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Successful Business Women Discuss the Secrets to Their Success

Networking and the willingness to build professional relationships paved the way for the high-achieving women panelists featured at SDSU’s women in entrepreneurship and leadership event

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, approximately 11.6 million U.S. businesses are owned by women, which accounts for 39% of all privately held American firms.

However, just 4.2% of that 11.6 million produce revenues of $1 million or more, and women-owned U.S. companies account for only 8% employment and 4.2% of reported revenues.

“Statistics prove there’s never been a better time for women to enter into business ownership, but there’s still a long way to go,” observed SDSU marketing lecturer, Steven Osinski, host of the Fowler College of Business’ 2019 Women in Entrepreneurship & Leadership event held March 5 in Montezuma Hall.

Osinski noted that he and his family were inspired to become the event’s primary sponsor when he witnessed women’s inequity in the workplace during his own time as a successful entrepreneur and, later, as an executive at a major dot-com company.

2019 marks the third time the Osinskis have worked with the Fowler College of Business to stage the annual lecture series, however, it is the first time that the event had two sessions: the morning session was devoted to women in leadership roles and the afternoon session focused on women entrepreneurs.

Event PanelistsSan Diego State University president, Dr. Adela de la Torre, provided opening remarks for the leadership session where she offered some words of advice to audience members. “Be aware of yourself, but also be aware of people looking at you,” she said. “It’s often those people that could put you on a pathway to success you never could have imagined.”

SDSU alumnae and vice president of digital marketing for the CW Television Network, Amy Shelby, followed Dr. de la Torre to the podium as the session’s keynote speaker. She discussed her career path as a manager in the digital media industry and how she sometimes had a hard time having her voice heard when she was the only woman in a room full of other managers. She advised members of the audience to “choose your boss carefully” and stay in touch with former bosses since they can be a good source of contracts and jobs.

After her keynote speech, Shelby was joined in a panel session by Jennifer Fall (’93, finance/’94, MBA), former vice president at Gap Inc.; Rebecca Harshberger (’94, marketing), vice president of tax and finance at Entertainment Partners; and Shelley Zimmerman, former chief of the San Diego Police Department. Members of the panel told the audience that the best road to leadership was to take risks, ask questions and “don’t be afraid to speak up” (Fall). The panel members echoed de la Torre’s sentiments telling audience members to keep their eyes and your options open. “You never know where opportunities might be,” said Zimmerman. “You might be talking to the person in the line behind you at Starbucks that could lead to an opportunity.”

Event panelistsThe afternoon’s entrepreneurship session of the event was led off with Osinski’s introduction of Dr. Lance Nail, dean of SDSU’s Fowler College of Business, to the podium. Dr. Nail offered a first-hand account of how he witnessed gender disparity in the workplace. “We’ve come a long way in the past 20 years, but we’re not there yet,” he noted.

The session’s keynote speaker, Kim Perell, CEO of Amobee, took the stage following Nail’s opening remarks. Perell made millions when her company, Adconion Direct, was acquired by Amobee in 2014 for $235 million. Two years later, she was named as the CEO of Amobee, a global marketing technology company.

Perell set off on the road to entrepreneurship after a company she worked for failed during the dot-com meltdown in the early 2000’s. After finding herself jobless, she decided to “take control of my own destiny.” With $10,000 borrowed from her grandmother, she founded her digital advertising company, Adconion Direct, in 2005 from her kitchen table.

As her business grew, she learn lessons along the way, including what she said are the three most important attributes for successful entrepreneurs: resistance (with every failure, you have to pick yourself up and go on); passion (those with a passion for what they do, a willingness to sacrifice, and the ability to suffer through the naysayers stand a better chance of survival); and relationships (“No one is successful alone.”).

At the conclusion of her speech, Perell joined three other panelists, Vanessa Dawson, founder of the Vinetta Project; SDSU alumnae, Kim Folsom (’90, management information systems), founder and co-CEO of Founders First Capital; and SDSU alumnae, Zeynep Ilgaz (’00, MBA), the president, CEO and founder of Confirm Bioscience. Panelists discussed what led them to start their businesses, the need to balance family life with work life, and what qualities they look for in potential employees (those that take initiative, make eye contact, are curious and are willing to ask for help topped their lists).

