WeFestival: A Conversation with Joanne Wilson and Susan Solomon

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Joanne and Susan, circa 1970

For the past several years, I’ve waited impatiently to find out if I would be one of the lucky few invited to New York to attend the annual WeFestival, a Women’s Entrepreneur Festival (and thus, the name). I’ve written previously about my experiences at the event, and when I discovered that this year I would be attending as a panelist, it felt like things had come full circle. After gaining invaluable advice from panelists in previous years, it is a privilege to now have the opportunity to possibly help someone else.

This year’s WeFestival, which already boasts an exciting lineup of speakers, is scheduled for April 13 -14 in New York. But this year’s event will be different in several ways. I recently had the chance to ask Joanne Wilson, one of the original cofounders of WeFestival, and her sister, Susan Solomon, about the changes happening within WeFestival and to learn about some of their future plans, including the exciting news that additional events are already slated for Berlin and Los Angeles.

joanne_wilson-8062Wilson, a well-known blogger and angel investor based in New York City, says shaking things up was a necessity after spending five years in partnership with New York University to host the event which brings together 400 women entrepreneurs from across the globe. “It was time to either pack it in … five years is a good run … or to change the game,” says Wilson, who had growing concerns that the current format had become too formulaic. “I knew there was more to do, but it wasn’t going to happen under the umbrella of NYU.  It had to become a business where there was a support system to build something unique and powerful based on five years of experience and feedback from many of the attendees.”

While conferences abound, WeFestival has gained a reputation as being a unique experience. “It is the only conference where I see “real women” who are in the trenches,” says Wilson. “As women, we are all in it together to be heard and connect to a community – to learn and listen.  It is quite powerful.” Among her own personal highlights from previous events, topping the list for Wilson was her opportunity to interview the iconic Diane Von Furstenberg.

meWhen Susan Solomon expressed interest in the new venture, Wilson knew she’d found the perfect partner in her sister to help steer the new direction for WeFestival. Solomon is committed to nurturing the interactions and relationships borne at the event. “Our goal is to assemble a broad, diverse set of women entrepreneurs who are committed to their venture. This includes women from all sectors of the economy, ethnicity, age and business stage,” says Solomon, adding that the decision to move the event venue was also strategic. “We looked for a space whose environment could mirror the true experience happening at the event. Instead of having the ‘closed’ doors of traditional conference rooms, we chose 1 World Trade Center for its fluid and spacious flow, allowing us to marry the experience and the environment.”

One tradition the team is keeping is requiring applications, which are still being accepted through the end of January. The limited number of slots available for WeFestival are assigned after all applications are reviewed, says Wilson. “I am blown away by some of the heartfelt stories from women. And then I am amazed on some of the applications where someone has obviously not taken the time or energy to write something meaningful.”

She adds, “We want people who are truly putting down their guard and really want to be there.” Solomon adds that, in keeping with the goals of WeFestival, the application process ensures that a broad spectrum is represented at each event.

Sisters Joanne Wilson and Susan Soloman, 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Sisters Joanne Wilson and Susan Soloman, 1968, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The new WeFestival is built like a true startup. “Susan is my side-kick here.  That’s it. She has driven the entire back-end.,” says Wilson. “We have a few freelancers, but essentially, it is just us. We like lean and mean operations.”

Despite the lean team, WeFestival’s online community is already growing. Says Solomon, “We’ve created a Slack community so women can connect all year-long – not just at the event. While we used Facebook before, we’re hoping that through Slack, we can create a real sense of community and camaraderie.”

What does remain consistent across the old and the new WeFestivals is the draw of Wilson, herself, who has cultivated a strong following of her blog, Gotham Gal. She has remained surprisingly accessible to women entrepreneurs despite the increasing demand on her time, thanks, in part, to the attention she has garnered as a highly successful angel investor who not only advocates for women entrepreneurs but invests in them as well.

