Doyenne celebrates 10 years

By: Heather Wentler

This month Doyenne turns 10! Double-freakin’-digits! An entire decade working at one job, how many millennials can say that (ha!) 

I have been asked by some of you how we’re going to celebrate and what emotions I am processing right now, that’s a big question with lots of ways to respond.

It all started a long, long time ago…

If you haven’t heard the Doyenne origin story, here’s the cliffnotes version:

Amy and I met through my husband Chris while they were co-organizing a local entrepreneurial hackathon event called Startup Weekend Madison in April 2012. At the event, Amy was venting to Chris about how there were 130 people in the room and only 10 were women.

Chris called me, I grumbled a lot about not wanting to go to another event where I was going to be told what I “should do” and said “Duh! I’m glad someone else is saying it too” to him saying there was a woman there saying all the same things I say about why women don’t show up and how they are treated at entrepreneurial events. He somehow convinced me to drag myself off the very comfortable couch and attend the event to meet Amy.

Little did I know that meeting Amy would forever change my life. And that I’d now be celebrating 10 years of this “little, women business support thing” her and I started, called Doyenne. Before we formally launched at Forward Fest in August of 2012, Amy and I spent about 6 months “dating”, which meant lots of gluten-free treats and cocktails, pool time with her kids, and getting to know about each other’s values and goals to figure out if we wanted to co-found a company together. We also were very real with each other about what our other life priorities were and how to make space for all of them while also tackling gender equity within entrepreneurial ecosystems - not a space that’s typically thought of valuing work-life balance.

Over the past 10 years, Doyenne has probably gone through about 20+ strategy plans. We have implemented and trashed different programs, initiatives, and ways we engage in the community, but we have always stayed true to being 100% dedicated to supporting women and marginalized gender/s entrepreneurs building scalable, innovative ventures.

The numbers don’t tell the stories

To date, Doyenne has supported over 3,000 entrepreneurs across Wisconsin. In 2020 & 2021 we started having people from across the country attend and participate in programming and supporting entrepreneurs. This national approach has long been a dream of Doyenne and while the model as to how we’re reaching this has changed, we’re doing it!

We do this all on a shoestring budget and lots of volunteers. 95 cents of every dollar brought into the organization directly supports entrepreneurs through: 

  • Develop the Entrepreneurs: Staff & volunteer time working with entrepreneurs and leading programming

  • Fund the Ventures: Funding initiatives through Doyenne and discussions with others as to why the traditional funding model for ventures is broken and needs to change for more people to qualify for funding

  • Transform the Narrative: Community outreach support to share why the work we do is important and how it changes economic prosperity across a community

I could go on and on about our impact to date, but it’s only half the story. Statistics don’t tell the actual impact Doyenne creates for entrepreneurs who work with us. And I will be the first to say that one thing we really fall short on is sharing those stories. 

For a snapshot of stories that need to be amplified more, just take a look at back articles of Brick by Brick for our In the Spotlight articles. These articles are just the tip of the iceberg for who we’ve worked with and how they’ve increased their success through Doyenne programming, funding initiatives, and collaborations.

Amy and I used to joke that one day we’d be the old ladies showing up to events who everyone rolled their eyes at while we said things like “Back in my day we didn’t have events where only those who identify as woman were highlighted on stages, that is, if they were even allowed up there at all”. Everyone would have assumed we meant some time like 50+ years ago, but when we launched in 2012, if you saw one woman on a stage at a day-long conference it was considered gender equitable. The other “solution” was (and continues) the creation of special events just for women, usually with the word Woman in the event title, so that the main events could say “we checked the woman box by having this opportunity instead” and carry on with none to one woman on a stage at the main event. 

We still have a long way to go to reach full gender equity across all races, ethnicities, and gender identities, but over the past 10 years we’re finally seeing more representation on stages across entrepreneurial spaces and within the press beyond the “white, 20-something bro in jeans and a hoodie who coded something in his dorm room” as Amy used to reference all the time.

Emotional Rollercoaster

When I work with entrepreneurs I frequently tell them the entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster. There are so many high and low spots that are going to send your stomach into a spiral, have you laughing so hard you have tears in your eyes, and also there will be “get me off of this ride” moments too.

Research says the average person experiences as many as 12-27 emotions per day. I think entrepreneurs have to experience at least triple that number. Sometimes there are so many emotions all at once that there is no way of defining them when someone asks how are you doing?

I want to thank all of you for being on the Doyenne rollercoaster with me over the years. There are too many names to list, but you are all on my mind all the time and I can’t thank you enough. Thank you for answering my overly emphasized “you’re never going to believe…” text, emails, and phone calls and also for celebrating the wins with me, and reminding me to celebrate the wins. Thank you for also checking in on me regularly and sending anonymous “you got this” cards and surprises.

When we first started Doyenne, I was looking for a community of women who understood what being an entrepreneur is like and find ways for us to support each other. I learn so much from all of you every single day and rely on you just as much as you rely on me to grow and reach for new “crazy” goals. You, the Doyenne community, are why the organization is still open and continues to disrupt the ecosystem and support entrepreneurs 10 years on.

Let’s Celebrate Together

In true Doyenne fashion, I don’t want the spotlight to just be on the organization, I want it to reflect out and back on all of you because when I say “we” when talking about Doyenne I mean ALL OF US.

During the month of April, for every $50 you donate to Doyenne we will highlight you and/or your venture on our social media channels to help you get more followers and leads. 

Changing an ecosystem takes each of us carrying a portion of the load, openly listening and supporting someone when it feels like too much, raising each other’s voices and rallying together, and more than anything, remembering that we’re not alone while making our dreams into reality.

Donate today! 

After you donate I’ll send you a link to gather your information for promotion

We look forward to another decade of continuing to do outspoken, audacious work with you and bringing new people to the Doyenne community all along the way. 

And will there be a celebration? Yes, but just not this month. Stay tuned for updates…