The Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship Conference hosted by Lehigh’s Women in Business Organization gave students and alumni a chance to explore the rapidly-advancing role of technology in business at Mountaintop Campus on Feb. 29. This conference was open to all majors and genders.
While the Women in Business Organization holds a conference every year, the club’s director of marketing, Manasi Vitthanala, ‘22, said the 2020 event is interesting because of its focus on technology and innovation.
The co-presidents of the club, Abbey Goldenberg, ‘21, and Srimitha Srinivasan, ‘21, put the conference together with the rest of the Women in Business executive team.
Planning for the conference began in May 2019. Goldenberg and Srinivasan said they were tasked with finding sponsors and panelists, and gathering decorations for the event.
“We knew we wanted to make it super interactive and (have) as many workshops and panelists as we could, so we needed a lot of people — so the best way we could do that was by contacting early,” Goldenberg said.
The various panels and workshops offered throughout the day explored this year’s focus. Attendees could choose to sit in on panels such as ‘Intelligence, Big Data, Security,’ and various workshops, such as one on using ‘EQ to Accelerate Your Personal Path to Prominence.’
Between 180 and 190 people attended the event.
Zhiyi Zheng, ‘22, who is in the integrated computer science and business program, said the panel on intelligence, big data and security was her favorite part of the day.
“It was really helpful to hear some information directly from those in the industry, especially their daily work or their primary responsibilities,” she said.
Zheng said overall, she found the conference very useful, especially for her desired major.
Along with attending these presentations, students got the chance to network with Lehigh graduates at multiple points during the day.
Vitthanala said many of the speakers at the event were alumni.
“We actually connect with alumni operations and they give us a list of people, or we look on LinkedIn,” Vitthanala said.
Scott Grossnickle, ‘14, spoke in the ‘Automation in the Workplace with PwC’ workshop.
Grossnickle did not start his technology education at Lehigh. In fact, he said he had zero tech background when he graduated Lehigh and could only function with Gmail, and maybe Excel.
Grossnickle said learning automation, and more generally, being digitally literate, could add significant value to a Lehigh student’s skill set.
“When I started at PwC, I learned there was a lot of inefficiencies in what we do, so I just kind of taught myself some technology to help automate a portion of our process, and it just allows our people to add more value earlier in our careers,” Grossnickle said.
Vitthanala said another Lehigh alumni who played a vital role in the conference was keynote speaker Alita Friedman, ‘87.
Friedman graduated from Lehigh with an accounting degree and began her career as a Certified Public Accountant. After having her first child, Friedman wanted to return to her job in accounting. She said she was offered her job back under the condition she would make half her salary without any benefits.
“At the time, I felt like I had no option,” Friedman said. “What am I going to do? Who am I going to negotiate with? I want to come back. I have to take what they’re giving me, right? It’s a huge accounting firm — world renowned — I guess this is just the way it is.”
Friedman said she eventually moved away from accounting, choosing to pursue entrepreneurship.
She was approached by the company UglyDoll, which makes plush toys for kids. While she did not know much about the company, Friedman had kids and knew many different toy stores.
Friedman worked on product development, sales, marketing, importing and supply chain management for UglyDoll.
“I loved the toys,” Friedman said. “I loved the artist. I loved making that sale.”
Eventually, Friedman ended up in her current role as the CEO of Alita’s Brand Bar, which is a brand consulting firm.
At the end of the event, Friedman was approached by many students who were eager to ask questions, gain advice and reaffirm the inspirational message of her address.
“You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” Friedman said. “You have resources you can tap into, you can read, you can talk to people, you can get advice from different executives. That’s what I did.”