Doyenne founders hope to support women entrepreneurs in seven cities by 2023

The founders are working on expanding
Doyenne founders hope to support women entrepreneurs in seven cities by 2023
Paulius Musteikis

Seven years ago, two women looked around a room full of entrepreneurs and wondered out loud: “Where are the women?” The question turned into an entrepreneurial endeavor of their own, and Doyenne founders Amy Gannon and Heather Wentler have been busy training and mentoring women in charge of startups ever since.

Gannon and Wentler sat down with me to reflect on their success (including an expansion into Milwaukee) and share their ambitious plans to be up and running in five other cities across the country by 2023. Here is an edited version of the Q&A.

Finish the sentence: If you knew then what you know now …

AG: If I looked back, being able to tell the story of how small-group, boots-on-the-ground experiences are what grow entrepreneurs, not conferences with 300 people exchanging business cards – they’re not really what shifts an entrepreneur from “I don’t know” to “I do know” and from “I can’t” to “I can.” When we go into new cities, part of what we’re bringing is, “This is what we know from the hundreds of entrepreneurs we’ve worked with, and this is how you can do things efficiently.” This is the story that needs to be told if we’re going to really transform things.

How has Doyenne transformed Madison?

HW: When we look back to 2012 … Forward Fest was organized by men. Now 15 people lead the committee and 11 are women. Coworking spaces like 100state and Horizon Coworking were just getting up and going — [and all of them] were run by men. Now we have Synergy Coworking, Brix & Mortar Coworking, and Matrix Coworking — all run by women. When you think about leadership now, you have more diversity to draw on.

AG: A Doyenne presence in a city not only builds the Doyenne community, but it transforms the broader community in really powerful ways. It builds a better economy.

What are your expansion plans?

HW: Milwaukee will be our second location. Our vision is that in 2021 we start accepting applications and admit a cohort of five more cities and move them through a 12- to 18-month accelerator for Doyenne ecosystem builders.

AG: We’re not picking the cities. They’re saying, “This will be valuable in our city, and we want it.” We’re going where the energy is.

Are you hoping to launch and grow businesses of all sizes?

AG: The real gap is that the vast majority of women-led businesses are solo. But if you put the funding and peer network in place, more women will grow bigger businesses.

HW: Mom could be running the next Amazon and be a mom doing it. It’s not an either/or. Our goal is to change the narrative of what entrepreneurship looks like.

How will the expansion impact Madison?

HW: When the movement is national, it raises Madison’s profile. It shows that we as a community have figured out how to practice equity and inclusion.

AG: Doyenne women are building companies and changing the world. We’re going to be recognized as the place where that happens.

What do you want Doyenne to look like in five years?

HW: We’ve always described Doyenne as a movement, and movements don’t happen in
one city. We’d love to have a network of seven cities and 3,000 members, and the technology and design that allows them to benefit from each other.

AG: One of the things we’re looking at is growing angel investors — getting women to leverage their money, not just as philanthropists but as investors. Every city, with the support of Doyenne, could raise a $5 million fund. And if we’re in 10 cities, there’s $50 million that’s been mobilized on behalf of women entrepreneurs. We want people to say, “If you want to know how to shift your city and explore that intersection between inclusion and innovation, you need a presence like Doyenne here.”