Advice for Entrepreneurs from Wharton Women in Business Conference

Last Updated Apr 1, 2010 4:32 PM EDT

A panel featuring the founders of companies that allow women to rent designer dresses and offer support for high heels may sound like something that would take place during Fashion Week, but it actually occurred at the recent Wharton Women in Business Conference.

A Knowledge@Wharton article shared highlights from the panel discussion "Women Pursuing Innovative Ideas: Ventures that Create Buzz." Though the panel was heavily fashion-focused, the women shared insights useful to budding entrepreneurs in any field.

  • 1. Start small: The women who invented SoleMates, a wide-bottomed plastic cap to place on high heels to help wearers walk through grass and other uneven surfaces, originally planned on taking their product to big-box retailers, then decided against it. "We realized the better way to build the brand was to grow more organically, to go into boutiques or to wedding planners where there would be a more memorable experience than going to Target or Wal-Mart, where we would be in a sea of products," co-founder Becca Brown said.
  • 2. Embrace change: Stacey Bendet, founder and CEO of alice + olivia, made a signature look out of pants designed from stiff fabric that only flattered size 0 and 2 figures. A business partner suggested using fabrics with more stretch, and while Bendet was reluctant to give up her signature style, the new fabrics led to increased sales in all sizes. "Even if you don't want to change, you've got to try it," Bendet told the audience. "You can change again if it doesn't work."
  • 3. Befriend potential enemies: Rent the Runway founder Jennifer Hyman knew that her business, which delivers designer gowns to women for rental, could be potentially unpopular with high-end designers. So she approached designer Diane von Furstenberg and Bergdorf Goodman CEO James Gold for feedback and incorporated their ideas into her business model. "Think about who hates the idea most and actually listen to what they have to say," said Hyman.
Image courtesy of Flickr user chrisamichaels, CC 2.0
  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.