Everyone seems to be jumping on the LinkedIn bandwagon these days in an effort to boost their professional profiles and networks. With more than 610 million users in more than 200 countries the world’s largest professional network has become the go-to place to display your professional wares. However, to stand out amongst the crowd you need more than just the right qualifications, skills, and experience. In a highly competitive job market, potential employers, business partners, and investors want to know all about your achievements, preferably backed up by references, testimonials, and of course the cherry on top, awards and other forms of industry recognition. You could call these awards the social proof of your career success.
I would like to share how my participation in the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business has given my professional profile a tremendous boost. Hopefully it will help those of you who would like build up some professional cachet.
Why I chose the Stevie Awards
Although I had won several industry awards during my tenure as Group Managing Director of Lufthansa’s customer service subsidiary, I wanted to contextualise my current position and achievements as co-founder of global SaaS platform, Eventerprise.com, especially for the sake of our various stakeholders.
Beware though, not all awards are created equally. The North-American non-profit consumer organization, Better Business Bureau, has repeatedly warned against so-called vanity award schemes that charge for awards without a transparent nomination process. I was therefore quite excited when I was introduced to the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business. What drew me to the Stevie Awards was their highly regarded international recognition for female business leaders and celebration of diversity as a good business principle. This aligned very closely with my own company’s core values as a globally distributed organization.
I also appreciated the fact that the Stevie Awards give both large established brands and smaller, newer businesses an equal opportunity to get recognition for their achievements. Past winners have included Apple, Ford, Procter & Gamble, and Samsung as well as startups just beginning to make their mark. With almost 100 categories to choose from I decided to enter in the category for Female Entrepreneur of the Year – Business Services (10 or less employees) which was open to women who had founded their own companies.
The entry process for the Stevie Awards
After requesting an entry kit, the process for my chosen category entailed an essay of my achievements over the past year, a short biography, and some supporting documents, all of which really forced me to take stock of my role as co-founder of Eventerprise.
I kicked off my essay by emphasizing my penchant for outcome-based execution, which I like to lead through tech-driven performance measurement and management. It was also worth mentioning that my international experience in launching new operations and leading projects to successful fruition was indispensable to the strategic scaling of the business. After a quick rundown of my key responsibilities, e.g. financial management, talent acquisition, legal matters, and operations, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty – what exactly did I achieve over the preceding twelve months?
First and foremost was my role in driving the company’s global expansion. During this period I managed to expand the company’s globally distributed ‘hub-and-spoke’ organization, oversaw the successful completion of a rigorous due-diligence process in conjunction with a US investment bank, and represented Eventerprise internationally on numerous occasions. The latter mostly involved pitching the platform’s investment and collaboration opportunities to leading entrepreneurs and angel investors in Silicon Valley.
On the legal and financial front, I led the creation of the platform’s financial model, breaking down the use of funds, and finalizing the particulars of its late seed round. I also oversaw the set-up of accounting, tax compliance, and finance systems across three countries, which included the July 2017 registration of Eventerprise Inc, which formalized the company’s presence in the USA and secured its IP rights, including trademark and domain registrations.
It was important to mention my development of the company’s talent management department, which includes the scouting, hiring, onboarding, training, coaching, and retention of team members. I’m also quite proud of the conceptualizing, development, and launch of two successful talent development initiatives – the EventerCamp digital and entrepreneurial boot camp which has been attended by several students and postgraduates from top universities around the world, and the Africa’s Got Digital Talent CSR program which aims to help talented young Africans become the next generation of digital entrepreneurs.
An achievement that is close to my heart was the launch of a Women Leadership Program in cooperation with a former Eventerprise intern to help promote female leadership. The three month training program will coach female participants of the EventerCamp boot camp and other Eventerprise employees on women-specific challenges in leadership positions. It forms part of my commitment to pay it forward by being a role model for young women who want to succeed in the business arena.
Another highlight was helping Eventerprise to be chosen from 500 startup applicants to participate in a San Francisco-based accelerator program. The experience has helped me greatly as a regular visitor to San Francisco where I often pitch to potential investors.
