10 to Watch

Sierra Barter

What she does by day:Student Services Social Media Coordinator at Johnson & Wales University What she does by night:Co-founder and CEO of PVD Lady Project, a networking, professional and social …

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What she does by day:
Student Services Social Media Coordinator at Johnson & Wales University

What she does by night:
Co-founder and CEO of PVD Lady Project, a networking, professional and social group for women

Why we picked her:
Lady Project has grown exponentially in just a couple of years, encompassing a membership program, events, activity groups, web site and social media. It now boasts over 90 member businesses and almost 150 individual members.

“The biggest goal that Julie [Sygiel, co-founder] and I set was to make Providence the city to start a business in if you’re a woman. Our mission is to connect, inspire and showcase our members – we love it when they tell us that they made a new connection, hired someone, were hired or are now working with someone because they met them through Lady Project.”

What’s the big deal:
Response has been so enthusiastic and demand has been so high that Lady Project is expanding into other cities. New Haven Lady Project launched in October. This month Boston Lady Project kicks off.

“As PVD got bigger, a lot of women reached out to us from other cities telling us that this would be ‘perfect’ in another city – New Haven, Austin, Burlington… We hope to see it grow all over the country – maybe even internationally? I think every city could use a place where women could feel inspired and meet someone new.”

Why that doesn’t make us nervous:
Barter has pledged that Lady Project Org, the umbrella nonprofit, and the annual Lady Project Summit will always remain in Rhode Island.

On the role of social media in her (and others’) success:
“Social media evens the playing field and gives you an organic, intimate place to speak freely, meet others and spread a message. It makes a nonprofit with zero money on par with a big corporation with a million dollar social media budget.”

Fast facts:
Barter is a Wisconsin native who came to Providence to attend JWU without ever having visited either. A post-graduation gig at WaterFire kept her here.

What Providence has to offer students:
“I take personal offense whenever I hear students say they ‘can’t find anything to do’ in Providence or purposely go home on the weekends. There is so much to do in Providence, and if we market it to students and make it student friendly, they are going to realize the opportunities they have while still in school and take advantage of the city they’re in.”

How to keep more students in the city after school:
“I think the biggest thing is getting students connected while in school; programs like College Leadership RI and internships allow students to make connections and be part of something in the city that’s outside of their school and immediate circle. I am in Providence because of the connections I made in college and didn’t want to ‘start over’ somewhere else, when I had such a great foundation in RI.”

Her advice to budding entrepreneurs in Providence:
“If you have an idea you just need to run with it, because there are so many resources here and so many people willing to help you. I feel it’s a disservice to Providence to not even try. It’s only going to help us more to give everyone more options.”

On getting women more involved in leadership:
“We had an event at the State House where we invited three prominent women in office. And they all had a similar thought: ‘Why not me?’ And that’s what women in all industries need to ask themselves. Why not me for school board? Why not me to open this business? Why not me to be the president of this board? The opportunities are everywhere, from the boardroom to the PTA to your job. It’s up to women to encourage and support each other and take risks… When one person succeeds, we all succeed.”

Follow Sierra on Twitter @sierrabarter