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Female Entrepreneurs: No Success Without a Fight

It is impossible to achieve success without a fighting spirit, creative thinking and persistence. That was the message that came across from the opening morning at the Women’s Forum Global Meeting 2011 in Deauville, France.

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“Sometimes there is an easy road and a hard road, and the hard road may be the one that leads you to where you are going,” said Birame Sock, CEO of Third Solutions, a company that has pioneered a system for digital receipts. But she warned that a desire to make money is not a good motivation to succeed as an entrepreneur. “There are easier ways to make money,” she said.

Sock, 2010 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards Laureate for North America, told delegates that entrepreneurs have to deal with crises every day, and the will to fight to resolve those challenges is a precondition to success.

Success derives from a frame of mind, Sock said. Acknowledging it is a challenging environment in which to secure financing, she insisted: “The money is out there. We just need to go out there and look for it.”

Entrepreneurs should also focus not only on what they need from investors, but what they are able to offer in return, she added.

Similarly, rather than be daunted by depressing unemploymentfigures and other economic indicators, concentrate on the opportunity all those talented, experienced people who are available for employment have to offer, she said.

The financial crisis is in fact an ideal time for an entrepreneur who is willing to think creatively to find new ways of doing business, she said. “Times of crisis force us to be creative,” Sock said. “We don’t want to do what our competitors are already doing.”

Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report
Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report

But the fight can take its toll. “If your mother hasn’t called you crazy yet, then you haven’t graduated from the school of entrepreneurship,” Sock said.

Other speakers in Deauville reinforced the message, defining success more broadly and outside the business context. “My grandmother always used to tell me, if I had a problem, I was only allowed to complain for one second,” said Euzhan Palcy, a film director, writer and producer who became the first black woman to direct in Hollywood. “Then I had to take action.”

Aged 17, she noticed all the television shown on the island of Martinique in the Caribbean was imported from France, depicting white faces with little relevance for her or the people around her. Following the principle outlined by her grandmother, she complained to the TV station and told them she would make locally produced shows herself. The outcome was "The Messenger," which she described as “a revolution” for the people of Martinique, capturing their imagination and feeding their desire to see faces like their own on television.

She has gone on to be a successful filmmaker. After moving to France to study, she made "Sugar Cane Alley," before making her Hollywood debut, "A Dry White Season," one of the first serious attempts to tackle apartheid South Africa in film.

Also finding success making films was Yamina Benguigui, a movie director who went on to become the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of human rights and the fight against discrimination. Her defining experiences were ones of confrontation and adversity, when growing up she refused to accept the status of women in her home country of Algeria, and for all Muslim women.

Abandoning her family, she took up film as a medium she saw as the ideal tool to educate women throughout the Muslim world that their plight was not rooted in religious doctrine but in culture. Now her political role gives her the power to take action in some of the situations she has long commented on through her films, she said.

Sometimes a fight can be for survival, but can deliver success from the brink of seemingly insurmountable adversity. At 21, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo was a homeless mother of two, living in a bus shelter in Oakland California. Having turned her life around, she went on to found The Birthing Project USA, an organization that seeks to improve birthing outcomes for minority women.