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Sherri Richards, Published January 16 2014

Women start it up: Women’s Startup Weekend looks to empower female entrepreneurs

Fargo - Ashley Hahn wanted to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. She also had an idea, one that would change physical therapy from isolated exercise to a game that would track the patient’s progress.

That’s why Hahn took part in last year’s Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event where the tech- and business-minded gather to pitch ideas and then break into teams to develop the most popular. Hahn’s pitch was one of the top vote-getters.

“It’s so much cool talent and ideas that come together in one weekend,” says Hahn, a project manager at Intelligent InSites of Fargo.

This month, Fargo will host another Startup Weekend, this time geared specifically to women across the state.

Of the 1,068 Startup Weekends completed worldwide, about 8 to 10 have been women’s edition events, says Claire Topalian, communications manager for UP Global, which oversees Startup Weekend and Startup America.

Hahn, who will mentor participants this time around, says there were very few women at the Fargo’s first Startup Weekend. It wasn’t awkward or intimidating for Hahn, whose electrical engineering classes were male-dominated, but she thinks the Women’s Startup Weekend will be empowering for women.

“Women interact a little differently than men,” she says. “It has a completely different feel and impact than the mixed (weekend).”

Dr. Susan Mathison, one of the Jan. 24-26 event’s organizers, says Startup Weekends foster creative collaboration, and women are by nature more collaborative.

“I think we flourish in the presence of other women,” she says.

Mathison was a judge at last year’s event and struck by the small number of women taking part. She hopes this event will have about 60 participants.

She believes there is an

“untapped entrepreneurial spirit” in women.

“Women are starting so many businesses, but I think sometimes we tend to think small,” Mathison says. “I wish we could encourage that big thinking, entrepreneurial mindset in women.”

Kari Warberg Block, of Bismarck, describes herself as a “serial entrepreneur.” She had bookkeeping and housecleaning services in high school. She started a balloon delivery service when she was 19.

Now she’s the founder and CEO of Earth-Kind, which makes an all-natural rodent repellent and an all-natural air freshener.

Block was named to Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program in 2012, and was the Small Business Administration’s 2013 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year.

Through the Winning Women program, she attended a meeting at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, a major funder of Startup Weekend. There, she says, she learned about the Startup movement, and then sent books about starting Startup communities to people around the state.

“When you engage with other entrepreneurs, it’s amazing,” Block says. “You create something that didn’t exist. It’s transformational.”

Block notes that women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men, but are not scaling their businesses, often because they don’t have the support they need. “Sometimes it might just be an introduction,” she says.

Block says she wants to be a good role model and help women reach their potential. She’s giving a kickoff speech at the Women’s Startup Weekend, and will be a coach.

By gearing the event toward women, Block says organizers hoped to see a better turnout of women than a traditional Startup Weekend. (Another is planned March 7-9).

“There’s some awesome ideas out there just dying to take root,” Block says. “I can’t wait to water them.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556