4th Annual WE* Conference: Customer, Customer, Customer! 2017

Minneapolis MN

Apr 5, 2017

Join hundreds of women entrepreneurs for the 4th annual Women in Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by WE*. This year, it's all about the customer and how to keep them at the heart of your business throughout the value chain. The half day seminar will feature successful entrepreneurs and professionals sharing personal success stories and lessons learned related to product testing, user experience, manufacturing, retail and marketing.

The day will kickoff with DEED Commissioner and entrepreneur Shawntera Hardy, followed by multiple speakers and concluding with a special keynote from ed-tech entrepreneur Cecilia Retelle of Ranku, now part of Wiley.

From TechCruch: Ranku was acquired by Wiley in late 2016 for around $25 million. A strong exit for a startup that had only raised $650,000. The startup scored that seed round in 2014 from Mark Cuban, Lerer Hippeau Ventures, Microsoft Accelerator, Archangel and Deborah Quazzo. Ranku’s story is also a testament to the power of pivots. The startup changed directions several times. The company was founded in 2013 by Kim Taylor and Cecilia Retelle Zywicki.

The networking reception following the keynote will feature table-top discussions with different funding sources.

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Camille Thomas

President and CEO, JMC Retail Group

Bio: Camille Thomas joined JMC Retail Group in 1996 as owner, President and CEO. Under her strong leadership, JMC has tripled in size, and is now recognized as a prominent strategic business partner by both the retail and manufacturing communities. If you are talking about the future of retail shopping, the history of retail success or the new next-best item, Camille can help you. This retail and manufacturing expert has traveled the world studying product, factories and retailers to bring back the knowledge and insight to share with all business partners. An action-oriented individual, Camille brings 30 years of extensive retail and worldwide manufacturing experience to each project. Clients trust her ability to take a project from strategic to tactical. Her vision, financial savviness and creativity make a perfect combination in the retail world. Camille and her team have received 24 Vendor of Excellence awards from their largest customer, Target, as well as numerous sales achievement awards. She is a member of C200, Women Presidents’ Organization, and mentor to MN Cup and The Business Journal Mentoring Monday.

Elise Maxwell

Founder, Ova Woman

Bio: Elise Maxwell is a women's health researcher and market insights consultant with extensive experience interviewing women about health and wellness. Elise founded Ova Woman, a women's health consultancy that leverages human-centered design thinking principles to conduct market research on topics that are often considered "taboo" because of their intimate nature. Elise received her MBA from the Carlson School of Management. She currently works as a New Markets Consultant Principal with the Stella Healthcare Incubator.

Emily Genco

Content Strategist, MentorMate

Bio: As a brand storyteller and strategist, Emily mobilizes the art of language to drive action through content from conceptualization to delivery. Her work blends creative reasoning and structure. A firm believer that rhythm, tone and voice make a brand worth experiencing, she is dedicated to forging meaningful connections during each stage of the consumer journey. Emily joined the technology sector in 2015 as a content strategist for MentorMate. She is a proud Badger alumna and holds a degree with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Journalism School.

Emily Stickler

Director of Strategy, Curb Crowser

Bio: Emily Stickler is a strategic marketing and communications leader with a passion for insights-driven strategy and creating programs for brands that deliver at market. With expertise in brand building, digital and social strategy, external and executive communications, and media relations, Emily brings a diverse background of retail, non-profit, start-up and higher education work to her role at Curb Crowser as the Director of Strategy.

Jen Alstad

President & Co-Founder, Bswing

Bio: Jen Alstad is the founder of bswing, a research design firm that partners with companies committed to transforming human health and unlocking human potential. As a pioneer in the human centered design world, she has been using ethnographic research and insights to find opportunities to meet people’s needs using design, technology and culture change since 1997. She was named SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000 and currently serves on the boards of the MN Women's Economic Roundtable, The Bush Foundation, and Allina Health.

Shruti Acharya

Owner And Principal, Shrutles Marketing Communications

Bio: I’ve worked in marketing communications for coming on 15 years now and I have no idea where time has gone. I know I’ve had an absolute professional riot in this time. A good, brain developing, fulfilling riot. Not the scary kind. Beginning working life agency side, I had the pleasure to work on a roster of luxury and entertainment clients in Consumer PR. After a career side-step into commercial sales, I headed up PR and Corporate Communications for Michael Page, a global recruitment firm with responsibility for both B2B and B2C communications. A move across the Atlantic, and the desire to see how digital and communications can work together hand-in-hand, landed me in social media and digital marketing consulting. A long-term contractor at General Mills, I was tasked with both social and digital marketing communications efforts for Yoplait Greek, General Mills Careers and more recently Chex and General Mills Cereal Portfolio. Broadly this meant taking a vision of compelling ideas and translating that into communications that lift business. It meant going deep into consumer behaviors online and knowing how to make your message and content resonate across numerous digital channels. Layer on top of that media spend, analytics and the ever-changing world of content innovation and you have that fulfilling riot I spoke of earlier. Outside of work, I have served as VP Marketing for Minnesota Women of Marketing Communications and more recently added ͞Mother͟ to my list of jobs.

Lee Hersh

Founder and Content Creator, Fit Foodie Finds

Bio: Lee is a Minnesota-based, full-time professional blogger at FitFoodieFinds.com, a healthy food and fitness blog that she founded in 2010. Lee specializes in healthy recipe development, food photography, and fitness/lifestyle-based content creation. Her background is in social media; she began her career at Anytime Fitness HQ as a social media manager. Today, Lee runs a total of 3 websites, 2 of which are with her business partner Davida Kugelmass. SHEuncovered.com is a lifestyle blog that focuses on DIY all-natural beauty product development and design inspiration. TheBloggerProject.com is a consulting business devoted to spreading the knowledge of professional blogging with an emphasis in female entrepreneurship.

