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French Embassy hosts winners of Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards

by Michael Coleman

 In the high-stakes world of entrepreneurship and innovation, men have historically dominated the landscape. But an increasing number of women are entering the fray, and legendary French jeweler Cartier is helping lead the way.

On Feb. 12, several hundred women — and more than a few men — gathered at the French Embassy for a roundtable discussion of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.

From left, Birame Sock, founder of ThirdSolutions and 2010 CWIA North American Laureate; Ting Shih, founder of ClickMedix and 2012 CWIA North American Laureate; and Shelly Porges, co-chair of the National Finance Council and jury president of the CWIA Awards North America. Photos: Embassy of France

The awards are an international competition created in 2006 by Cartier, the Women’s Forum, McKinsey & Co. and INSEAD business school. The program has three goals: To identify and support initial-phase women entrepreneurs with seed money and mentoring, to foster a spirit of enterprise by celebrating role models in entrepreneurship, and to create an international network of women entrepreneurs who can lean on each other for advice and support.

The 2014 competition focused on impressive new businesses that create “ethical, sustainable and scalable solutions to pressing social challenges.” Competitors hail from a diverse cross-section of global business sectors including health care, education, fashion, international development and environmental protection.

Mercedes Abramo, president and CEO of Cartier North America, poses with Olivier Serot-Almeras, French consul-general in Washington.

Ting Shih, CEO of Click Medics, was named a 2010 laureate in the Cartier competition. Her company develops technology that lets poor people in the world’s most remote areas access doctors, medical advice and diagnoses with a simple cell phone. Shih, who launched her company from an idea she developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told her audience that networking opportunities from the Cartier competition have provided her business — and her entrepreneurial spirit — a tremendous boost.

“It’s an amazing bonding experience,” Shih said. “Unless you smoke cigars or play golf, you’re not really in [the men's club], and obviously we don’t look the part, so having the women’s club club at Cartier was amazing. Women have a lot of connections and we must use them because we want to help each other.”

From left, Ting Shih, founder of ClickMedix and 2012 CWIA North American Laureate; Birame Sock, founder of ThirdSolutions and 2010 CWIA North American Laureate; Mercedes Abramo, president and CEO of Cartier North America; and Shelly Porges, co-chair of the National Finance Council and jury president of the CWIA Awards North America.

Kavita Shukla is founder and CEO of Fenugreen Fresh Paper, an organic technology that keeps fruits and vegetables fresh longer. A 2012 Cartier finalist, she hatched the idea for her business as a 15-year-old visiting her grandmother in India.

Shukla recalled accidentally drinking tap water on her visit, against the stern warnings of her relatives, and worrying she was going to fall violently ill. Instead, her grandmother gave her a drink containing a mixture of organic spices that kept damaging microbes at bay. Shukla uses similar spices in her Fresh Paper product. She said the Cartier competition helped her realize how much potential women have as entrepreneurs.

“All of us in this room are already so far ahead in understanding what we can do and what’s possible,” Shukla said. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve been on this journey that’s been amazing and inspiring.”

Nearly 300 people attended the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, held Feb. 12 at the French Embassy in Washington.

Shelly Porges, a former senior advisor in the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program and the Cartier awards’ North American jury president, said the awards ($20,000 annually to the top contestant) and recognition help validate women who are often on a lonely and difficult quest.

“There are many low points — simply rolling up your sleeves and working hard,” she said. “It’s not all about winning awards. Most of it isn’t like that.” And while the competition celebrates women, Porges recognized the importance oFrench Embassy hosts winners of Cartier Women’s Initiative Awardsf men who welcome and encourage women entrepreneurs.

“Thank you, gentlemen, all of you who are here today, because in the end this isn’t just about and for women, but creating a balance and having optimal effort from all of us,” Porges said.

For more information on the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards visit www.cartierwomensinitiative.com.

Michael Coleman is a regular contributor to The Washington Diplomat.




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