Student to Address 700+ Attendees at Worcester Women's Leadership Conference

Mary Kate Vanecko ’17 will discuss her new jewelry brand and her goal to empower young women and girls

If presenting a final project to a classroom of 20 peers is anxiety-inducing for some college students, speaking to a room of more than 700 business professionals about your entrepreneurial passion is a whole new level of pressure.

Mary Kate Vanecko ’17, however, plans to do just that at the eighth annual Worcester Women’s Leadership Conference, scheduled for Thursday, April 13.

“I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. I love that I can talk about something I’m extremely passionate about,” said Vanecko, a political science major with a concentration in gender, sexuality and women’s studies.

The conference, organized by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce (WRCC), focuses on female entrepreneurship, career advancement and work-life balance, and brings together “the most forward thinking female leaders,” according to its website. The conference will be attended by business professionals from a variety of industries including banking, manufacturing, healthcare, non-profit and higher education.

Vanecko came to the selection committee’s attention after she participated in the College’s Shark Tank Competition, an event sponsored by the Ciocca Office of Entrepreneurial Studies (COES), where she pitched her newly launched jewelry brand, Ella.

“Vanecko is a young female entrepreneur, and one of the goals of the WRCC is to promote start-up businesses,” said Sharyn Williams, a member of the conference selection committee. “At the same time, her missions of women empowerment and mentorship perfectly align with the theme and goals of this conference.”

After reviewing Vanecko’s qualifications, the selection committee invited her to speak during the keynote lunch, said Williams. She will be one of the youngest speakers at the conference.

Vanecko’s brand, Ella, is focused on female empowerment. Determined to create a product or service to benefit girls and women, Vanecko said she spent a great deal of time thinking about the people who inspire her -- specifically, her god-daughter, Ella, a bold, powerful 5-year-old with lots of personality.

In addition to jewelry for sale, Ella’s website, which is still under development, features a blog with empowerment messages. Vanecko said she aims to “grow a community of girls and women who support each other,” and to “empower them to embrace their ambition and strength.”

“I can’t wait to expose Ella’s message to more women at the conference and beyond,” she said.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Reach Up and Out,” with a particular emphasis on the role and importance of mentorship between experienced professionals and new businesswomen. Vanecko said she “needs feedback and criticism,” and believes it is especially important for women to mentor and to help each other out. She attributes her idea to her own mentors, Associate Professor and Director of COES David Chu and Associate Director of COES Cassie Gevry, who have connected her with other alumni mentors to help her develop her passion and ideas, she added.

Tickets to the conference are currently sold out.