Lee Wallace

CEO, Peace Coffee

Bio: Lee Wallace is the Queen Bean of Peace Coffee, a mission-driven coffee company based in Minneapolis. Founded in 1996 by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Peace Coffee works for economic justice for coffee farmers, promoting healthy local economies and sustainable business practices. Historically a wholesale company, Peace Coffee has been expanding into retail and is currently operating four coffee shops in the Minneapolis area. Named one of Minneapolis’ 40 Under 40 in 2012, Lee speaks frequently about fair trade, ethical business and building a successful company. Lee’s professional background includes entrepreneurship, economic development, small business incubation, and natural foods. In her spare time, Lee enjoys reading, gardening, playing ice hockey and collecting pets.

Liz Barrere


Bio: As CEO, Liz most recently led the turnaround of ILLUME, a privately held home fragrance and beauty company. By re-inventing and elevating the brand and the company, she quadrupled revenue and profitability while also transforming ILLUME into an award-winning industry leader. Liz then orchestrated the sale of the company to a larger private equity group. Previously Liz directed home product development for Marshall Field’s department stores. She launched several new brands and designer collaborations resulting in double-digit growth. Prior to that, Liz began her product development career with a fast-growing direct-to-consumer retail start-up, Rivertown Trading Company. The company was a for profit subsidiary of Minnesota Public Radio that grew to $150 million, and eventually sold to Target to become what is now Target.com.

Mary Hughitt

Account Director, Star

Bio: Mary is Global Account Director at Star where she helps Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurs alike connect face-to-face with their target audiences. From retail environments to trade shows, event work to corporate interiors, Mary drives the strategy that turns meaningful customer interactions into business growth. Prior to joining Star, Mary specialized in building national TV and Radio campaigns through directly accountable media – delivering strong ROI and brand awareness for her clients. A University of Minnesota alumna, Mary holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism (Strategic Communication) from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Savannah Reising

Marketing Director, Astro HQ

Bio: Savannah Reising is the Director of Marketing for the local tech startup Astropad. During her time as an undergrad at the Carlson School of Management, she interned with the Minnesota Cup team, which fueled her fire for entrepreneurship. These days, she’s passionate about tech, art, and her cat Frida.

Shawntera Hardy

Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

Bio: Shawntera Hardy was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to serve as Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) on April 14, 2016. Ms. Hardy – who has pledged her strong commitment to building an economy that works for all Minnesotans, everywhere in Minnesota – brings policy expertise, organizational management, and a wealth of public and private sector experience to the Department. As Commissioner of the state's principal economic development agency, she is focused on creating jobs, promoting business recruitment, expansion, and retention, advancing state workforce training and development, and supporting international trade and community development. Prior to serving as Commissioner of DEED, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith. In that role, Ms. Hardy worked on a wide range of policy and operational issues. As a member of the Governor's senior leadership team, she coordinated the Administration's response to crises impacting the state, including floods, fires, and public health emergencies. Hardy was instrumental in advancing the Administration's policy initiatives, helping manage Minnesota's state agencies, and expanding the state's community outreach efforts. She also helped lead the Governor's efforts to diversify the ranks of state government, and expand economic opportunity for Minnesotans of color. Ms. Hardy has also previously worked in senior leadership positions at several Minnesota organizations. Ms. Hardy has worked as a policy director at Fresh Energy, where she worked on environmental and transportation policy, and as manager of government relations for HealthPartners' hospital division. Before joining HealthPartners, Hardy served as a city planner for the City of Saint Paul and as a legislative assistant in the Ohio House of Representatives. Additionally, Ms. Hardy is a co-founder and the director of strategic growth for Civic Eagle – a civic technology and data analytics company committed to developing tools that bridge civic engagement and social networking. She is also the founder of PolicyGrounds Consulting, LLC – a policy and planning strategy firm. Commissioner Hardy is committed to volunteering and serving the community. Hardy most recently served as: Board President of the YWCA of Saint Paul; Board member of the Wilder Foundation; and Board member of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. Additionally, Hardy is the co-founder of Power Moves MN – an organization focused on empowering women of color and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. To ensure access to educational opportunities, Hardy co-founded the Fatima Kinshasa Memorial Fund and the Pioneer Scholars Award both at The Ohio State University. Recently, Ms. Hardy was selected as a Twin Cities Business 100 People to know in 2017, as a Minnesota Business Magazine 2016 (Real) Power 50 Finalist, as a Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal 2015 "Forty Under Forty" honoree, and as a participant in the 2015 Young American Leaders Program at Harvard Business School. Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Commissioner Hardy holds a Bachelor of Science in Consumer Affairs from The Ohio State University, and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning – which she attended as a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fellow.

Susan Dordal

Senior Manager, Merchandising, Jet.com

Bio: Results driven, passionate & entrepreneurial team player with broad skills and proven accomplishments in buying & merchandise planning. Determined to make the world a better place through business. Interested in sustainability, renewable energy and green tech. Fascinated by AI, Machine Learning and VR/AR.

Cecilia Retelle Zywiki

Vice President, Central Operations, John Wiley and Sons, Ranku

Jena Sargent

Business Manager, WhiteBoard Product Solutions



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