Says Wilson, “I have become the poster child for women entrepreneurs.  It just happened.” She adds that, for her, WeFestival connects directly to that. “I really believe we are changing women’s lives and in turn the long tail effects families, the economy, people. I hear from women years later on how the festival changed their lives, or that they finally launched their business, or they have a meet-up monthly or have found their business partner.”

The event certainly changed my own journey by helping me realize the incredible value of finding a supportive community filled with role models who looked like me and spoke like me and made me believe in myself. And while discovering the value of this community didn’t change at all the hard work or effort required to build a company, it completely changed my mindset – and that, really, changes everything.

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

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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.

Girls Deserve to See Themselves as Heroes: Kudos to GoldieBlox

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I first met Debra Sterling, founder of GoldieBlox, when she spoke at the Women Entrepreneurs Festival in New York City a few years ago. Her vision of a toy company for girls that fostered engineering concepts inspired me then, and her continued push to bring new role models and break down stereotypes continues to inspire. Her company’s newest video reminds us of how few heroes in media are female.

For those of you who think this is a tired, worn out mantra, I encourage you to watch this video of Jimmy Kimmel asking boys and girls about what would happen if a woman was president.

We need more women running for office, running companies, and we definitely need more Debra Sterlings creating companies like Goldieblox. It is why I was so excited to see Akamee Baca Malta, founder of As Girls Grow, an Albuquerque-based startup, at our national conference for women entrepreneurs and leaders, HauteCon 2015. Like the founder of GoldieBlox, Akamee is using her talents and expertise as an engineer to create play-based, STEM-friendly products for young girls. She attended the conference thanks to a scholarship from Nusenda, a New Mexico-based credit union which recently won a national award for their creative approach to delivering wider access to capital to those with no or poor credit scores through peer-based lending. Nusenda covered the cost of attendance to HauteCon 2015 for ten entrepreneurs, including Akamee, to ensure that cash-strapped startup founders were provided access to both the content and the networking opportunities available at an event created specifically to empower women leaders and entrepreneurs to achieve a higher level of success.

Students from Sandia Preparatory School take the stage with Hautepreneurs Cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews to talk about their STEAM project. The students worked with Mathews, their school, and Central New Mexico Community College Makerspace to design flowers in Corel Draw, print them using the CNM 3-D Printer, and attach the flowers to the HauteCon banner hanging behind the girls in this photo.

Students from Sandia Preparatory School take the stage with Hautepreneurs Cofounder Jessica Eaves Mathews to talk about their STEAM project. The students worked with Mathews, their school, and Central New Mexico Community College Makerspace to design flowers in Corel Draw, print them using the CNM 3-D Printer, and attach the flowers to the HauteCon banner hanging behind the girls in this photo.

 

Until there is more gender balance among leading roles in entertainment, government and corporate leadership, our sons and daughters will continue to believe the stereotypes perpetuated in the news,  media, and their everyday lives. Until more women hold leadership positions – including the White House – and the toy aisles in our department stores provide more options for girls that defy cultural stereotypes, we need to see more videos like GoldieBlox reminding us that yes, indeed, girls deserve to see themselves as heroes.

Mission Over Impossible: Fueling Resolve

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When Sara Corry entered her yearlong HauteHopes Entrepreneur in Residence program with us in February of 2015, Sara told my Hautepreneurs cofounder, Jessica Eaves Mathews, that her biggest barrier to success was the lack of an e-commerce site to sell her company’s hand-sewn scrubs. Sara’s company, Batiks for Life – Scrubs on a Mission was partnering with another company which would alleviate many of the other barriers to begin working with women in need in Ghana. With the partnership in place, it allowed Sara to focus on her website.

