Belfast: A Note from Sarah and Kelly

Belfast did not disappoint, and a warm N.Irish welcome kicked us off in style! Like St Louis, Belfast honed in on authenticity while Dublin talked about advocacy and San Francisco focused on finding purpose.  However, for us, the parting words of our final keynote “You are enough” gave us a big boost as we close out 2018 and think about what impact we can have in 2019.

Here’s a live clip on what we hoped for for the evening and for the community we are building with Ladies Who Launch. This was year two in Belfast, and as we reflect on the need for stronger global communities generally, we see a real need for what we are doing.  Putting together networks of women entrepreneurs around the globe is starting a seachange. 2019 needs to be the year when we figure out how to create and foster stronger connections across locations. To start, here are some quick reflections from the attendees on Thursday night.

“It was such an uplifting and inspiring event - I feel like I can take on the world again.”

“Wonderfully honest insight into hard work, determination, failure, success, and strength.”

“It’s strange but I’m really seeing the difference you are making with this initiative. There’s an authenticity to the panelists and you stretch the bandwidth of even your own comfort zone with the variety of speakers. You drew a wide range of ladies together and everyone had fun, enjoying the supportive environment.”

“A massive well done on bringing together so many wonderful and inspiring women last night. As a dad of two young girls, I left re-assured that when they enter the workplace, troublemakers like both of you, and the many women in the room last night, will have made a very real and positive impact on not only the business world but society as a whole.”

To see more of what we are doing and why, follow along at LadiesWhoLaunch.org. We’re also actively planning for 2019, so please send your suggestions along for new cities we should target. We’re leaning more into markets like St. Louis, Belfast, Sydney, and Dublin (and away from San Francisco, New York, and London) as we really feel the need to bring our passion for community building to less visible locations. Also, as you will see from the website, we are building out content and a go to place for women business leaders, with the goal of helping to get women across the globe launching and growing their businesses successfully!

So back to Thursday evening, and we’ll start with a huge thank you to Allstate for their generosity and hospitality.  In fact John Healy, who represented Allstate has the honor of being the first man to speak at an LWL event! Allies are clearly welcome.

Peaches Kemp from Itsa Bagel started us off with the story of how people originally thought she was importing 80,000 ‘beagles’. Don’t you love that Irish humor. She continued discussing how “If you don’t innovate, you’ll evaporate”. Perhaps her biggest teaching moment was how to have grace and grit under pressure. Her story of 2013 and how she and her sister were forced to “confront the brutal truth...really examine what is the worst thing that will happen, and tackle it”. With a business on the brink and myriad personal challenges, that’s when they started looking sideways and laterally, and that’s what brought all their new brands to life including: Itsa Cafés, Joe’s Coffee, Feast Catering, Table Restaurant Brown Thomas, Hatch & Sons, and Alchemy Juice Co. Peaches also spoke about the need for small communities of entrepreneurs that can act as support networks, especially in those difficult times. Finally her words of advice for everyone was “set a goal, set milestones, write it all down, put the paper away, then continue to come back and back to it to check in on those milestones.” It reminded us of the advice from Kathy Mazzarella in St Louis to set unreasonable goals in a reasonable timeframe.

For the Marketing Hustle panel, Katie Doran once against hosted, bringing her own story of starting up Lanyon Communications and what it takes to found and run a successful standalone business. Alix Mulholland, Founder & Director of Field Day and Field Apothecary talked about the essence of  “home”  giving her the initial idea for Field Day.  She also had the awesome story of taking the risk to reinvent her brand from Bog Standard to Field Day.  A good reminder that as entrepreneurs we need to always be in risk-taking mode, as well as listening to our customers. Deirdre McCanny [fun side note - Sarah & Deirdre grew up in the same village of Sion Mills!], just happened upon a New York chocolate shop and found herself instantly in love with the smells. A magazine article on the plane home gave her the idea and Co Couture was born.  She has used competitions to get the word out about her product. The highest accolade to date has been a silver award presented at the International Chocolate Awards world finals, bringing an enviable top 40 ranking and placing McCanny among the best chocolatiers in the world.  Interesting way to think about building a High Street brand. We were also all impressed by the pivot she is making to go to just two focus areas - hot chocolate and brownies. A big risk! Good luck. Finally, Nuala Murphy and MomentHealth.io never fail to inspire. With a focus on mental health, she is taking the issue of maternal mental health into the mainstream. Advice for the audience included “Don’t let fear hold you back, because it WILL hold you back if you let it.

