular flavor of tech and perspective that we fail to notice what else is happening in this rapidly expanding industry, so I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about other innovations and experiences which might provide better insight for our own team.

From the stage at PDF, we learned from Jess Kutch, Cofounder and Co-Director of CoWorker.org, how one individual’s decision to speak up about her employer’s dress code policy led not only to an international movement supporting her efforts but to a groundswell of others who followed in her path in calling out violations and unfair policies of other corporations across globe. Andrés Monroy-Hernández, a researcher at Microsoft Research, how one young South American woman who initially created an account on Twitter so that she could follow pop culture celebrities like Justin Bieber has grown into one of the most influential voices on social media reporting in real time the atrocities and violence of drug cartels. And Emily Jacobi, the Founder and Executive Director of Digital Democracy, demonstrated what happens when we “build with” and not for those in need by sharing how a small community of individuals in Guyana built their own drone to help build visual documentation and mapping as they work to protect their way of life.

image

Those are just three of the inspiring stories told about individuals using technology to effect change and drive social change forward. For those of us immersed in civic tech, we can become so focused on the “tech” of civic tech that we lose sight of the civic part of our mission – to innovate technologies which empower others to change for the better their own lives, communities, cities and countries.

I am returning from this year’s PDF with a more focused vision of our own mission to empower others to envision and deploy mobile apps which solve real problems and improve the experience of people in their community. And having heard some of the inspiring work of others has left me even more excited about some of the projects we’re currently bringing to the public that have the potential through the integration of mobile apps, beacons and wearables to not only positively impact the lives of others but disrupt more expensive, prohibitive models used today. We will soon deliver several civic Apple Watch apps supporting civic apps in education, transit, and other civic agencies. But one project we are currently working on has the potential to disrupt how civic agencies address ADA support, not only within mobile but in general.

When Jay Hart, the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, reached out to our team, it was at the suggestion of a colleague who had heard of some of the innovative work we were doing with cities. Hart was facing a cost-prohibitive roadblock on a unique project in his city. We are all quite aware of the prohibitive processes – some with good reason – that must be addressed for any civic project. But imagine the additional challenges you might face when tasked with developing a public park built to include everyone – but specifically designed to provide an interactive, supportive, inclusive experience for individuals with disabilities. It’s not just the layers of red tape, laws and mandates that have to be navigated which create difficulties, but developing such a park requires extensive funding beyond the ordinary civic project in order to meet the long list of accommodations needed. Carving out necessary funds from today’s limited civic budgets is already difficult, but finding sponsors and contributors to build a park with the necessary ADA-enhanced equipment is almost impossible.

But the core team who have worked for several years alongside Hart, including a nonprofit formed specifically to raise funds to defray costs, have managed to pull off the impossible. Agencies, foundations and individuals within the state and nationally have contributed funds, expertise, and equipment to help make their vision a reality – and while the need to raise additional funds to support the park is ongoing, the current funding couldn’t cover the significant cost of needed braille signs (an incredible $50K each) to support the visually impaired within the park.

imageWhen Hart reached out to our team, it was with the hope that we might have an affordable solution. After gaining a better understanding of the needs within the park, our design team proposed an unconventional solution providing the needed ADA support at a fraction of the cost.

By deploying all-weather beacons throughout the park and integrating the beacons with a unique smart phone app as well as an Apple Watch app, our mobile platform will make it possible for the park to deliver interactive, auditory and haptic alerts and instructions to park visitors. Beyond cost savings, this innovation in tech will also change the way individuals with visual impairments interact with their environment. Instead of standing and reading braille on an immobile sign, a moving person will be able to receive a warning when entering a high activity area of the park as well as instructions for navigating the area safely. Other in-app features include infographics and videos for properly using the park’s specialized equipment, in-app reservations for parties, schedules for special events, and general park information. Most exciting of all, once developed, our platform will make it possible to easily duplicate this fully developed solution for similar needs elsewhere.

While there is still a significant need to push forward initiatives to provide reliable internet and cellular access to citizens everywhere, a new report indicates that 2014 saw 4.9 Billion smart phone subscribers, and it is projected that globally, 90% of those 5 years of age and older will own a smart phone by 2020. It is reasonable to expect that wearables will follow a similar path of adoption. So, while some may see the new Apple Watch as a bit frivolous, I don’t agree at all. When compared to the prohibitive costs of many current solutions for ADA requirements and enhancements, the adoption of smart phones and wearables as civic tech greatly reduces current costs while improving independence and individualized access to civic services. Civic tech is just getting started, and it’s exciting to imagine where we might be by the time next year’s Personal Democracy Forum rolls around.

