When Renee Deluca Dolan sets her sights on something, she goes out and makes it happen.
Like that time she convinced Arianna Huffington to speak at the inaugural Female Entrepreneur Summit when the event was still new and unproven.
Or when she reached out to Lorain County Community College to co-create an online entrepreneurship program, launching in early 2020.
That type of verve is exactly what drove Deluca Dolan to start the Female Entrepreneur Summit eight years ago—aiming to give Northeast Ohio’s women entrepreneurs the intel and insights she didn’t get when she first founded Contempo Design + Communications in 1996.
Renee Deluca Dolan (center) with her Contempo Design + Communications team“I knew I was starting a business, but I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur,” says Deluca Dolan, who began her career at North Coast Cable and American Greetings. “Having the resources of [the Female Entrepreneur Summit] and our network now, I would have loved that 20 years ago. I’m trying to give back and support entrepreneurs in our region because that’s only going to help all of us grow.”
A one-day event, the conference features panels, speakers, breakout sessions, and an opportunity to engage in what Deluca Dolan calls “intentional networking” (a method laser-focused on lead generation). “It’s devised to create intentional leads and provide a networking experience that isn’t so one-sided, but more about helping others,” explains Deluca Dolan, adding that the intentional networking session will be facilitated by Patrice Blakemore of Goldman Sachs.
Formerly held in Mayfield Heights, this year’s event will be hosted at the Cleveland History Center (which has its own youth entrepreneurship program, YEE for CLE, through the Western Reserve Historical Society). Deluca Dolan says the venue change will enable double the space for vendors and help enhance what she calls a “mini-trade show atmosphere” for the sponsor showcase.
Also new this year will be the first award announcement of the FES Fund Initiative, which will award $20,000 in flexible debt funding to a deserving female entrepreneur. According to Deluca Dolan, more than 100 entrepreneurs applied for the investment, which Deluca Dolan is making in partnership with JumpStart and two graduates of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program (in which Deluca Dolan also participated).
More than 400 women are slated to attend the conference, which is twice the number of attendees from Deluca Dolan’s first event eight years ago. She believes the growth signifies a larger trend both locally and across the country, with more women choosing the entrepreneurship route. (In fact, women are starting an average of 1,821 new businesses per day in the U.S., and the number of women-owned businesses in Cleveland jumped 52% between 2007 and 2018, according to “The State of Women-Owned Businesses” study commissioned by American Express.)
“There’s a trend nationwide with the #MeToo movement and women asking for equal pay,” says Deluca Dolan. “More women are taking the leap toward entrepreneurship, and we want to support them.”