Entrepreneurs of the Future: We had a quick interlude at this Ladies Who Launch getting to meet three entrepreneurs of the future. Jessica Pinder, Lana McArthur and Chloe Bond recently had the trip of a lifetime to San Francisco. The three girls from Dalriada School, Ballymoney, won a Digital DNA / Sentinus competition in which they were asked to develop an app. The app which won the judges’ vote was designed to support sufferers of dementia- helping them meet the challenges of everyday life. The girls all had a personal relationship and a connection with a sufferer and so their idea stemmed from a real passion to help in whatever way possible. Their poise in describing their journey was truly inspirational. Perhaps something we can emulate in our geographies to bring in younger entrepreneurs to our programming.

Our final panel focused on Planning and Growing Your Network to Help Your Business Thrive. We’ve heard feedback after many of our events that women wanted to understand how to be more definitive in how they network. Who better to lead this panel than Lisa Strutt. Working with Asentiv.com she’s currently helping individuals and businesses learn how to professionally network. Her three panelists had all used networking to successfully further their careers. Mairead Mackle currently employees 1,200 people in her HCIL (Homecare Independent Living) business.  Who can forget her wonderful story about getting her services into Dubai - investing in trust with your network.  Beyond HCIL she is also the founder of EVOLVE, a women's network that inspires and supports strong female leadership across the community.  Mairead’s story is like so many of the women we’ve met with LWL. She didn’t want to depend on someone else her whole life, and now she’s a driving force for financial and physical freedom for all women. Jayne Ronayne’s company Talivest is like networking on steroids.  Her advice included “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice”. And “Focus focus focus. It’s alarming how fast time really goes and without focusing really hard on your goals it is hard to achieve them otherwise. The best thing in our culture is that we speak candidly about our business as we don't value distractions.” Clearly she lives this advice since we first met Jayne at LWL in Dublin and we can see she is quick to network!  Finally, Becca Hume of TapSOS inspired us with how she found her path, after a chance meeting with a deaf colleague, and discovered how in need that community was for a strong network. And offered possibly some of the best advice of the night “Say yes, and shit your pants later”. N.Ireland is always a candid bunch!

Finally our closing speaker Grainne Kelly was unforgettable as she regaled us with the founding story of BubbleBum. She proved grit and determination as she pressed with safety agencies, including in the US, on why car seats for kids couldn’t be inflatable. Spoiler alert...she won! Her journey to a Chinese factory where her patents were almost stolen reminded us that for entrepreneurs most of what you are doing is making it up until you hit success. “Everything is outside of your comfort zone, otherwise, you’d already have it ”.  We loved her advice on “Never follow the money. It’s hard to wake up and all you’re waiting for is the money. Always follow your passion!” That passion is her kids, and she wants to teach them that anything is possible. Through her discussion of why/why not to launch in Walmart she reminded us a bit of Jenn Labit in St Louis who’s best advice for when you’re stressed or having self doubt: “Nobody else knows what they’re doing either.”  And of course, because it deserves to be said again, Grainne left all of us with, “You are enough.”  

Thanks to Helen Fullen for sending us into the networking mix and mingle hour. If you haven’t seen or read Helen’s work at NDRC - a true gem of a find from LWL Dublin - please take a look as it adds fuel in terms of quantitative research to why we continue to host Ladies Who Launch around the world. We’re excited to see what else we can do here to bring more quant research to our work.  Look out for more in 2019.


Thank you all – especially those who volunteered their time at our events and made it all seem so seamless and simple. Amazing how plans have a good habit of coming true - we hit four cities, reached >1200 female entrepreneurs and by extension thousands of employees, investors, customers, and of course, families.  We love our shiny new logo and website and feel prepared to continue to scale in 2019 and beyond. Thanks everyone for putting your hands up to help us on our journey.

Sarah and Kelly and the LWL team