5 Things I’d Like to Tell My 7th-Grade Self

  I recently was invited to keynote at a Microsoft Digigirlz Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And while I was very honored to keynote the event, I struggled a bit with what to say. I kept thinking back to what I was like in 7th or 8th grade and wondered what that girl would have wanted to hear. And finally, I decided that was the girl I needed to talk to. Here is the advice I would have given to the 7th-grade Me:

Never, Ever Play Dumb

I’m not sure when it happens, but somewhere beyond those first early grades when we, as girls, raise our hands high and eagerly answer questions in class, we somehow learn how to play dumb so others around us don’t feel bad for not knowing something we know. I know I did this – a lot – and I never felt good about me when I did.

As girls, we do this thing of pretending we don’t know an answer so the guy we’re with doesn’t feel bad that maybe, just maybe, we might be smarter than he is. Or we stay silent about how easy we thought a test was when our girlfriends at lunch are all saying how hard it was. But here’s the thing: if someone has to think you’re dumb to hang out with you, you’re making the choice to hang out with someone who will never like you for who you are, for all the special, unique quirks that is the wonderful version of you that lies awake at night imagining great adventures or ideas. So be true to that girl. She deserves it. I’m not saying to rub anyone else’s nose in how smart you are; I’m not saying that at all. I’m just asking that you make a promise to yourself that you’ll never, ever pretend to be dumb to make someone else feel better. Just be you, be humble, and be nice.

Be Adventurous

Have you thought you wanted to be a part of a sports team and decided to try out only to discover halfway through the season that you really didn’t like it all that much? Well, if your mom is anything like mine, you had to finish out the season so you didn’t let your teammates down. And then the next time you were curious about something and wanted to try it, you thought about getting stuck half a season doing something you didn’t like and, instead of exploring this new curiosity, you held back and decided it wasn’t worth the risk of getting stuck with it if you didn’t like it.

Well, those lessons are good for us – about not letting down teammates, about keeping our word and living up to our commitments. But we also need the freedom to explore new things in a way that lets us back out if we don’t like it. How will you ever know if you don’t try it? Find ways to explore things that you’re curious about. There is nothing at all wrong with dipping your toe in the pool to decide first if you like how the water feels; you don’t have to commit to diving into the deep end or doing nothing at all.

Check Your Stereotypes at the Door

How do you decide what it takes to be a good doctor or teacher or artist? What does a doctor look like? How about a teacher or artist? We build up these stereotypes, and we try to put ourselves – and everyone else around us – into this box that easily defines who that person is, what their role is, and what skills and traits they should have to be good at that particular role.

Don’t put yourself in box by deciding that you don’t fit the stereotype of what someone in STEM looks like. And don’t decide that it is all you can be if you do fit that stereotype. There are so many approaches to doing things that integrate across different disciplines that the possibilities are endless. Find something that strikes your passion, that you can’t stop thinking about how to solve that problem, and go do that. If you love art, don’t think you can’t be a part of STEM. You have no idea how much we need artists in this new digital world – artists who know how to think outside the box, to imagine how to communicate through color and lines and thickness of letters or shading to evoke just the right experience for someone accessing a website, a mobile app, an interactive kiosk in an airport that needs to appeal to multiple ethnicities and cultures. That is no easy task, so bring your talents to help solve problems that excite you.

Don’t Make it Hard for Other Girls

This one is so important. There is this part inside all of us that we want to create this environment where we feel comfortable, and we can unconsciously make it harder for other girls if they don’t fit inside of what we think our world should look or feel like. The next time you’re talking about something that’s a higher level idea and a girl you may think isn’t all that bright or isn’t interested in topics like yours – the next time one of those girls asks what you’re talking about, don’t dismiss her. Tell her. If she isn’t interested, she’ll disengage on her own. But don’t be the girl who doesn’t let girls outside of the stereotype into the smart girls club.

Mayim Bialik, who plays a scientist on Big Bang Theory, actually just became a neuroscientist in real life. But she pretty much fits that stereotype, right? What about Alicia Keys? Do you picture her as brilliant – smart enough to discuss ‘hard’ topics? She graduated at 16. And Elizabeth Banks graduated magna cum laude from UPenn. The point is that we sometimes jump to snap judgments about others based on what we see on the outside, but most of the time we’re wrong. Don’t be the girl who makes it hard for other girls to feel welcome in STEM.

