Wonder women: Downtown’s female entrepreneurs get a voice at TED talk offshoot

Alexia Vernon, co-organizer of the TedxFremontEastWomen event at ArtSquare last weekend, helped provide an environment where women could voice their concerns and ideas.
Photo: Vincent Cu

When you think of “ladies night” in Las Vegas, chances are chats about computer programming or social entrepreneurship aren’t what come to mind. But that was exactly the sort of cocktail conversation—and more—overheard Saturday evening following TedxFremontEastWomen, an independently organized TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) event showcasing female entrepreneurship in Downtown Las Vegas.

The event at Art Square was organized by local entrepreneurs Alexia Vernon and Jessica Tomlinson in conjunction with TEDxWomen’s day, an international event featuring similar conversations around the world.

“We are at a really exciting time as a city in terms of ensuring that our recent hiccups to success become actual progress,” says Vernon, creator of women’s empowerment platform Step Into Your Moxie. “Women’s voices are important to that conversation, particularly with respect to Downtown. I often get invited to speak in Downtown Las Vegas, but often I’m the only woman in the room ... The intention with this was to create a space for folks involved in the Downtown movement to hear how much phenomenal work is being done by women in this community.”

Vernon and Tomlinson held an open submission process. The response was overwhelming, despite the fact that many had never spoken in a public forum before.

The event, which also incorporated TED videos and livestreams from the main TEDxWomen 2012 event in Washington DC, featured discussions that embodied feminist Carol Hanisch’s famous call-to-arms, “the personal is political”: a combination of personal stories infused with broader issues, designed to inspire participants to take action within their own lives and the community.

The day’s eight talks were led by community innovators—some well known, others emerging—whose careers and backgrounds broadened the definition of entrepreneur beyond the boardroom.

Stephanie Payne, founder of the local women’s group Very Awesome Girls Into Nerdy Activities, spoke about building community around “geekdom” and interests such as gaming, cosplay and comic books that traditionally tend to obfuscate women’s voices. Jennifer Magnolfi, who oversaw Coworking Development for Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, gave what was perhaps the most theoretical talk of the day, speaking on the impact of infrastructure design Downtown and its relationship to the community members living and working within it.

On the other end of the spectrum, Danielle Ford’s “Re-inventing Teen Motherhood” was among the most deeply personal moments, infusing her own experience as a teen mother with the broader issues of teen pregnancy. Ford, a Las Vegas native, founded Young Moms Club, an online resource designed to connect, educate and empower young mothers around the world.

The 100 or so attendees included locals in the startup sector, female community leaders and others who were simply curious to see what the event was about. Vernon estimates about 30 percent of the audience was men.

“I’m new to the city, but today I felt a real sense of community and making things happen,” said one male audience member, reflecting on his experience. “People call this the city of sin, but there’s a new one I’ve heard—the city of light. I think that’s a much better fit.”

The crowd’s reflections were perhaps the most striking part of the day. After the talk, “Live Your Life, Not Someone Else’s,” by Downtown Project writer Kim Schaefer, a 60-year-old woman shared a newfound realization to change careers, while another simply expressed a desire to start “showing up to life.”

Though TedxWomen is only held once a year, Vernon hopes the event will trigger a chain reaction of continued discussion through social media, future public forums and events. “I hope we’ll start to see a citizenry that brings up conversations that women often have behind closed doors into more and more of the events that happen,” she says. “We need to make sure that decisions that are being made about our community really reflect community members.”

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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