Risky Business: Founder Entrepreneur Says Risk Breeds Success

Risk is a four-letter word to many, and one to be avoided.Not so for Stefanie Salem. It is safe to say this entrepreneur, who is the founder of the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival,considers risk a necessity company success.The California native says after graduating from the University of California-Santa Barbara in 1992 with a degree in psychology, she took an immediate risk by getting a job in sales, where she traveled nationally, to Central America and also to Europe.In 1996, she heard about a job based in Madrid and took a risk to apply, even though she was not fluent in Spanish—or French. She applied.“I got my frequent flier miles together and flew to Madrid for the interview,” says Salem, 47. She got the job at the company that sold special advertising sections for U.S. and global media. Soon she was vice president of global sales.Salem says she spent four months working in Greece, then four months in Indonesia, then two months in Zimbabwe, six months in Kasikstan, and two months in Ukraine. In 1998, she was offered the opportunity to work in Nigeria.“My mom said I couldn’t go because at the time it was blacklisted by the U.S,” Salem says.Yes, she went and stayed three and a half years.While there, Salem says she took another risk and launched her own Hampton Court Publishing Company. After interviewing governors, ministers and representatives, she published the 650-page book, In God’s Time: The Building of A Democratic Nation.“At first I was terrified being there and it was the biggest shock of my life,” Salem says. But she ended up enjoying it, celebrating her 30th birthday there in 2001, and leaving the next year.After traveling to India and other parts of the world for two years, Salem says she returned to the company where she worked in the 90s and ran the international department, working from her California home.Salem is part of a growing number of women entrepreneurs in this country and around the world.According to Healthcare IT News, “’Women’s entrepreneurship rates rose globally by 13 percent in 2017, reflecting broader momentum of increased representation by women across the public and private sectors in many regions around the world,’ notes Karen Quintos, executive vice president and chief customer officer at Dell.”“Quintos said that access to capital and technology as well as cultural and political barriers, continue to limit the success of women-owned businesses. In 2017, for instance, only 2 percent of venture funding went to female founders,” Healthcare IT reports.“The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report for Women 2016/17 reports that 274 million women were already running their own businesses across 74 economies, of which 111 million were running well-established businesses by 2016,” according to Entrepreneur.Still, many women aim to become entrepreneurs, and many  get discouraged.[bctt tweet=“Many women aim to become #entrepreneurs, and many get discouraged. What is your advice for staying in the game? #WomenLeaders” username=“takeleadwomen”]Devishobha Chandramouli, founder and editor of Kidskintha, writes in Entrepreneur,”Though the number of women who aspire to start their businesses is closer to the number of men, the gap widens among business-owners, indicating that women are less likely to start their business and also more likely to exit at early stages or between phases of transition (4 out of 10 in factor-driven economies). This trend slightly improves in innovation-driven economies where there are two exits for every 10 businesses owned by women.”Salem says she understands this trepidation, but advises to push through the rejection and negativity to pursue a business idea.Married in 2007, Salem says her two sons were born in 2008 and 2010. In 2014 she had the idea to start the Newport Beach Wine and Food festival. Everyone told her it was a wild idea.According to Chandramouli, “Laurel Delaney, founder of Women Entrepreneurs Grow Global and author of the bestselling book Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably, says, ‘Even in a developed economy, women business owners are less likely to explore and expand their products or services because they think they can’t do it, or that they don’t have access to the right training, education, advisory networks, mentorships and community programs. This perceived deficiency makes it difficult for women to access markets, conduct marketing and establish relationships.’”You can understand the risk and do it anyway, Salem says.[bctt tweet=“As a #WomanEntrepreneur, it can seem like a risky business, but you can understand the risk and do it anyway. What’s your advice for fellow entrepreneurs?” username=“takeleadwomen”]“I knew I was not a 9 to 5 person, so I wanted to start something of my own,” Salem says. “The Newport Beach Jazz Festival had just ended so I thought why not a wine and food festival. I just started sending emails to chefs and went to the brand new civic center and asked to have it there.”The risks were obvious.“I had no business contacts in Newport Beach, so I starting knocking on doors, I id smile and dial, and cold calls.”Salem says there was plenty of rejection, but also a lot of good response. “Rick Bayless answered me in 20 minutes.”Now in its fifth year this October, the festival has grown to four days of events with 6,000 people attending over the weekend. To see 130 participants and 25 celebrity chefs like  Duff Goldman, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jet Tila, Hubert Keller, and Richard Blais, plus 250 wines served.Since its inception, sponsors have included Range Rover and Jaguar. The festival operates as a nonprofit, and donates its proceeds to a new charity every year, with the National Food & Beverage Foundation and the Pacific Food & Beverage Museum as the beneficiaries this year.Now working with a full production staff, a team and advisory board, Salem says the risks were worth it on this endeavor. She offers this advice to anyone who is considering a new adventure and contemplating whether she should take a risk.

  • “There is so much rejection and so many letdowns, you have to keep trying. There is no easy way to the top, you have to take the stairs. Most people do not see the stairs.”

  • “If you are on a train, and do not like the scenery, it will change. There is always Plan B, C, D, E, F and G. Maybe it was G all along.”

  • “Everyone has every opportunity to build from scratch and do something. If you talk about it too much, you will come up with a million reasons not to do it.”

  • “Check off the obstacles one by one as they arrive. “

  • “What are you waiting for? You learn something from every failure.”

[bctt tweet=“Co-founder of @Newbe_Fest has a question for aspiring #entrepreneurs: What are you waiting for? You learn something from every failure. “ username=“takeleadwomen”]As for her next risk, Salem says she wants to travel the world with her sons, now 8 and 10. She also wants to write a book, and launch a speaking career.“Last summer I took them to Cuba. Next we’re going to Fiji.”