After only a few weeks, the partnership dissolved. Sara now faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds of achieving her goals. Instead, she used her goals as fuel, believing that the significant need of women living in untenable situations was far more important than her new barriers to establishing a permanent sewing cooperative which would teach employable skills to these young mothers living on the streets. Her positive mindset was tested many times during the months she has been in our program, but she turned each difficulty into a stronger resolve to move forward. This past week, Sara finally landed in Ghana. The new Batiks for Life website is not only live but already selling scrubs, and she is now independently launching her sewing cooperative with funds raised by her successful Kickstarter campaign which exceeded its original goal in the first 48 hours.

There is this moment in the experience of every entrepreneur where all seems lost. Whether it is an investor declining to come in on a desperately needed round of funding, a pivotal customer passing on the opportunity, a partnership dissolving or a key team member choosing to leave, every startup faces dark moments when survival looks impossible. But I firmly believe that it is our self-talk, the story we tell ourselves in those darkest moments, that determines which startups survive and which ones die.

This isn’t to say that a negative outlook has no value; it does. We all need an Eeyore on our startup team. It’s the Eeyore on our team that keeps us grounded, reminds us of the dangers of drinking too much of our own Koolaid, that points out the problems that lie ahead. The Eeyore in a startup is aware of the increasing competition in a similar space and constantly worries about a competitor getting traction. We all need an Eeyore on our team to be our voice of caution and instill a sense of urgency.

But when the loudest voice we hear – whether inside our own head or from our team – is negative, the focus shifts away from growth and, instead, sees danger around every corner. Instead of being used as fuel to work harder, every post on social media about a potential competitor becomes a distraction and where we might have explored potential collaborations, we only see is the enemy. The toxic voice of negativity can turn every setback into a death knell, becoming a self-fulling prophecy. Entrepreneurs must see the impossibility of it all and still believe there is a way to make it happen. They must be champions of hope – not ignorant hope that pretends difficulties don’t exist – but hope that sees the difficulties and still believes that with some creativity and hard work, success is possible.

Sara will miss our upcoming HauteCon 2015 National Women’s Conference, with two days of content cultivated to help others aspire, achieve, and elevate. And while I am sorry others won’t get to hear her tell her story, I’m pretty sure she’ll find ways to continue putting hope in the forefront through her blog about her experiences in Ghana. On days when things may feel a bit dark for me, I am sure her voice of hope will remind me that our future is what we choose to see ahead. It really is whatever we decide it will be.

Is The Story of Your Life Holding You Back?

squarewordWe all have stories. You probably know your own by heart – those few rehearsed sentences that explain how you’ve ended up where you are in life. We hone our answers a bit every time, and after a while, we begin to believe that the version we share with others is the real truth about our journey. But far too often, those rehearsed fragments which explain away our choices, that cover up our mistakes, disappointments, failures. The gloss of our public rendition allows us to hide from the real truths that have shaped our journey. By the same token, we can color the way we forever view our own journey by the way we choose to frame the story about any given experience. If we focus on the negative, we may miss the bigger truths. And that’s the real tragedy, because it isn’t until we explore the reasons we tell the stories we do that we can begin to understand how our stories may be coloring the way we see ourselves and may be the very thing holding us back from what we really want.

Everything Is Ruined

Made with Repix (http://repix.it)One of the first times I discovered my very young daughter might become a talented artist was when I entered her room as she applied her own finishing touches to our marriage license. It would never, ever look the same. I wasn’t even sure it was legal now with all the damage to it. (It is. No one gets out of their marriage vows that easy.) For days, I sulked. I felt angry at my daughter for ruining such an important piece of our history. And then, in a moment of clarity, I realized this new version was better. Does anything scream married quite like a first-born’s scribbles all over the license? By simply reframing how I perceived the experience, something that was devastating was transformed into what remains as one of my favorite memories.