It’s Your Life, So You Get to Choose

Don’t ever live someone else’s dream or become the character that someone else believes you should play in this thing called life. Even if it is that you are so good at math that everyone keeps telling you that you have to go into something that uses math – as if you owe it to math. You owe nothing to math. You owe everything to being true to yourself. So if there is this thing inside of you that says I may be good at math but I love art – then listen and explore that idea. Maybe you’ll land back at something in math but maybe you’ll do something really cool with art that no one else could have ever imagined without your incredible math skills. And if you’re a fantastic artist but you are curious about how cells break down and become cancerous? You have no idea how your ability to imagine things visually may play into this whole world of discovery around science and curing diseases. Don’t live someone else’s dream or let others define your life or your interests. Your unique view of everything around you may be just what the rest of the world has been waiting for. Anything is possible – so embrace your curiosity, embrace those around you, and explore your interests so you can contribute something amazing to the world that can come only from you.

Blind Auditions: Can it Change the Ratio of Women in Tech Journalism?

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

Backstage getting ready to pitch APPCityLife at the first MobileBeat conference held in San Francisco, July, 2010.

I am a huge fan of The Voice, especially the early episodes when a celebrity judge chooses a contestant based on talent and then discovers the person on stage looks nothing like what they expected. Sometimes the contestant isn’t even the same gender as what was assumed. So it was with great interest that I read a post by Dylan Tweney, the Editor-in-Chief at VentureBeat announcing Blind Auditions for his publication. He first noted the results of a study in which more women were added to top orchestras when blind auditions were instituted. Tweney went on to say that VentureBeat was implementing a similar approach for hiring new tech journalists. Based in the center of the Silicon Valley tech startup scene, VentureBeat’s new leader is hoping that his new approach will lead to more women journalists covering tech, but even he admits that only time will tell.

I am heartened by Twenty’s public commitment to finding ways to change the ratio of women tech journalists, if only at his publication. My first interaction with VentureBeat came when I was invited to pitch my brand new startup, APPCityLife, at the company’s first mobile event, MobileBeat 2010. Twenty startups were selected from the applications, and of those twenty startups, I was the only female involved. Among the rest of the teams, the judges, even the staff from VentureBeat – I was the only female to be found on stage.

I learned two very important lessons at that event. The first was that if I was to be successful as a female tech founder, I would have to be more resilient, more persistent – and willing to create an independent voice for our company, because I couldn’t count on coverage by the press if I was in such a minority. That realization created a sense of urgency for me, and over time, I’ve learned that having that kind of fire to your back gives you an edge. Sure, it’s higher stress, but it also is a great motivator. The second thing I learned is that being a woman in a male-dominated field has its advantages. When you’re in a field where women are scarce, I’ve found that some – definitely not all – women gravitate to you, want to create alliances and find ways to do business to help even up the playing field a little bit. Women also have the advantage of approaching their industry through a different filter than most of her competition, and the results are sometimes innovative solutions that meet a need in the marketplace in a very different way, setting her company apart from the competition. Female founders also have the ability to lead differently. I certainly found this to be the case for me. I was a mom tasked with raising toddlers before I became a CEO tasked with leading a team, and my years as a mother definitely shaped me into a different kind of tech founder. I’d like to think it’s for the better.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

The lessons learned raising my children changed the way I approach the challenges of being a CEO.

And, thus, I find it encouraging that one of today’s leading online tech and venture publications is taking a new approach to hiring that may possibly more women writing about tech and venture capital in the publishing industry today. I am hoping the results are promising, because I believe if the final outcome is more women on the VentureBeat staff, it may become a catalyst for changing hiring practices at other publications as well. I believe with more women journalists contributing, we could find more women founders getting a fair shot at coverage in the media. We’ll likely find that the topics covered change as well, since women journalists usually have different experiences which lead to different reference points and even interests when approaching the same story as a male colleague. I think it will even lead to different water cooler conversations and debates among the staff which may reveal biases and provide an opportunity for growth.

The changes at VentureBeat are an exciting first step in the right direction. Whatever the outcome, I’m hoping this isn’t the last thing VentureBeat or other publishers try. While print may reach far smaller circulations today than ever expected, online journalism has the potential to capturing a world-wide audience. The written word holds the power to change perceptions, reveal biases and bad behavior, drive the conversation and, sometimes, change the future of those who manage to gain the attention and interest of journalists. I, for one, am rooting for more of those moments in the public eye to be about women doing great things – not only for the sake of the women gaining coveted time in the public eye, but mostly for the barriers it will remove for younger generations.