Becoming a finalist in the Stevie Awards
I felt I had done a good job highlighting my and my team’s accomplishments of the previous year and it was with bated breath that I joined the other 1,500 entrants to await the announcement of the finalists in the various categories. Although I’m naturally proud of everything that we have achieved at Eventerprise I believe it’s important to benchmark those achievements on the global stage – it enhances your confidence and gives better context to your milestones.
After putting all that reflection into concrete terms I was delighted when I was announced as a finalist in the 15th annual Stevie® Awards for Women in Business, together with 500 other women representing diverse businesses from around the world. It was satisfying to know that your hard work has been acknowledged by a committee of prominent peers from the international business community. I was also looking forward to the awards dinner in New York City where the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners would be announced. It would be a fantastic opportunity to network and compare notes with other female entrepreneurs and founders.
My nomination as a finalist was followed by a marked increase in my LinkedIn profile visits and I received many words of congratulations, often from people I hardly knew. Even a Sunday family lunch at a restaurant got interrupted by an ex-colleague who wanted to congratulate me! At that stage the high regard in which the Stevie Awards are held really started to sink in.
Off to New York to become a Stevie Award winner!
After consultation with my co-founders it was decided that I would combine my trip to New York with a visit to Dubai and San Francisco to meet with potential investors and partners. After some very productive meetings with various interested parties it was good to meet up in a rather cold New York City with my 19-year-old daughter, Lili, and Lara, an Eventerprise Young Gun alumnus, who played an invaluable role in my Stevie Award application. I felt it would be a good experience for both young women to join such a celebration of female business leaders.
The evening itself, held at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel was as glamorous as expected, with the mostly female attendees all looking wonderful in their evening gowns. The variety of dress styles highlighted how truly global the Stevie Awards are. I was amazed at the community of spirit among my fellow finalists and pleasantly surprised at the lack of competitive cattiness. It was simultaneously humbling and inspiring to be in the same room with such a talented and diverse group of international businesswomen.
To my great surprise I was announced as a Bronze medal winner in the category, Female Entrepreneur of the Year – Business Services (10 or less employees). It was with great pride that I ascended the stage to receive my award and give a short speech in which I thanked my late mother for the self-belief that she had instilled in me. It was noticeable that many other winners also mentioned their mothers in their acceptance speeches, more proof of the great power of positive female role models!
What did I learn from my Stevie Awards journey?
It is important to reflect on your achievements and contextualize them. Nothing is more dangerous for a leader than operating in an echo chamber without any benchmarks. I found the feedback from the judging panel, which consisted of leading business executives, quite motivational:
Birgit has achieved a lot in a short period of time in a wide range range of areas.
A wonderful list of accomplishments that showcases the drive and passion of this leader.
Excellent entrepreneur! Solid and amazing role model!
Birgit is a motivated digital transformator, with great experience in the sector, accrued through working with top companies. I like the focus on events.
While I’m grateful for the accolade that a Stevie Award represents, I do feel that the process itself is just as valuable. It is invigorating to put yourself out there to be compared with other hard-working women from all over the world. And it’s a great way to build confidence and get validation for your own leadership prowess.
Networking with other high-achieving female leaders and learning how they overcame obstacles on the path to success was very inspirational. It motivated me to work even harder to realize the vision I have for Eventerprise.com.
Diversity – and not only gender diversity – matters. We need more female VCs and women in executive leadership positions to fully realize the full potential of all the talented female entrepreneurs out there. It’s time to call out the lack of venture funding for female-founded companies for what it is – bias.
Last but not least, the Stevie Awards has given me significant professional exposure. My LinkedIn profile has been inundated with new connections and my professional network has expanded exponentially. It has also given potential business partners a reference point that makes it easier to get my foot in the door for those all-important introductory conversations.
I would like to encourage women to be confident and bold enough to embrace their professional goals and aspirations. Empower yourself by not limiting the scope of your future accomplishments. That way you can add real value and realize your full potential simultaneously.
Spending $155 on the entry fee for my Stevie Award was the best investment I have ever made in my professional profile. If you feel your career is flying under the radar, start building your professional social proof by getting some well-deserved industry recognition from a legitimate source like the Stevies.