At My Age

IMG_3548-EditOne of the youngest applicants for HauteHopes, Alissa Chavez, started her company after an 8th grade science fair project. When Jessica Eaves Mathews and I launched HauteHopes, our goal was to establish a nonprofit scholarship fund for disadvantaged women entrepreneurs. But when Alissa applied, it took me a by surprise. She’d gained national visibility – including being featured in Glamour Magazine, and had run a successful crowdfunding campaign. She didn’t seem like the kind of entrepreneur who would facing disadvantages which were significant enough to prevent her from bringing a viable business to life. But because of her age – despite her drive, vision, intelligence and technical capabilities – she couldn’t find an investor willing to take a chance on a teenage girl. Alissa recently joined our ten other finalists on stage at our first benefit gala where each finalist had 90 seconds to pitch their business concept to the audience as well as judges that included a congresswoman, a commissioner, and J. Kelly Hoey, the highly influential and powerful networker and angel investor based in New York City. Not only did Alissa land as the judges’ top choice, but she was named the audience choice as well.

IMG_3674-EditOh, and the most inspiring part of this story? Another of the scholarship winners chosen by the judges has also faced the same struggle with age – but on the opposite end of her journey. Already in her sixties, Judith Costello is banking her years of experience as an art therapist and artist to finally launch her dream – a destination art experience for couples, families, children, the elderly. Age should never be the story we use to hold ourselves back – or to allow others to hold us back.

I’m Not Qualified

IMG_3102When I first founded APPCityLife , I worried that others might not take me seriously. I wasn’t an engineer, I didn’t come from the tech world, and this was my first startup. As time passed, and my company gained its first few customers and employees, I grew more comfortable with my story of inadequacy. “I am unqualified for everything I do,” I’d say, rather proud of that fact. I was proud of what I’d created despite the disadvantages I’d faced, and I thought this story perfectly summed that up. But recently I realized my statement wasn’t one of empowerment at all; it was a safety net. If my company failed, well, who could blame me? I wasn’t qualified, after all. And if it succeeded, I was right up there with miracle makers. I don’t say that about myself anymore, because the truth is that I am very qualified for what I do. I’ve learned every skill I’ve needed and have grown to fill whatever the role has demanded. Funny enough, since my new story leaves no room for anything less than all-in, I’m not only happier but I’ve grown so much more comfortable in my role.

What is your story? Do you have one that just might be holding you back? Your story is your own. It’s not someone else’s, so don’t let them decide the words to yours. Be sure you don’t allow anyone else’s story to define yours. So often we give our power away and hang our happiness or success on the balance of someone else’s story. But mostly, just remember that our stories are not written in stone. Look at your situation, and if the way you see your life is holding you back, choose a different view. Find a way to frame your story that empowers you, lifts you up, and gives you the strength and courage to go all in. It’s worth it.

How We Gain Self-Respect

file9751272655027How many of you remember your first school crush? I remember mine. I waited for the tiniest glimpse of him in the hall on our way to lunch, and at the end of the day, I hurried out front just in case he didn’t ride the bus and I might have a chance to see him on the steps talking with his friends. I wasn’t even supposed to leave out that door to get to my house, but the hope of seeing him – it was worth it. I scribbled his name on the inside of the back cover of my notebooks (never on the outside where someone might see). I spent hours on those name-designs, each more elaborate than the next. And then it happened, right there on the steps where I’d waited every day for weeks: he actually said hi. I froze. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to me that he might actually notice me at some point, much less speak.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those name designs, because I’ve realized that we do the same thing as adults. We spend so much time arranging our dreams, talking about them, writing about them, reading books to get prepared, and taking classes to get ready to act on our dream. Sometimes our activities make us believe we’re moving in the right direction when, in reality, we’re just moving enough to not be disappointed in ourselves.

What is Your Dream?

What’s the dream you roll around in your mind? What holds you back? The fear of discovering we’re not capable and of being crushed by failure … that fear is so powerful. It drives us to inaction or partaking in small, meaningless activities that protect us against the big risk.

