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Calling All Female Would-Be Entrepreneurs

| Tuesday April 5th, 2011 | 5 Comments

By Sara Herald

Although rates of entrepreneurship among women in the United States have been growing steadily, 60% of new businesses are still founded by men.  However, if Natalia Oberti Noguera, Julie Lenzer Kirk, and Amy Millman have their way, that percentage will decrease significantly in the coming years.  These three women, all entrepreneurs themselves, have made careers of helping other women start and grow businesses.

Oberti Noguera founded the Pipeline Fund, “a social venture fund that invests in women-led for-profit social ventures and trains women to become angel investors.”  She’s passionate about gender equality in the business world, and she wants all aspiring female entrepreneurs to know that “it’s okay to fail, because each failure is just a step closer to success.”   Lenzer Kirk is a founder and CEO of Path Forward Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, an organization that works to create “businesses that grow beyond the founder to create jobs, increase opportunities, improve communities, and change the world.”  Lenzer Kirk started her own technology company in 1995 and after running the business for 10 years decided that her true interest lay in helping other women start businesses.  Amy Millman, a former lobbyist, is now the president of Springboard Enterprises, a company that “educates, sources, coaches, showcases and supports high growth [women-led] companies seeking equity capital for expansion.”  Having co-founded the organization in 2000, Millman has helped female entrepreneurs raise over $5 billion to fund future growth.

Here at the Smith school, these three women spoke to an audience of undergraduates, graduate students and members of the local community at the Social Enterprise Symposium on a panel titled The X Factor: Women in Business.  While they are quite accomplished and know a lot about the details of starting and growing a business, they unfortunately refrained from sharing specific lessons learned and took on the role of cheerleaders.  Rather than focusing on particular skills that women can leverage in the business world or talking about how women should navigate a male-dominated venture capital environment, the panelists resorted to hackneyed phrases like the “importance of the female perspective” in business and how women should just “follow their passions” to start their own companies.  Furthermore, while the audience was predominantly female, there were a few men present, and the panelists regrettably attempted to use them as representatives of the male sex as a whole and put them on the spot to answer for their gender.

One of the Smith school’s tenets is entrepreneurship, and the admissions office puts considerable effort into recruiting qualified female students as both undergraduates and MBAs, but panels like this one do not really spark the creation of women-led businesses by the students present.  Encouragement and success stories give hope, but if women are to succeed in a cut-throat start up environment and credibly compete with their male peers, they need to find out which skills to cultivate and what resources to seek out.

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Sara Herald is a second-year MBA student at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business.  She is the Vice President of Social Impact for the student government association and serves on the board of the Net Impact chapter.  Sara graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Spanish and English.


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  • Lina

    Regarding the 3rd paragraph, I believe the panelist did address some of the issues that women must take into consideration to succeed as business leaders. For example, Amy Millman reinforced the importance of having the “right” team of co-founders; Julie Lenzer Kirk advocated for technology based businesses and the importance of women not being afraid of defending their intellectual property; and Natalia Oberti Noguera said that “it’s okay to pitch, even if you don’t think your model’s ready yet. The feedback you will get may be even more valuable than, possibly, the funding and will get you closer to a model that meets market needs”. Everyone in the panel agreed that knowing how to “fail fast” is also an important aspect that women need to learn to identify and apply to their entrepreneurial life so they don’t get stuck and move on when one idea doesn’t work,
    Finally I must say that I agree with the fact that the Smith School does a great job in promoting entrepreneurship. However, it is up to the students to take advantage of a panel like this one to learn the intricacies of being an entrepreneur and what does it take to succeed as one. In a panel, it is very important to have interaction between the audience and the panelists, however, the audience in this panel was rather quiet and they didn’t really take advantage of the quality of the speakers; the audience did not ask questions nor engaged in the conversation. In the absence of conversation, the panelists refrained to tell success stories and simple advices on how to succeed as a women entrepreneur.

    • Sara

      Good points Lina! I think the concept of the panel was great and the speakers were very well qualified, but they just didn’t drill down as much as they could have.

      • http://www.twitter.com/nakisnakis natalia Oberti Noguera

        Hi Sara,

        I invite you to send Amy, Julie, and me specific questions you would like us to answer and follow up this article with a list of tips to share with women social entrepreneurs.

        I look forward to continuing the conversation!

        Best,
        natalia

  • http://www.PathForwardCenter.org Julie Lenzer Kirk

    Sara, I don’t disagree with you! We didn’t get into the main meat of the panel but that wasn’t intentional. Honestly, it just got away from us and I’m disappointed no one brought us back to it. In fact, in keeping the theme of advice for women to succeed in entrepreneurship, making sure you ask and get what you need is one of the keys! I wish you had brought it up at the session and helped us get redirected. That’s the danger when you let ADD-entrepreneur types (like me) loose! That said, I would be happy to chat with you on the side and share my insights as this is a topic I am actually writing a book on right now and would happy to talk with you about. Just let me know!

    Good luck to you…

    Julie

    • Sara

      Hi Natalia and Julie-

      Thanks so much for your willingness to continue the conversation! The opportunity to get more insights from you all would be terrific.

      So that the questions don’t just reflect my own interests I’m going to email other attendees and compile a list that I will distribute to you both. I can reach you via DM on Twitter, and hope to be in touch within a week.

      Best,
      Sara