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Expo draws next generation of businesswomen

Anne Rivell introduces other women to the Shelf Scouter app which helps users shop easier during the Entrepreneurial Women’s Expo on Wednesday at Celebration Hall.
Anne Rivell introduces other women to the Shelf Scouter app which helps users shop easier during the Entrepreneurial Women’s Expo on Wednesday at Celebration Hall. CDT photo

You’ve seen it in the movies and on TV shows.

About 10 men sit down around a large desk for a business meeting, and there is always that one token woman in the room who doesn’t talk unless she has a lead role.

The 7th annual Entrepreneurial Women’s Expo bucked the trend Wednesday, bringing 151 businesswomen from around the county to the table for a one-day, one-stop shop for everything they do in the business world. Only this time, they were joined by 51 young women, ages 15 to 24, eager to make a leap into the world of business, too.

Jessica Dolan, owner of Room to Breathe Home Organizing & Staging and the creator of EWE, wanted to bring in younger women for years.

U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, donated money needed to make it possible.

“It’s partially because I didn’t have the opportunity to experience something like this when I was a younger girl or have the support from certain parental figures,” she said. “It’s also really important to show our younger women that whatever you want to do, you can do it and not let extraneous people or anything else stop you from pursuing your passion.”

Dani Kephart, a student at South Hills School of Business and Technology, has never been shy about what she wants to do.

“I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was really little, as far back as I can remember,” Kephart said. “I have so many ideas. I’d love to open a bakery, a clothing line and a tech company. ... I really want to open a bakery. My sister Heather does, too, so it would be amazing to open a bakery with her, but I don’t know where to start.”

EWE was a good place to start.

“I’ve learned here to always network with people, to get their names and make sure they see you and know you, because they could be a good business partner someday,” Kephart said. “You can always help someone out someday, too.”

Other young women were less committal about their aspirations, but just as inspired.

“I hadn’t really thought about being an entrepreneur before today, but these women have made me consider that as a possibility,” Alyssa Heaton, a recent South Hills graduate, said. “It’s really eye-opening to see what so many women are doing just in Centre County. There’s a sense of camaraderie here, and it’s empowering.”

High school students such as State High senior Aly Toso also attended the expo.

“It’s been interesting hearing from everyone who has an established business, and it’s enlightening to hear about the dreams they had when they were our age and how they made it come true,” Toso said. “It shows if you set your mind to something you can do it and accomplish it. That can be hard to see at our age, to see these far off dreams, but to see them up close makes you realize we can thrive in the business world.”

They now have a lot of mentors, too.

“I think all the women here are really loving it,” Dolan said. “A lot of us have worked really hard to be where we are and to do what we do, so to give back and encourage younger women is a really good feeling.”

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