Recently, I and my cofounder created a nonprofit fund which helps disadvantaged women launch and build businesses. In just fourteen days, we received over fifty applications – all from women with dreams – some still just an idea and others ready to grow to a new level. We studied each application with our board of directors, all women entrepreneurs themselves, and after a very difficult decision, we narrowed it down to eleven finalists – all chosen because they have viable ideas for businesses and leadership skills. In addition, each applicant is facing disadvantages that make it difficult to achieve success without additional assistance or training.

Feeling Alone

We met with our finalists last night, preparing them for the upcoming ninety-second pitch each will deliver on stage during our upcoming benefit gala. We had a raw, honest talk about the scary process of making a dream a reality. Some finalists expressed concern about whether they were biting off more than they could chew, while others share their fears over gaps in experience, education or connections. We talked a lot about the paralyzing effect that was the fruit of fear. And in the end, we left with the understanding that each of us, as we pursue our individual dreams and work to bringing our vision to reality – we feel alone in our fear and our journey, but it is a shared experience, one that all of us must go through to get to the other side.

I am so inspired by these women who are facing their biggest fears head-on, and doing so despite sometimes overwhelming circumstances and challenges, because the compelling desire to realize their dream, take control of their future and help better the circumstances of others is finally more powerful than the fear of failing. It is a privilege to share a small part of their journey and witness their support of each other. Succeed or fail, this collective choice to be all-in and move forward is their first decision that changes everything and makes everything possible.

Who Else But You?

If you’re holding back on your own dream, consider this:

If you give up now or never get started, who will bring your vision into the world?

No one.

Really.

No one.

It’s yours, and if you give up when things get difficult or before you even start, well, then maybe it isn’t really a dream or a big vision at all but just a nice idea. If you don’t believe it is just a nice idea, then don’t let yourself build on platitudes. Platitudes are the sands of purpose and wash away your fortitude when problems arise.
Build on conviction and passion driven by a vision bigger than yourself, because when you do, you’ll have the fuel needed to carry you through the difficulties that can and must come.

Face Your Fears

The world is never, ever changed by platitudes. It is also never changed by the person who is willing to settle for less than all-in. And here’s what I’m learning on my own journey. When we start with the purpose to give it everything we’ve got, even if we don’t end up where we hoped we might, we find ourselves in a very different, usually better place than the one where we started. A diet of might-have-been is bitter and much harder to swallow than the disappointment of having tried and not met the mark. There is honor in pursuing big ideas, and when they do work? Well, then we really can change the world.

You’ll never know if your vision will change the world unless you begin your journey. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. Go all in. Don’t look back. And wherever you land – you’ll be a better person for having the courage to take the journey, because self-respect is a direct result of making the hard choices, facing the difficult fears and going far beyond any comfort zone – no matter the outcome.


 

Note: You can meet these women, hear their pitches and help choose the audience favorite on February 21, 2015 at the Haute Night Out Gala. Tickets are available: http://www.hautenightout.eventbrite.com

If you are ready to launch your dream or get serious about building your business, you can find inspiration, insight and the tools you’ll need in the year ahead at the all day conference leading up to the Gala. You can find out more here: http://www.hautehighlights.eventbrite.com

To get involved with our mentoring program or support our efforts, visit our website: http://www.hautepreneurs.com


 

Jessica Eaves Mathews: Watch New Mexico Rise

Jessica Eaves Mathews

 

 

Of all the individuals, organizations and companies inspiring us to watch New Mexico rise, Jessica Eaves Mathews – who actually coined the phrase and hashtag #watchNMrise – is right up at the top.

I first met Jessica at the Santa Fe Business Incubator for the launch of New Mexico’s first Startup Weekend. It was a Friday night, and I’d driven up to Santa Fe with my husband, Lawrence, who is a cofounder and COO in our company, APPCityLife. While he planned to spend the entire weekend at the event as a technical coach, I’d come up just for Friday’s kick off since I would be serving as one of the judges of the final presentations at the end of the event. Jessica was a keynote speaker, and as we chatted for a few moments until it was time for her to share a few words of inspiration with the participants, I knew immediately that Jessica was a force to be reckoned with.

