Mary is a co-founder of Athena League, a grassroots effort to foster and empower female entrepreneurs and professionals through panels and events. She is also the marketing communications manager at Triple-I, one of Kansas City’s premier technology consultancies.
Would you explain the format and rationale behind the Athena meet-ups?
We were founded on the premise that you can’t be what you can’t see. Athena League fosters and empowers early-stage and established female entrepreneurs by providing them with the community and support necessary to succeed. We work to elevate awareness of the innovative women who are building our Silicon Prairie via our monthly speaker series (VOX), our blog and social media efforts, and our quarterly happy hours (Inspiritus). Specifically, our speaker series typically feature an early-stage female entrepreneur and an established female entrepreneur. Together, they share their stories and focus on resources used to start their business, discuss mentors along the way, share challenges experienced and provide insight and guidance. Also, both speakers learn something new from one another on stage and share those “aha” moments together – it’s really inspiring. We work to pair our speakers well – they are either in the same industry, could be potential partners or provide complementary services and solutions. This also makes the conversation flow well.
Our attendees range from both male and female entrepreneurs to business professionals who either want to start their own business or who want to join a startup; so, the goal of our events is to encourage women to unlock their economic power. Attendees are the key to our events. We always allot 20-30 minutes for Q&A so attendees can ask the experts questions that’ll directly impact their career or business.
We host our events after business hours at venues that reflect creativity and innovation, or at a business that opens its doors to us. We feel this encourages our speakers, as well as our attendees, to embrace some bolder topics and conversation.
What themes or topics tend to be discussed more than others?
Great things are born from diversity. So, we often talk about how to overcome a mindset of fear. Our entrepreneurs will discuss how they embrace risk and overcome challenges (or as I like to think, how to maintain enthusiasm), such as work-life fit, raising capital or growing a customer base. It’s important to note that we work to foster an environment of inclusion; so, we also talk about how to better partner with other women and men who can significantly impact their business. Essentially, we want to inspire more women to find their voice and share their story — we all have one to tell.
The participation in Athena is impressive. What types of promotions would you credit for this support?
Thank you! We have a great community that has been so supportive of Athena League since our inception. From One KC for Women and Central Exchange to the Greater KC Chamber, PIPELINE and Kauffman Foundation (and many more) our community partners serve as an extension of our brand. We work to co-promote and co-support each other’s programs and events to collectively foster and empower more female entrepreneurs.
Our founding companies are still actively involved, and offer marketing and promotional support. We also have great annual sponsors (Missouri Bank, Polsinelli, CXL), and we couldn’t host our events without them. Ultimately, we’re all working to make Kansas City the national hub for female entrepreneurs and women business owners.
What has surprised you the most since Athena League has started?
This is a tough one. We often hear how there aren’t enough female-owned businesses and entrepreneurs in the region. But, we have no shortage of innovative, creative, amazing women to hear from each month. Kansas City really is a hub for female entrepreneurs who have exciting, great stories to tell. We need to not only inspire all of them to share it, but we also need to ask more women to the table. They’re willing and ready. And that’s where we help. Athena League serves as an advocate for them, providing a venue and reach to share their stories so that they can inspire even more of us to start our own businesses. I’m excited to see what increasing the community of like-minded females, and men, brings in terms of regional growth and energy.
What is your latest epiphany?
We often read or hear, “Women are more risk-averse than men.” I truly believed this, until one of our speakers, Sara Mary Hall, the founder and CEO of Orion BioScience, said something at our panel that made me realize this is a mindset we as society have to combat.
Sara said, “I don’t believe in that. Women do the riskiest thing in life, and that is having children. We’re responsible for the life of past, present and future generations.”
This mindset isn’t just privy to one region or type of women. It was likely handed down from generations and generations before us (and so on); so now, we as a society need to conquer this mindset. By doing so, we can inspire more women to unlock their economic power. As I said earlier, “Great things are born from diversity.” So, let’s start with the right mindset.