Malika Jacobs (MBA ’10) stepped into ballroom of the Blackwell Inn to attend the 2019 Women’s Leadership Conference. Already slated to lead one of the breakout sessions, she also wanted to learn what she could from the other speakers.

The theme of the annual event, hosted by Fisher Graduate Women in Business (FGWIB), was cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset — a perfect fit for Jacobs. She is the founder of Kingmakers, a board game parlor in Columbus.

“The conference was insightful and inspirational, and the energy was palpable,” she said. “The format — beginning with a lunch panel, continuing with smaller breakout sessions and ending with a lively keynote, allowed anyone interested in entrepreneurship, whether they're thinking about starting their own business or growing their particular team or business within a larger company, the opportunity to learn from success stories of all shapes and sizes.”

The panel, moderated by Rhonda Talford Knight (M.Ed '99, PhD '10) president and founder of Knight Consulting Group, featured four women leaders:

  • Paula Bennett (BSBA ’71), former CEO of J. Jill, Inc.
  • Camille Gibson (MBA ’83), former VP of marketing for General Mills
  • Angel Harris, executive director of Dress for Success Columbus
  • Kara Trott (JD ’91), founder and CEO of Quantum Health

While discussing entrepreneurship, Bennett said she defined it as “the joy of creating value through doing things you love, continually learning and teaching, and always looking ahead.”

Gibson described what she learned during her tenure at General Mills: “To me, one of the biggest things is having a mindset of tenacity, to never give up.”

Harris said succeeding as an entrepreneur means picking a profession you love because it makes a tremendous difference in how you view what you’re doing.

Trott spoke about leadership qualities, urging conference attendees to start with “yes and” as opposed to “no.”

“I hear too many people start with ‘No, it won’t work because...’” she said. “I tend to say ‘Tell me all the ways you can make it work. Let’s explore. It may not work, but let’s not shut things down yet. Let’s explore the ‘yes and’ because that’s where the possibilities exist.”

Mariel Behnke credited fellow second-year MBA student Nikki Cupp (BS ’14) for leading the student-run event. The conference, Behnke said, was created to mirror the organization’s goals.

“Overall, we want to create more socially responsible business graduates and leaders who are building a better business environment and driving better business results for everybody by helping the development and empowerment of everybody in the company, especially of women,” she said.

Natalie Keller Pariano, founder of NatterDoodle, delivered the event’s keynote. She spoke of making the entrepreneurial leap from higher education to starting her own stationery, home goods and gifts business. She began that journey by creating hand-lettered artwork and sharing them on Instagram with the hashtag #NatterDoodle. As time went on, her designs became increasingly popular and before long her brand was born.

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Natalie Keller Pariano, founder of NatterDoodle (right)

“I had been on track for an incredible career in academia and, all of the sudden, I realized life isn’t about pursuing one big dream; it’s about listening to all the little tugs on your heart and following them like a choose-your-own-adventure story,” Pariano said.

She eventually stepped away from her day job and opened her flagship store in Clintonville this past fall.

Andris Koh, one of student leaders of FWGIB, was impressed by the keynote presentation.

“Even though we were in a large room, it felt like a very intimate conversation was taking place; we felt personally connected to it,” she said.

“What I took away from this conference is knowing that I am a woman and proud to be serving my community; that I am contributing as a business student, but once I graduate, what can I do? Listening to these speakers, that’s something that has really helped me frame my mindset moving forward: to strengthen some of my relationships with my friends, my colleagues and also with some staff and faculty here at Fisher.”

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Attendees watch Natalie Keller Pariano speak about launching her own business.

Sara Ireland, a program assistant with the Fisher Leadership Initiative, was grateful for the opportunity to attend the event.

“Although this conference was designed for business-minded females, all the sessions provided testimonials and professional advice that can apply to various settings,” she said.

And it was ultimately a well-spent day for Jacobs, who described the event’s lasting impacts on her.

“I made some connections that I will fold into my network in Columbus,” she said. “I felt energized, and have noticed that I've taken some steps this week in taking some risks and advocating for myself that I probably wouldn't have.”