Heather Wentler is a local entrepreneur and Executive Director of Doyenne Group. Below she shares with us her insights on building businesses, defining personal success, and the benefits of fostering an entrepreneurial fashion community in Madison.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in Madison’s entrepreneurial community.
I graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in Elementary Education. After teaching for about 4 years I was feeling a disconnect between how I wanted to teach my students and how the district wanted me to teach. I felt the schools were focused on teaching to the test and pushing textbooks with outdated examples on students. Whereas, I wanted to make learning experience-based, so students could learn through doing instead of filling in worksheets and taking paper tests.
In 2011 I founded my first business, Fractal. I had never taken a business class and was really hesitant on launching because I didn’t feel as prepared in the role of entrepreneur as I felt in the role of teacher. But I also knew I couldn’t continue to teach in schools. Fractal provides STEAM enrichment workshops and camps for school-aged participants to help bridge what they learn at school to how it applies to every day life. Since founding Fractal I’ve learned a lot and have also founded a community-based micro-granting event called Madison SOUP and co-founded Doyenne Group.
Doyenne Group has been, in my perspective, what’s “put me on the map” and immersed me in the entrepreneurial community in Madison. When I started Doyenne, Madison already had a thriving entrepreneurial scene that worked with a lot with startups in the tech and bio-tech sectors. But there weren’t many resources for entrepreneurs starting small businesses or lifestyle business in other sectors. I also noticed a huge gap in the gender diversity within the entrepreneurial scene as far as who was being represented and showing up to the events. Doyenne works with women entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses. And is also helping reshape the entrepreneurial scene in Madison and across Wisconsin to make sure events and programming are benefiting all entrepreneurs and all types of businesses.
What has been your biggest personal or business success and why?
This is a really hard question. I have always been a goal oriented person who set challenges for myself and works really hard to accomplish them. In that way, I’ve had a lot of successes. However, none of them register as my biggest success. I think that by having a hard time answering this question it also shows how our society doesn’t really acknowledge success as much as failure. Any failures I’ve had and how I overcame them are bigger successes to me than the outright success I’ve had.
If I had to pick, I would say seeing the success of others I’ve worked with are my biggest successes. When you see the proverbial lightbulb turn on within a student or see a business owner go for the big goal and reach it – those are the moments that stick with me the most, more so than what I’ve achieved on my own.
What principles and values do you live and work by?
“Nothing comes easy” and “It takes a community”. Everything that is worth having in life takes hardship and struggle to earn. If it doesn’t then was it something you really needed?
I recently met with an entrepreneur who was looking to build a brand. When I told them everything they needed to think about when launching their business they dropped their head in their hands and exclaimed “Oh my God, I didn’t think it was going to be this much work!” But when we worked on taking all of the tasks and breaking them down into smaller more manageable goals, that helped bring down the stress. During this experience the entrepreneur also realized that they couldn’t do it alone and that they would have to bring on others to help. When you start engaging your community around what you’re doing it helps bring in customers, clients, potential partnerships and other resources that you didn’t even know were available.
What kind of impact do you think a strong fashion community will have on Madison?
A strong fashion community will bring talent to Madison and help retain our current talent. Right now we hear a lot about “brain drain” happening from the University. Entrepreneurs and young professionals are feeling like they need to leave the city in order to make it big.
Fashion is a sector that brings many industries and people together. And even if some people don’t want to admit it, fashion is part of our everyday lives. It influences so many aspects. I think there are a lot of people in Madison who are interested in the fashion industry and are looking for ways to get more involved locally.
When people say “Wisconsin is about 3-5 years behind the trends” there is a lot of truth to that statement. Many of the people who would help influence trends and contribute to a fashion-forward culture are leaving, instead of helping keep us up to date. Building a strong fashion community will help talented and creative entrepreneurs stay in Madison and combat the brain drain.
What advice do you have for our readers who may be wanting to start their own fashion business?
Do it! I meet too many people that hold back on their dreams, are waiting for the perfect time, or for the stars to align to follow what their gut is telling them is the right choice. I would guess that you already have people within your network that would be able to help you figure out how to start or who to get in touch with to create a plan to start. Don’t hesitate, you can do it! I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be a scary, up and down roller coaster of a ride. But not matter what, it’s going to be the best ride of your life. Even with all the failures or stressors that come along, there are going to be huge highs and accomplishments that you never thought you would be able to reach.
Finding someone to help you create a plan of action and create a business model is the first step you should take. There are lots of resources in Madison that are able to help. Don’t settle for someone just because they’re there. Find the right people to support and help you along on your journey.
Give us the deets on Doyenne Group! What sorts of things do you have happening and how can we get involved?
Doyenne is currently fundraising for two years of programming and an Evergreen Fund to start dispersing funds to women-led ventures. There are various ways for anyone to get involved, no matter their experience or level of commitment. I would suggest every woman become a Doyenne member ($100/yr). Membership helps open the door to our network of mentors, investors, corporations and connections to help you on your journey. The next step would be to attend a Retreat, which are held three times a year with the next one being June 25-27. At the retreats we help entrepreneurs develop a plan of action to move you forward with your business and get you down the right path to reach your goals. There are other ways we work with entrepreneurs throughout the year so continuing to watch our website and joining our mailing list are great ways to stay up to date with what we’re doing.