Finding My Wings: How I Learned to Lead

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It is odd when epiphanies come. Mine happened while I was standing on a busy New York City street corner with my husband as taxis sped by and sirens wailed somewhere nearby. My roots are in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I absolutely love living there. So for me, this sense of belonging, of coming home, when I visit New York has always been a bit confusing for me. But in that moment standing beside my husband, who has not only shared the past 26 years of my life but has also been my biggest champion, I finally understood.

“This is where I learned I had wings. This is where I finally believed I could do this, that I had what I needed inside to grow into the kind of CEO I needed to become,” I said.

And, no, it wasn’t anything magical about the city that helped me find my confidence. I can clearly pinpoint it back to what I learned about myself when I attended my first Women Entrepreneurs Festival at NYU. The fifth annual WE Festival just wrapped up this week, featuring a stellar lineup of women investors from some of the biggest firms in the country and women entrepreneurs building some of the fastest growing, most successful companies around today. Attendees had the privilege of not only listening to the powerful story and asking their own questions of fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg, but also gaining insight and direct advice from successful entrepreneurs like Debbie Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox and Susan Gregg Koger, founder of ModCloth. This year’s event delivered, just as it has every year since I first attended.

In fact, I credit the beginning of my metamorphosis to Joanne Wilson, angel investor, advocate, blogger and cofounder of WE Festival. I had a chance to talk with Joanne recently and share with her the impact that her festival had on my own journey. When I applied to attend my first WE Festival in 2013, I’d already been in business for two years and had lived through the initial learning curve — my first hire, my first employee quitting, my first pivot, my first pitch as the only woman on stage in front of 500 total strangers. But when I arrived at WE Festival 2013, I was in the middle of an acquisition offer to bring on an entire team, one of whom was my spouse. It was terrifying, and I felt completely out of my league. My spouse and his cofounders were very successful serial entrepreneurs, highly trained engineers, and had worked together over two decades. I knew that the combined teams would be a winning combination, but I was filled with self-doubt and worry that I wouldn’t be able to lead the team the way they deserved.

That first conference I attended changed how I saw myself. That year, Joanne Wilson talked about the dangers of the toxic self-talk women conduct that diminishes our confidence without anyone else saying or doing anything. I realized that if a woman as put-together as Joanne had that same challenge, there was nothing wrong with me for the self-doubts I felt. It was normal, and I could combat that inner voice because it was poisoning the well of my creativity and confidence. It was a landmark moment when I learned to stop apologizing for whatever lacks there were in my past and to embrace my skills. We can all do that – we simply have to decide we’re going to stop accepting self-doubt as valid fact and get busy doing the things we are afraid we cannot do.

Limor Fried, founder of Adafruit, was one of the panelists at that year’s conference, and it was her advice to me that empowered me with the tools to be a more effective leader. After sharing a bit about my acquisition plans, I asked the rockstar CEO and engineer what advice she had for me becoming an effective leader of engineers who were more experienced, more intelligent and more degreed than I would ever be.

“You get in the cage and wrestle with them, and you don’t come out until you’re the winner. They won’t respect you if you can’t do that,” she told me.

I realized that if this very successful technical CEO had to ‘wrestle’ with her engineering team, there wasn’t anything wrong with me. Ironically, I’ve come to learn that this particular trait that is common among engineers is actually one I have come to highly value from our team, because their challenges vet our path and help avoid pitfalls. I’ve also come to learn that I really can lead, and believe my willingness to grow into this role is what allowed our team to focus on the difficult challenge of inventing the technology we needed to bring our vision to reality.

This year’s WE Festival was just as wonderful as I expected, with fresh insights, advice, and solid feedback that will help me be better prepared for this year’s challenges of expanding into new markets. Each year, I find that I’m in a different stage and still manage to gain what I need as takeaways from peers in the trenches and role models who are paving the way for those who follow. But I’m not sure any conference will ever have as powerful impact as that first year. It changed everything for me.

When I shared my epiphany with my husband as we stood on that busy New York City street, I was reminded why he’s still my best friend after all these years. “It may have taken a conference in New York to help you see you had wings to fly, but it didn’t for me. I’ve known it all along.”