Using personal success to help others succeed

On Jeanne Voigt's mission to promote success in women

By Tessa Grantier
Thursday, October 6, 2016

On October 26, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) will be holding a luncheon honoring the 2016 recipients of the Achieve! Awards for their contributions to Minnesota's business society. The event will feature Jeanne Voigt as the keynote speaker.

Jeanne Voigt wasn't always a businesswoman. She was in banking for nine years, a job where she "only got to use one side of [her] brain," leaving her itching to create. After resigning from her banking position and a year of research, Voigt started her company MindWare in 1990. She started out small, opening what she calls a "creativity store" in a space on Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue. The store quickly evolved from broad creativity to a focus on learning and thinking, providing toys and games that engaged both children and adults.

After 13 years as the head of the company, Voigt sold majority interest in 2003, staying on with the company for another four years creating toys.  After the sale of her company, Voigt could have easily retired to a yacht in the Caribbean, but she wasn't yet done. She moved on to her next adventure. In a theme that matches much of her adult life, Voigt continued to advance the minds of others, this time a little farther from home.  Voigt applied to volunteer for Winrock International, an organization that works with dozens of countries to improve lives.

"They [Winrock] called back within two weeks and said we have this project [in Kenya]. We need someone to teach women chicken farmers…how to build a business around raising their chickens and I said, 'I think I can do that' and so I went. And that was the first time. I was scared to death, let me say!" She didn't stay scared long. "The thing that amazed me was how little I gave but how much it meant to them. The leverage of what I knew in that environment was so important for them so from then on I was hooked." Voigt has gone back several times since, expanding her work to Tanzania and Senegal.

Voigt will be telling the after-the-business story at the Achieve! Awards, to prove to the businesswomen in the audience that it is all worth it. For these women, Voigt has a couple pieces of advice. The first, stay resilient. Next, gather a support group of women who understand the struggles. The last is a reminder of what makes an entrepreneur. "You're scared, but you still go ahead and do it."

Jeanne Voigt will be speaking at the Achieve! Awards Wednesday, October 26. To register click here.