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Finding Passion and Community at Entrepreneurship Conference
The Ignite Conference at UC Davis challenges students to ask “Why?”

The annual Ignite Conference at UC Davis was a fantastic opportunity to learn from stories of success and failure, as told by entrepreneurs working to build their companies.

The conference, held March 7-10, is an annual collaboration between the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and Rice University. It brings together innovative CEOs and other business leaders to speak with students. Twenty-five UC Davis students attended this year’s event.

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The four-day conference included a day of business tours in the Bay Area and numerous speakers with years of entrepreneurial experience. We discussed the critical role of the question “Why?” and how important it is to recognize the motivation and passion behind your entrepreneurial idea. As Mark Randall of Adobe said, “I would rather fail at changing the world, than succeed in an unimportant way.”

Speakers didn’t shy away from sharing the necessity of self-care and mental health during their entrepreneurship journey. For Pam Marrone of Marrone Bio Innovations, walking the dog and swimming kept her from falling into depression during the more trying times of her career. Running and bike riding helped Heather Shapiro of Pear Therapeutics take mental breaks from work and feel re-inspired.

All presenters touched on the importance of unwavering faith and belief in your entrepreneurial idea. There can be no backup. It is conviction in your business plan that allows you to build faith in your team and investors. You must be all-in. Creating this buy-in takes great interpersonal and leadership skills.

The annual Ignite Conference at UC Davis was a fantastic opportunity to learn from stories of success and failure, as told by entrepreneurs working to build their companies.

While we learned the necessity for strong leadership skills, it was clear one speaker believed women have a particular leadership model they must follow to achieve success. In his model, we must not have a chip on our shoulder. I believe this gave the women in the room the impression that we needed to be aware of how our determination and grit may come across as inappropriate to our male counterparts. Although subtle, the message was a reminder of where women started in this industry and the work that still needs to be done. 

Through a shared frustration with this sentiment (and other mentions by speakers of women as objects, not as entrepreneurs), I found an amazing group of women at the conference. It was empowering to speak openly about our own professional experiences with sexism and how we moved through them.

Ignite gave me an in-depth understanding of the industry, a newfound inspiration for my personal “Why?”—and a determination to call out sexism unapologetically.