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'Do it!': The rally cry at Philly's first Women's Entrepreneurship Day

The inaugural event sold out and drew effusive reviews. It was a day for giving - and receiving - encouragement.

Psychologist Rebecca Canna wants to transition her baking hobby to a full-blown business.
Psychologist Rebecca Canna wants to transition her baking hobby to a full-blown business.Read moreStephanie Ramones - Contigo Photos + Film

Clinical psychologist Rebecca Canna lists "life transitions" among her practice specialties, helping teenagers and adults maneuver through such drastic changes as divorce and parenthood.

One recent morning, however, Canna was the one who struggled with the idea of change. She stood up among 200 strangers, introduced herself, and made a big announcement.

"I am looking to transition into a completely different industry. I'm looking to open a bakery," said Canna, 43, a Philadelphia resident who is also a wife and mother of a 4-year-old daughter. The audience reacted first with gasps of surprise, then with encouraging "oohs" and "ahhs." She pressed on.

"It's been my passion for years," Canna said of baking. "I'm getting to the point where I am pursing that dream. However, there's a lot of fear within me, and there is a ton of fear within my family. I'm just trying to see if you have any advice for someone like me who is surrounded by my own fear and other people's fear, and how to not let that hold me back."

Looking on at Moore College of Art & Design's Graham Auditorium, Elissa Bloom could not have scripted a better moment for Philadelphia's first celebration of Women's Entrepreneurship Day Grit was the gathering's theme.

The Nov. 17 event, one of many in 144 countries that day aimed at empowering and motivating women in business, was an intentional effort not to sugarcoat the female entrepreneurship experience, said Bloom, WED's Philadelphia ambassador and a seasoned businesswoman. She founded and ran an accessories company for 10 years in New York and is now executive director of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, at Macy's Center City.

"We really wanted to have a more transparent conversation: What are the pain points the entrepreneurs go through, and how entrepreneurs are able to bounce back from those setbacks," Bloom said of the theme, inspired by the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. A professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth is founder and CEO of Character Lab, a Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to advance the science and practice of character development.

Philadelphia's first WED event was sold out, and the reviews have been effusive. A 2018 WED Philadelphia will indeed happen, Bloom said in an interview, and it will have even more ambitious goals, perhaps including a pitch event followed by a speed-networking session.

This year's keynote speaker was Rakia Reynolds, CEO and founder of Skai Blue Media, a Philadelphia multimedia communications agency with high-profile lifestyle, technology and nonprofit clients.

It was to Reynolds that Canna directed her question about conquering fear and taking an entrepreneurial leap.

"You just have to do it," Reynolds replied. "You have these defining moments where you have that window and you say, 'It is my time.' " In keeping with the day's theme, Reynolds did not, however, promise Canna a rose garden. "Set yourself up to know that it will be challenging," she said.

Also in the audience was Jill Marple McCabe, 48, of Mount Airy, who recognized Canna's anxiety, having left the security — financial and otherwise — of corporate America, where she was an executive in business development and partnership marketing. McCabe started Truth BE Worn LLC in 2014, a wearable-intention apparel company. Her "Embrace Your Truth" wrap-dress line has customized ties embroidered with self-empowering words or expressions.

"I needed her to know, 'Jump. It's OK,' " McCabe recalled in an interview.

She made a point of finding Canna and telling her just that at the luncheon that followed the session in the auditorium. They've stayed in touch, with McCabe serving as a mentor and supportive voice while Canna, who has a doctorate in psychology, develops a business plan.

Canna had heard about the WED conference from a client. Her decision to address the audience that day "was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision" born of need. "I don't really feel like I have a lot of cheerleaders," she said in an interview a week later. "At least I didn't before [then]. … The main thing that it did for me is just inspire me and motivate me and help me realize how important a supportive community is."

Such reactions are priceless affirmation for Bloom, a Bostonian who moved to Philadelphia nine years ago and has found the women's entrepreneurial community "very siloed. … I feel like Philadelphia needs more opportunities for women from various sectors to connect."

She is already making plans for next year's Philadelphia WED, inspired, in part, by the story of Canna and McCabe.

"That's the impact — hearing stories like that, that it wasn't just a day of information, that there were takeaways, impactful connections that were made," Bloom said. "It's amazing what power there is with getting women in a room to really realize the potential they have within themselves."

WED Panelists on Grit:

"Don't give yourself the choice to give up. You don't want to eat ramen, so you keep going. You have to." — Jen Crompton, founder, Fuel Cycle Fitness.

"Every time I do encounter an obstacle, I think about the end vision, the end goal, and how important it is, and it helps drive me to move past it." — Yasmine Mustafa, founder, Roar for Good.

"I just never felt I could ever fail. It wasn't an option to fail." — Fran Griesing, founder, Griesing Law.