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2018 Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium


Written By: Emily Stolberg

“Start anyway. Don’t worry about the future. Don’t wait to get married or have kids. Start now,” said Dani McVety, University of Florida alum and founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice. “Mark Zuckerberg didn’t think about it, why should you?”

On April 18, women from backgrounds of all kinds gathered at Emerson Alumni Hall for UF’s ninth annual Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium. The event was organized through the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative within the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the UF Warrington College of Business. The program offers support for local women through activities designed to give women the tools to develop leadership skills and become empowered entrepreneurs.

At a time when women are more willing to build businesses it is important that women have the means to succeed. Events like the Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium allow students, UF staff and successful businesswomen to connect and create a community that motivates every attendee with the female empowerment and drive that cannot be found in any male-dominated conference. Each year, extraordinary female entrepreneurs are invited to speak at the event, and the 2018 conference speakers were all about sweet, sweet success.

Chloe Epstein, co-founder and president of Chloe’s Fruit, has always loved her sugary treats, but she also has a passion for living a healthy lifestyle. Epstein recalled joining her mom for early morning workout tapes with Jane Fonda when she was in third grade. Fast forward, and she went on to become an assistant district attorney in Manhattan, but her cravings for sweets never faded. Epstein thought she had found the hack to taming her sweet tooth with frozen yogurt, but that changed with her first pregnancy.

“I wanted to find an alternative to froyo without all of the artificial garbage, and the best place to start was with fruit,” Epstein said.

Epstein shared her thoughts with her friend Michael Sloan, a dedicated triathlete. Sloan happened to have a freezer full of overripe bananas at the time, so the two began experimenting to create a fruit-based treat with a frozen yogurt texture. After testing nearly every appliance in Epstein’s kitchen, the duo finally mastered a healthy banana-flavored alternative to frozen yogurt. They went on to find a way to create the same texture with other fruits, including strawberries, mangos and apples.

Chloe’s Fruit started as a fruit-based soft-serve shop, but it has since expanded to selling Chloe’s Pops, fruit-based popsicles that are sold to thousands of retailers nationwide. Since Chloe’s Fruit began with one store in 2010, the company has sold 41 million popsicles and is available in all 50 states.

At the symposium, Epstein shared how intimidating it was to shift into a field that she knew nothing about and how honing in on her confidence in the skills she did have was a key motivator. She said a successful entrepreneur is an individual willing to work hard and then work even harder, adding that passion, grit and the willingness to follow your gut are also key ingredients.

“Stay true to who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Epstein advised. “Confidence, I fear, or lack thereof, has to do with being a woman in business, but in the end, when you’re passionate and feel strongly about something, who and what you are doesn’t matter. Just stay true to your mission and sustain excitement, and it will squash any insecurities, doubts or challenges of being a woman in business.”

Epstein’s foundation for her company is family. Her children are her official taste-testers, and she said her impact on her children is what motivates her daily.

“My kids love what I do,” Epstein said. “It would never occur to them that a woman or a mom wouldn’t start a business.”

Similar to Epstein, Dani McVety said she is an entrepreneur because she wants the freedom to go to her child’s soccer games.

In 2010, McVety founded Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice so that anyone who wanted to could have as comfortable an experience as possible when losing a pet. Since then, the organization has won four Gator100 awards and McVety received the 2018 Woman Entrepreneur of the Year for inspiring women to follow their dreams and think big.

McVety gave a heartening, passionate and witty speech sharing her advice for how to be an entrepreneurial success. She reminded every woman at the symposium that happiness is what you make it and it only takes one good idea to get something in motion.

“When you know, you know — even if you don’t know the end goal,” McVety said.

She also mentioned the importance of keeping a positive attitude and controlled responses to those who may not be as enthusiastic about female entrepreneurship. She encouraged others to follow her lead and turn negative questions and comments into positives. For example, McVety said that when people question her young age and ask, “When did you graduate?” she replies, “Which degree?”

Another entrepreneur who started pursuing her dreams at a young age is the symposium’s keynote speaker, Gina (Gigi) Butler, founder of Gigi’s Cupcakes.

When Butler was 15, she started her own cleaning business. After years of cleaning and running Gigi’s Cleaning Company, Butler went off to college, but soon decided to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer. Upon moving to Nashville with nothing but $500, she restarted her cleaning business and spent her days cleaning and her nights singing. Butler continued this routine until she was hired to clean a new family’s home. The family had a 15-year-old daughter who was also a singer and songwriter. Butler was cleaning the daughter’s bathroom when she heard the young girl sitting on her bed, playing a song she had written.

“You might know it,” Butler said. “(It was) ‘Teardrops On My Guitar.’”

Every individual attending the symposium gasped at the realization that hearing singer Taylor Swift prior to her rise to fame was a moment that changed Butler’s path forever.

Butler had given up pursuing her career as a singer and was focused on her cleaning business when her brother called from New York. He had just waited two hours in line for a red velvet cupcake, he said, but he knew her cupcakes were better. He encouraged Butler to start her own cupcake shop, and she thought, why not?

After finding the perfect space for a shop in Nashville, Butler continued cleaning as her day job and changed her nightly routine from singing to baking 12 dozen cupcakes. After hours of creating cupcakes, reinventing 100-year-old family recipes (the first was Gigi’s famous Hunka Chunka Banana Love) and remodeling the store, Gigi’s Cupcakes was finally ready to open. Butler had less than $50 in her bank account, but in 2008, the doors of the first Gigi’s Cupcakes store opened, and people started coming in — and they kept coming.

“I went from a house cleaner to a CEO overnight,” Butler said.

Ten years later, Gigi’s Cupcakes is now in 24 states, has sold nearly 100 million cupcakes — making it the world’s largest cupcake franchise — and is still growing.

In 2018, Gigi’s Cupcakes is expanding to the kitchen textiles industry as well as scented candles and cabinets. Butler’s first book, “The Secret Ingredient: Recipes for Success in Business and Life,” is hitting shelves in December 2018. The book will share her story, and each chapter will include a recipe.

“Dreamers, the world needs you,” Butler said. “Sometimes we have to let go of the dreams we had in order to realize the dreams to come.”

Each woman who spoke and attended the Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium inspired others and walked away with a sense of empowerment — plus a Gigi’s Cupcake and a Chloe’s Pop or two.

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EMILY STOLBERG is a senior public relations student at the University of Florida. When she isn’t writing, Emily is traveling, playing with her dog or eating Chipotle. Emily is known for her love for London and ability to binge watch Netflix shows freakily fast.

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