The Female Founders Summit highlights successes of female entrepreneurs


Allie Kuo

For Now co-founders Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua brought together a strong, diverse network of female entrepreneurs at the Female Founders Summit.

Allie Kuo, news correspondent

Almost a year after the sold-out Female Founders Summit was postponed at the start of the pandemic for health and safety reasons, it returned Feb. 17 of this year in a digitized and COVID-safe format. The event was put on by For Now, the store and retail incubator with locations in Seaport and Nantucket, and connected attendees with 28 female entrepreneurs for a day of panels, keynotes and “office hours” — all over Zoom. 

For Now co-founders Katharine ReQua and Kaity Cimo are the organizers behind the Female Founders Summit. While the in-person summit was initially scheduled for March 12, 2020, it pivoted online this year, becoming a virtual conference inspired by their company’s strong network and community of like-minded, driven women.

“The overarching mission was really to inspire women who have either thought about starting a business or maybe they have an idea for one and haven’t had the confidence to take the first step for it,” Cimo said.

When creating the list of women to join their lineup, Cimo said that they made an active effort to focus on diversity.

“We all come from different backgrounds and different careers, and the more diverse it is — whether that’s race or age or even role — is all just so helpful,” Cimo said. “For example, we don’t only have female founders speaking on the panel. We have women from larger corporations because that perspective is also really valuable.” 

Accessibility to these events is another element that encourages diversity, and For Now offered a 50% discount for attendees of color (tickets for this year’s digital event started at $50). Cimo attributes this discount to their desire “to be as inclusive as possible,” while also acknowledging that learning and growing “does take investment.”

“I think one of the things that every business owner needs to come to terms with and be comfortable with is that you really have to invest time and money into your own success,” Cimo said. “These events are expensive to put on, we’re a young business ourselves and can’t take on all the cost. But we also really wanted everyone to be opting in and investing and being engaged.”

This engagement and desire to build community was the ultimate mission of the Female Founders Summit. It was created to connect like-minded women, whether new to the business world or veterans in their industry.

“I think starting a business can be lonely unless you really surround yourself with women who have been through it,” Cimo said. “So it really was that, to bring inspiration and knowledge to women who want to succeed, like the panelists.” 

ReQua and Cimo moderated the keynote speakers, including Cheryl Kaplan of M. Gemi, Mara Hoffman of her namesake brand, Ngozi Okaro of Custom Collaborative and Kerry Docherty of Faherty Brand

“Our keynotes are all just amazing,” Cimo said. “Some of them we know personally, so we talk to them on a monthly basis. And some we’ve never met before.”

Many of the speakers had previously worked with For Now, which has both a physical and online retail presence. The store carries the products of emerging designers and makers whose businesses have been around for two or three years — brands that are established enough to sell in a retail space but young enough to benefit from additional support. For Now provides a space for these brands to get everything from sales and awareness to product feedback. 

“We make it easy to shop and support the best up-and-coming entrepreneurs,” Cimo said. 

Since For Now’s inventory rotates every quarter, there is no shortage of new business partners. This constantly changing lineup means that Cimo and ReQua have not only developed relationships with their founders but have also seen relationships form between them.

“We’ve just worked with a lot of great founders and brands that we organically started connecting with each other like ‘Oh, you should meet this person’ or ‘This person has been through this, you should talk to them,’” Cimo said. 

Beyond connecting within their business network, Cimo and ReQua also hosted events at their Seaport location that brought together experts and community members, covering topics from female entrepreneurship to sustainable manufacturing. These panels, which were limited to around 40 people due to the small store size, sold out every time and were the catalyst for creating the Female Founders Summit.

“Those two things — connecting founders with each other and holding these panels — were really just inspiring to us and so we wanted to do it on a larger scale,” Cimo said. 

While this is the first time the event has come to fruition, Cimo is optimistic about its longevity and growth.

“Every year, we can build on it and just the more often we do it, the more credibility or awareness it will get. It’s all about getting the word out there,” she said. 

With nearly every option of the “VIP” tickets sold out — which gave ticket holders access to “office hours” with speakers on topics from “How to Pitch the Media” to “Managing Supply and Demand” — and a steady stream of questions from attendees filling up the Zoom chat during sessions, participation in the summit was evident. Attendees also have access to recordings of the keynotes and panels until the end of March, giving them the opportunity to revisit sessions like “How to Approach Financing and Fundraising” and “Pandemic Pivots.”

While the virtual format may be here to stay, Cimo sees it being combined with an in-person component for a hybrid version in the future, even in a post-COVID world. While the digital reach allows speakers to join from beyond the Boston area and encourages a wider audience, it is not quite enough to overshadow crucial parts of an in-person event.

“A small chat with someone is really irreplaceable,” Cimo said.