Like the women on the leadership panel, the entrepreneurship panelist said they believe that one of the primary keys to success is building a network with people you have met throughout your life. As Ilgaz pointed out: “Sometimes your friend might be your business partner – you never know.”

Andrea Roberts – SDSU Marketing Student and Founder of Rooted Rituals

Andrea Roberts

Andrea Roberts

Q: As a millennial and a woman, are there any special challenges you face in your role as a business owner?

A: I think right now is one of the best times to start a business as a woman because of all the awareness of the social constraints that have been created surrounding gender and sex.

Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to become entrepreneurs?

A: The only determining factors of whether you are worthy of being an entrepreneur is your own dedication and sense of purpose. Think deeply, feel deeply, and love deeply - this will allow you to empathize with people all over and identify issues.


Jeanine Naviaux – SDSU Finance Graduate (’90) and President and Founder of On The Inside Design

Jeanine Naviaux

Jeanine Naviaux

Q: As a woman entrepreneur do you face any special challenges?

A: It is amazing to this day, that we still are in such a male dominated society, that some people question my ability to run my business by being a female.

Q: If a woman is considering starting her own business, what are some of the most important first steps to take?

A: If you’re starting a business you cannot wear every hat. The majority of businesses go under due to not being organized financially. If you can, outsource your website and social media to experts. Concentrate on being organized with your clients, and running your business with honesty and integrity.

And don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the journey you are on with your clients and vendors. Love what you do and be passionate. A smile will always brighten your day.


Sarah Cooper – SDSU MBA Candidate and President of National Association of Women MBAs (SDSU Chapter)

Sarah Cooper

Sarah Cooper

Q: Where are some fields or industries where women have yet to make an impact?

A: Although women have made great strides over the last few decades, it does appear there are some industries where they are still vastly underrepresented by their male counterparts. For instance, women make up the majority of the healthcare industry, but only a small percentage of those are surgeons. Female CEOs are another area where companies are starting to look more favorably upon but it is still viewed with some skepticism. For the 2018 Fortune 500 list, only 24 of the leaders were women, which is down 25 percent from the previous year.

Q: What are some steps women need to take to gain more visibility in the workplace?

A: Become a mentor and don’t be shy about connecting people together. It is our job as women to empower each other rather than knock everyone out on our pursuit to the top. Instead, continue to strive and lean in wherever you are. Ask for that raise, apply for that promotion, and take the lead on that project. At the end of the day, it is important for all of us to remember how we made an impact for the leaders of tomorrow. By stepping outside of your comfort zone and paving a new path, women will be able to accomplish more than ever before!


Victoriana Gonzalez – SDSU Finance Major and Founder of Vaeana

Victoriana Gonzalez

Victoriana Gonzalez

Q: Who or what inspired you to establish Vaeana?

A: I was inspired to establish Vaeana after I received a positive response from my friends about my jewelry designs. As my business developed, however, I soon became aware of the damaging effects the fashion industry has on our environment. This realization inspired me to create sustainable jewelry made out of eco-friendly, recycled materials. The vision I have for Vaeana is to raise awareness about the negative effects of fast fashion and to reduce textile waste in our landfills one bracelet at a time.

Q: What advice would you offer other young women who are considering starting their own business?

A: Over the past few years, there are many valuable lessons I have learned through the process of trial and error. During this learning phase, I often faced big challenges and sometimes doubted my abilities. My biggest piece of advice for other young women entrepreneurs is to never fear failure and, most of all, never give up. The path of entrepreneurship is not always easy, but keeping a positive mind and determined attitude will make all the difference in your success.


Zaneta Owens – SDSU Management Graduate (’09) and Founder of Zaneta Owens

Zaneta Owens

Zaneta Owens

Q: As a woman, did you face any significant obstacles when you started your business?

A: Finding people that share in your vision and that stay with you for the long haul in the initial process.

Q: Who or what had the greatest impact on your decision to establish your own company?

A: The best decision I made, and still learning, is to surround yourself with positivity and people who motivate you. I am my ultimate motivator, but it helps when your friends and peers are pushing themselves too.