04:43 AM

Startup Voodoo Keynote: Prospering Female Entrepreneurs


I'll be at the Startup Voodoo conference in St. Louis on June 18. Here is an interview by conference co-founder Aaron Perlut, with one of the keynote speakers: Maxine Clark, who pioneered crowd-sourcing in 1997 to build a very successful business. 

By Aaron Perlut

Veteran retail entrepreneur Maxine Clark is one of our keynote speakers at the 2nd annual Startup Voodoo innovation, entrepreneurship and startups conference in St. Louis June 18.

Not familiar with her name? Well, you should be. Because while crowdsourcing is today all the rage as a means of corporate engagement with customers, Clark’s Build-A-Bear Workshop – with more than 400 locations worldwide — has been at the forefront of the concept since 1997.

Since stepping down as Build-A-Bear CEO in June 2013, Clark’s been sharing her knowledge with other female entrepreneurs, as an investor, and as an advisor with Prosper Women Entrepreneurs, a program aimed at identifying, coaching and advancing women-led companies with a  $50,000 investment in each venture, and an accelerator program that gives them access to world-renowned mentors, resources, introductions and a custom curriculum.

I caught up with Clark to ask her about entrepreneurship and her career:

Q: Do you miss running the company you built from the ground up? 

A: I am heavily engaged in my (non-Prosper) personal investments such as Goldie Blox, myEDmatch.com, St. Frank and as an informal advisor to other entrepreneurs — especially in the not-for profit space. Plus my work in public education where I use my critical thinking skills, experience and my networks on a daily basis.

Build-A-Bear is in great hands and allows me to spend time in our community in other important areas.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a female entrepreneur?

I faced few of the normal challenges entrepreneurs have when creating a startup. I have over 20 years of business experience so fundraising, and networks were much easier for me to navigate. I was going into retail and I knew retail and how it operates.

Did you have a mentor? 

I have had many mentors — teachers, bosses, fellow business professionals. All of them have supported me in different ways.

What is the advantage in having a mentor?

It can be lonely at the top, especially the first time you’re in the driver’s seat. Second opinions, sounding boards and support are priceless. Mentors share their experience, encourage, and help connect with others. Mentors are more than advisors; they are willing to “spend some of their capital” to further the success of their mentee.

What is Prosper and why should women entrepreneurs apply for funding?

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs is a program which identifies, coaches and advances women-led companies. The Prosper Capital Startup Accelerator invests $50,000 in each women-led startup, as well as business coaching for each entrepreneur accepted into the accelerator program.

The program offers a unique experience developed by experts in entrepreneurship, negotiation, branding, business development and sales. Entrepreneurs should apply to the program to help raise capital, gain access to world-renowned mentors, resources and introductions, and complete a curriculum designed specifically for their unique business.

What sort of startups is Prosper looking to fund?

We’re looking for women-led startups with a focus on technology, health care and consumer products. We define a women-led business as a company with at least one woman in a position of leadership and significant and meaningful equity.

What one piece of advice would you give a woman entrepreneur?

I would give the same advice to any entrepreneur — know your market really well, the potential size of the business, your competition, where you fit in. And have a five-year plan. A plan is a work in progress so it always ebbs and flows but having a plan is critical to success.

You don’t need to have all the money at once but when will you need it? What milestones are you willing to commit to?

- - -

Here is my coverage of Startup Voodoo from last year:

The Startup Spirit Of St. Louis - Building A Sustainable And Socially Conscious Tech Community

St Louis 00133 2