Savvy women business owners in Washington, D.C. have discovered Awesome Women Entrepreneurs, an organization that since 2014 has welcomed female founders at all stages of entrepreneurship, from side hustle to seasoned leaders, to connect, collaborate and support one another on their entrepreneurial journeys.
Karen Bate and Evelyn Powers co-founded AWE in Arlington, VA. Karen Bate shared the back story. “We noticed the phenomenon of women quitting the corporate world and going on to open a business. We thought it would be good to get together with a few of those women whom we knew, to connect and commiserate in a relaxed, social gathering,” Cofounder Karen Bate said.
She and Evelyn Powers started AWE in Arlington, VA in 2014 after leaving corporate America behind to start their own businesses. “Evelyn and I have been friends and colleagues for years. We‘d worked together, we were in a running group and an exercise group together. We both had our own businesses and we saw each other regularly. In January 2014, we sent out 12 email invitations and 25 women showed up — some of them we didn’t know,” she shared. “We did it again and invited 25 women and 50 women came. In a year, we had 100 women showing up.”
The duo realized they were on to something. Powers voted to name the fledgling group Awesome Women Entrepreneurs because the women were exactly that — awesome. The women who attended those first AWE meetings were ambitious and successful entrepreneurs. They were also wives and mothers and involved in their communities.
“We wanted to create a safe space where women could talk, get to know each other and network. We didn’t want to create an accelerator, we wanted to alleviate pressure. Women already have pressure. They have a business, they have kids,” Powers said.
Bate agreed. “We’re like a book club without the book.”
AWE quickly became a place where women in business were able to help each other to thrive and survive. Bate said women began to hire and refer each other, developing a natural and organic referral network. Powers said, “The women collaborate and go after big projects together, projects that they couldn’t take on by themselves.”
More than a networking group for women business owners, the members of AWE consider themselves a sisterhood that is built on a mission to forge meaningful relationships as they grow their businesses and brands — and have fun as they do. The awesome women of AWE know they are stronger together and that they can have a huge impact on each other and the business world.
Powers and Bate were thrilled by the success of the group but as they examined the logistics of creating a second chapter it became clear that they were presiding over a new business entity that required management, funding, marketing and a growth strategy. Fortunately, the co-founders had the know-how required to nurture their startup and engineer the scale.
“We have complementary skill sets. We’re like bread and butter,” Powers said.
Her expertise is in website design, making her a natural for managing the tech infrastructure that supports operational functions ranging from secure online payment of annual dues to registration for meetings and special events, mundane processes that nevertheless translate into good customer service and a positive member experience. Bate’s expertise in branding and social media strategy guided her to effectively articulate and promote the AWE story and benefits to current and potential members, corporate sponsors and the public.
Annual membership dues are $155 and chapter meetings are $15 for members and $20 for guests. The chapters meet from September to June and feature local expert speakers who address topics of interest to business owners, including sales skills, financial management and legal overviews.
Enhancing the benefits of membership is an ongoing quest for Bate and Powers and in 2017, they unveiled The AWE Show, a podcast based on the weekly live radio program that the two host on WERA 96.7 FM in Arlington. AWE members have been invited to appear, along with local industry leaders.
In 2019, Bate and Powers presented the first annual AWE Summit, a dynamic gathering of women entrepreneurs that featured some of Metro DC’s most respected business leaders and influencers as speakers and panel discussion guests. The AWE Summit 2020 will also include inspiring speakers and informative panel discussions, plus a 30-second pitch contest that will award $2500 in funding. The next summit is scheduled for March 12.
Today, six AWE chapters in D.C., Maryland and Virginia host business and professional development workshops and provide networking and referral opportunities for members.