Chicago Entrepreneur Finds Dream Job Helping Girls Become Leaders After Husband's Unexpected Death

Female Strong's Young Entrepreneurs Academy gives girls a chance to build a business in 24 weeks and pitch it to professionals.

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This story starts with an unimaginable tragedy. In July 2014, Steven LaVoie, CEO of ArrowStream, was shot in his Loop office. He died three months later. His wife Jody was left to run the multi-million dollar family business alone.

"Just coming back to the space every day was hard,” said Jody LaVoie.  

Without her husband, Jody LaVoie no longer had the same passion for the business. 

“Not a lot of women in that industry," she said. "Not a lot of women in the C-suite, and it was lonely."

Jody LaVoie sold the business and started searching out women-focused organizations. She landed as the CEO of Female Strong, a non-profit whose mission is to build confidence in middle school and high school girls. Their main program is the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA for short.

"The girls get to build a business start to finish in 24 weeks," she said.

Their hands-on approach offers mentorship opportunities and seminars on how to put together a business plan. They also get to pitch their ideas to real professionals in a Shark Tank-type of environment.

"I was, like, really nervous, kind of shy, and I totally blew it the first round," said Gigi Gbor, who attended YEA last year.

Gbor had better luck the second time around. Her pitch helped raise the money needed to get her book, "Margaret’s Child," published.

"You don’t have to come in with an idea," Jody LaVoie said. "We will help you figure out what your passion is and how you can put that into action."

Female Strong is always looking for professionals to partner with them and help young girls achieve their dreams.

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