Triangle women take on the 'shark tank' to boost their businesses

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina is ranked seventh in the nation for the number of businesses owned by women.

It' a good number but events like Thursday night's at the Carolina Theater are aimed at making it even better. And they did just that, by turning the Durham stage into the "Shark Tank."

With a big cash prize on the line and a theater full of family, friends and fellow female entrepreneurs cheering them on - five Triangle women competed just like on the hit ABC show.

"They pitch their business in front of the audience and all of us to win up to $10,000 in prize money and services," said Hannah Shanafelt with Central Carolina Women in Business.

Em Sexton emceed the WE Pitch event, which was sponsored by the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce and Central Carolina Women in Business.

Four years ago, Sexton was in these women's shoes -- trying to get Flourish, her own downtown Raleigh clothing boutique, off the ground. And, feeling way out of her comfort zone.

"And, I think that's what tonight is about. It is having these fellows pitch from the stage, look out and see how full it see people cheering them on," Sexton said.

One by one they took the stage and pitched their ideas.

Laura Tierney was looking to boost her education tech company that empowers students, parents, and teachers to navigate social media in high-character ways or Alyssa Cherry aiming to take her zero waste refillable soap company to the next level. All while the "sharks" sat stage right -- dissecting every detail.

According to a recent study, North Carolina is home to about over 331,000 businesses owned by women; employing over 279,000 workers, and generating over $39 billion in annual income. All while facing the still stubborn headwinds of gender stereotypes and discrimination.

And while tonight's $10,000 prize and services are great, the bigger deal is making sure the next generation of women business owners know there's a support system, not far from home.

"We're here to support them," Shanafelt said. "We're here to provide resources. And we are here to cheerlead for them."
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