At the time, I had no idea just how much Jessica had already accomplished. A native New Mexican, she left the state after graduating from UNM to practice law in the then sleepy town of Seattle. She spent several years working for major law firms in the midst of the major economic boom in the city as Microsoft expanded into a powerful corporation, starting her family and launching her first private law firm while still in Washington. She served as lead counsel for Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft.

Rock the World, 2013

Rock the World, 2013

But her love for her home state and a desire to raise her daughter nearer to family resulted in a move back to New Mexico a few years ago, bringing with her a valuable high level business acumen which she has used to launch several startups including Grace and Game, a golfing clothing line for women (she has designed all of the clothing herself – you can find a few of her creations locally at Runway Apparel) and Untoxicating Beauty, an online cosmetics company highlighting organic lines developed by women entrepreneurs. Jessica was named by Albuquerque Business First as the Top CEO of 2013 for her innovative and lucrative approach to building a virtual law firm, Leverage Legal Group. Despite running multiple companies and, until recently, homeschooling her daughter, Jessica still finds time to volunteer for several nonprofits as well as donating hundreds of hours of her own time providing legal advice, services, and mentoring for entrepreneurs in New Mexico. She is also the best-selling author of Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save The World and a highly sought-after keynote speaker.

After our first meeting, I knew I wanted to know more about Jessica. We met for lunch and even before the entree arrived, she and I both knew that we wanted to work together to help other women entrepreneurs in our state. By the time the check arrived, we had a verbal agreement in place to launch a business together. Within 24 hours, we had a name (Hautepreneurs), our LLC in place and a trademark filed.  It has been, by far, one of the best decisions I’ve made. Our monthly design thinking sessions with several successful women entrepreneurs have inspired all of our members to think bigger, including myself as I continue to grow APPCityLife towards a global expansion. Hautepreneurs has flown in national experts to allow local entrepreneurs access to high level training not readily available within our state. And on December 11, 2014, we’ll host our first Haute Honors Awards Breakfast honoring women in New Mexico who are outstanding as entrepreneurs, leaders and innovators.

Cofounders Hautepreneurs, LLC, and HauteHopes: Lisa Abeyta, Jessica Eaves Mathews

Cofounders Hautepreneurs, LLC, and HauteHopes: Lisa Abeyta, Jessica Eaves Mathews

As is often the case with Jessica, her compassion – and passion – drives her and those around her to expand upon ideas to embrace higher causes to help others. Jessica came to me a few months ago proposing that we consider taking on a far bigger mission than when we launched Hautepreneurs. Long aware of the poverty and difficult living situations affecting many women in New Mexico – as well as the additional challenges women of any background face to launch successful business – she saw a way to empower the women who needed it the most. Because of her vision, HauteHopes was born, a scholarship fund focused on helping underprivileged women gain financial independence through a strategic blend of goal-based scholarship funding paired with mentoring from successful entrepreneurs and business owners within the state. She has completely immersed herself in the immense work needed to launch something this ambitious, including planning Haute Night Out, a black-tie gala fundraiser slated for February 21, 2015. She has even already gained support from companies like Tesla, who has committed to running a test-drive station featuring several of their high end electric vehicles during the gala.

10614109_10205039478689389_4448981142250507093_nAnd, just in case you might think she is all work and no play, Jessica is also an avid golfer, accomplished horsewoman and dressage competitor. She owns several of her own horses on her farm in Corrales. This past summer, when she heard of a horse hundreds of miles away that was being sold after surviving a series of bad situations, she hooked up her horse trailer and drove almost twenty-four hours straight to rescue the horse. She brought the horse home and worked patiently with the horse for months before the newest addition to her family was ready for her to take to its first show. It is this kind of compassion, this kind of belief in the goodness and gifts in others – and her willingness to expend her own efforts and time to bring that promise to reality that makes Jessica such a vital part of what will allow the world to watch New Mexico rise.