Millie Ward: Women Startup Founders Should Take Advantage of Opportunities

Millie Ward: Women Startup Founders Should Take Advantage of Opportunities
Millie Ward, president of Stone Ward of Little Rock.

Millie Ward of Little Rock's Stone Ward believes the U.S. economy will become more startup-centric, and that aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly women founders, need to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.

"Our economy as it exists today will become increasingly dependant on entrepreneurs and what entrepreneurs can create," Ward told a group of about 30 mostly women who gathered Monday night at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce for a panel discussion on women startup founders.

The event, run by Startup Arkansas and the Arkansas Venture Center, kicked off Global Entrepreneurship Week in Little Rock. Ward was one of three panelists who discussed women in entrepreneurial roles. Ward founded her firm with Larry Stone in 1984 and grew it into one of the largest advertising firms in the region with a satellite office in Chicago.

"There is an amazing energy building in central Arkansas for startups founded by women," said panel moderator Alese Stroud of the Stroud Consulting Group. "The size of last night's audience and the insightful level of their questions highlights the need for resources like the Women's Founders Meetup."

Research performed by Emily Reeves, an Innovate Arkansas blogger, director of digital innovation at Stone Ward and a woman founder herself, revealed that 22 percent of Arkansas-based startups were founded by women. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women made up 50.9 percent of the state's population of 2.9 million people in 2012.

Ward offered some advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs:

  • Be flexible, opportunistic and have a plan B;
  • Consider your partners carefully;
  • Place more stock in the person pitching a startup opportunity than in the opportunity itself;
  • A good startup is made up of a little luck, a little magic and a little faith;
  • Have good financial advisors.

Ward was joined on the panel by two participants via Google Hangout: Martina Welke of (in Seattle) and Julie Lemzer Kirk of the Maryland Center of Entrepreurship in Columbia (located between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore). 

Zealyst wants to improve corporate culture by analyzing employee data and creating specialized events called huddles that she says build stronger employee communities. Welke said Zealyst "gamifies" conferences and employee special events. Welke also is involved in Startup Seattle's Women in Tech group that aims to attract more women into technology-based businesses.

Kirk is a former startup founder who directs the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and is involved with Startup Maryland. She co-founded the Path Forward Center to promote Activate, a 10-month, federally funded program in three states (Maryland, Virginia and Michigan) that teaches technology entrepreneurship to women.

Kirk said she would love to bring the program to Arkansas and hopes to take it nationwide in the future.

"Diversity is the key to innovation," she said.

Kirk believes many women who enter the startup community don't think big enough, and women founders, like all entrepreneurs, must learn from their mistakes. Kirk's two biggest startup mistakes were hiring for skill alone and not for culture, and trying to please everyone.

"My proudest moment was when I realized I had built something that was beyond just me," she said. "Building a startup is the toughest job you'll ever love."

Global Entrepeneurship Week continues Tuesday with a maker lab session that will include Nathan Meyers of Little Rock 3-D printer company QU-BD at the Argenta Innovation Center starting at 6 p.m. Like all events this week, it's free to attend.

A lean canvas workshop will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at South on Main. Thursday's event is a young CEO discussion that will include Josh Moody of Catholic High and Overwatch and begin at 6 p.m. at the Little Rock Chamber. Friday's event is a founders party at 6 p.m. at the Rev Room in the River Market.