In startups or fashion, women of DWEN dream big

Isabella Rose Taylor, CEO of the Isabella Rose Taylor fashion line, and Catherine Graham, CEO of Commonsku, share their success stories.

Isabella Rose Taylor on stage at DWEN. Credit: Isabella Rose Taylor

What does it take to become a modern-day female entrepreneur? Passion, dedication and an infectious drive to see your vision brought to life. And according to at least one 13-year-old CEO, it also takes glitter.

Last month, the Dell’s Women Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) hosted its annual conference to celebrate powerful and inspiring women leaders in business. The conference is one of Dell’s most exciting endeavors, as it is part of an ongoing initiative to unite and empower female entrepreneurs worldwide.

This year’s conference showcased an inspiring cadre of strong, successful female businesswomen who shared their stories about overcoming professional challenges, squelching criticism and how they managed to turn their dreams into realities.

The most compelling aspect of a conference like DWEN isn’t what these women achieved but how they did it.

Tech Page One spoke to Isabella Rose Taylor and Catherine Graham, two radically different entrepreneurs who are both bold and positive in their professional lives.

Isabella Rose Taylor, CEO of Isabella Rose Taylor fashion line

At 13 years old, Isabella might be the most ambitious entrepreneur of her generation at DWEN. However, the young fashion designer refuses to let her age overshadow her business goals.

“I think my age is sometimes a novelty,” she said. “I’d really rather focus on my work. But I do think it’s encouraging that I’m young, to be able to show other girls like me that you can start now.”

Isabella’s strong focus has resulted in an impressive fashion line that has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal and on NBC’s “Today” show.

TPO: What inspired you to create your own fashion line?

Taylor: It’s been an organic process. I started painting when I was around 3, and when I was about 8 or 9, I started to really aggregate and mix mediums in my art. I wanted to learn how to sew. I got my mom to sign me up for sewing camp, and I fell in love with it. I’ve always been into fashion, but I’ve never thought about making clothes. But once I made my first garment, I was hooked. I just kept sewing, and I finished one week of camp, and said, “Sign me up again!” This kept going, and I sewed my first collection, all by myself!

TPO: Was there a specific moment when you felt like you had really turned your fashion line idea into a reality?

Taylor: I started getting that feeling when I’d travel and people commented on the clothes I was wearing from my collection. One time, I was shopping in L.A., and a group of girls asked me where I got my dress. They asked if I got it at the store we were in because they wanted one — that store was LF. That was a big moment. And then after I had done Austin Fashion Week, I sold some of my pieces. I felt really encouraged by that and wanted to keep going.

TPO: What do you think it takes to turn an idea into a reality?

Taylor: So much determination and perseverance, especially in light of people who aren’t excited about your idea — you just have to stay focused and keep pushing forward in order to make things happen. I really learned that. You also need to be able to be open to changes, if something just really isn’t working. I always say you have to have blood, sweat … and glitter. The glitter is for imagination and creativity.

Catherine Graham, CEO of Commonsku

Graham says she came up with her business Commonsku because of “a pain point.” She said she felt frustrated by the array of platforms and products used to run a promotional products business in 2000, which led her to develop a more productive solution. Her online business management software transformed how businesses self-promote and created a community for companies to connect and pool their knowledge.

TPO: When was the first time you felt real success with Commonsku?

Graham: I think the first time was actually when we brought our first data customer on board … watching the transformation that their organizations went through, that what we were building worked and that it actually was transferable beyond our organization. That was a great feeling.

TPO: What is it like being CEO of your own company?

Graham: There’s the daily joy of being in the manifestation of what’s been built. The technology itself, the customer experience, it’s all really exciting. There’s also the daily stress, of course, of running a business and, particularly, a startup. Something always needs attention. The entrepreneurial journey is often a lonely one, so, having to be the only one to make decisions can often be stressful and challenging. On the flip side, there’s the ability to decide how and when to work, and you get to run your own show. That’s a really positive upside to outweigh the downside!

TPO: What do you think an entrepreneur really needs to have to make a dream into a reality?

Graham: Deep, deep understanding of your customer’s problem and recognition or a proof point that you’re solving that problem. In a lot of places, people create businesses in search of problems versus creating a business that truly solves a very real problem.

TPO: What advice do you have for other female entrepreneurs?

Graham: I can’t emphasize it enough: Develop a network. If you don’t have people you can turn to, who can help you along the way and who have been there before you to offer perspective, you will make a lot of mistakes that you could have avoided otherwise. And not being afraid to reach out for help. I think women in particular are not good at asking for help, and that recognition of being able to put yourself out there and admit that you don’t know the answer and to ask someone to help will hugely propel your business in terms of where you can go.

Katie Manderfield
Katie Manderfield is a writer, producer and digital strategist based in New York City. She specializes in thought leadership, emerging trends, and cultural intersections. Her work has appeared in Fast Company, Business Insider and on NPR.
Katie Manderfield
Katie Manderfield
Tags: Business,Entrepreneurship,Leadership,Tech Culture,Technology