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Startup America Partnership Celebration with Tory Burch at Northeastern

When most of us hear the name “Tory Burch,” we think of high-end fashion and that eminent designer logo. However, Tory Burch herself stands for much more than luxurious shoes and purses; she firmly believes in social responsibility and the power of entrepreneurship.

To celebrate the one year anniversary of the Startup America Partnership, Startup Massachusetts hosted a fireside chat with national board member and entrepreneur Tory Burch, followed by a panel discussion featuring Dave Balter, Founder & CEO, BzzAgent; John Harthorne, Founder & CEO, MassChallenge; Karen-Michelle Mirko, Director of Customer Advocacy, American Express OPEN; and Dr. Eric Elenko, a partner at PureTech Ventures. The event, held at Northeastern University last week, focused on celebrating and supporting entrepreneurs in the community.

Following introductions by Director of Startup Massachusetts Cory Bolotsky, Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun, and Massachusetts State Senator Karen Spilka, a soft-spoken Tory Burch approached the stage with grace and poise, accompanied by moderator Karen-Michelle Mirko.

As the CEO and COO of a business that began in her Upper East Side apartment eight years ago and has since flourished into a worldwide fashion phenomenon, Manhattan designer, businesswoman and philanthropist Tory Burch knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. When asked about her seemingly overnight success, she muses, “overnight was a really long night for me!”

Tory recalled years of gathering, sketching, and working hard to get to where she is today. “Where she is” refers to an international network of 60 free-standing boutiques, 500 department and specialty stores, Oprah endorsements, Forbes lists, CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards, and the trendiest Hollywood celebs sporting her gear. However, like most success stories, Tory has paid her dues. She spent two years working night and day out of her apartment, catering to 16 employees and 2 small children. While the idea of cold-calling invokes fear in the hearts of many, Tory highly encourages the practice despite how many times you might hear the word “no.”

Now, Tory strives to keep the culture of her high-fashion brand down-to-earth.  She has found that interdepartmental interaction is important for culture and innovation, and often uses culture surveys as a means of hearing from her 1500+ employees. In terms of hiring, Tory advises that young entrepreneurs “go with [their] gut” on hiring that first employee. “It’s also about necessity,” she says. When she realized she needed help sketching and translating her thoughts to paper, she hired someone that she knew could do just that.

Tory’s guiding thoughts on entrepreneurship include the following pieces of advice:

  • Be tenacious
  • Believe in yourself and your concept
  • Surround yourself with great people
  • Have good faith in your team

As for female entrepreneurs in particular, Tory advises, “Believe in yourself, and stop apologizing. Know your self-worth. Realize that you’re doing the same work as men.”

Finally, Tory believes in the importance of social responsibility and giving back. In 2008, she founded the Tory Burch Foundation, which seeks to empower women through microfinance and mentorship. She sits on the board of Startup America mainly because she feels it is her duty to share her experience with others. According to Tory, entrepreneurs must support one another and create valuable relationships in order to get America back to work in this difficult economy.

Prior to the main event, Tory attended a luncheon with female entrepreneurs in the community.  Each woman had the opportunity to introduce her company and discuss the various challenges they have faced. Despite Tory’s status as a contemporary fashion powerhouse, Lindsay Burke, founder of Harper Lei, describes her as “beautiful, inspiring, down-to-earth, and approachable.” According to Burke, Tory Burch is just “an ordinary person that has done a huge thing.”