Last week, the inaugural cohort of Ladies First Founders gave presentations on their entrepreneurial journeys. Each female student reflected not only on the growth of their business, but also on how they have personally grown since joining the class. Presentations were followed by feedback from the rest of the cohort, and for every young woman who presented, each of her peers had something uniquely positive to compliment about her confidence, delivery, style or attitude. Witnessing these women celebrate one another and show empathy for their shared struggles was a beautiful experience.
Throughout the presentations, it was evident that before Ladies First Founders, many of these women suffered in isolation from shared issues that, once together, they were able to properly identify and work to overcome. Here are some of the greatest outcomes of taking workshops and connecting with fellow female entrepreneurs in Ladies First Founders:
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
It may be hard to believe, but pre-med student Maria Chen ’19, a co-founder of Symbiont Health, which won this year’s Pitch Dingman Competition, the Do Good Challenge and earned her team the 2018 Rudy Award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year, once hesitated to refer to herself as an “entrepreneur.” She remarked, “I don’t have a business background or an entrepreneur background—being surrounded by serial entrepreneurs and successful business owners made me feel like I couldn’t call myself an entrepreneur.” Fellow Pitch Dingman Competition finalist Sydney Parker ’18 also reflected, “It’s difficult for me to talk about myself as an entrepreneur”, and described the experience of being a finalist as “intimidating.” During the class, many of the cohort resonated with the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’, which describes people (and more often women) who feel perpetually inadequate despite evidence of their accomplishments. In the words of Good Stuff Good Works founder Jess Rosenthal ’20, “There is a discrepancy between my perception of my success and my actual success.” For the cohort, sharing experiences, praising each other’s successes and being asked to take part in the class itself was validating. Audrey Awasom ’18, founder of Noble Uprising, noted that being in the class meant, “You deserve to be there. You are an entrepreneur.”
Finding a Community
Fiona Whitefield ’20, founder of Continuum, Venture Partner at Contrary Capital and an Entrepreneurship Catalyst for Startup UMD, is immersed in the entrepreneurship community at University of Maryland on multiple fronts. “It’s very male dominated,” Fiona reflected. “Coming into this room is a breath of fresh air.” Natalie Urban, co-founder of PRJ Girl and a former Pitch Dingman Competition finalist and Startup Shell director, remarked, “I wanted to find a group of women going through similar obstacles and milestones. Having that support system is really important.” Entrepreneurship can be an isolating experience, and for some women the class provided a platform to network and form lasting friendships with likeminded women. SLAY Naturals founder Breonna Massey ’18 discussed one of her motivations for joining Ladies First Founders: “I wanted to build a sisterhood. I don’t have that many friends that are girls—being around a lot of women who are encouraging and supportive of each other is just amazing to me.”
The confidence needed to network and ask questions, essential tools in the arsenal of any entrepreneur, doesn’t always come easily to women. Many of the women reflected that learning some tips and tricks on how to network helped them improve the trajectory of their business. Founder of Aurora Tights Jasmine Snead ’18, for example, was able to successfully network to gain a connection to Under Armour. Audrey Awasom said she only discovered she was uncomfortable during networking events through the class, saying, “It took a lot for me to evaluate and understand that weakness.” Megha Guggari ’20, co-founder of Do Good Challenge second place winner Synapto, discussed how she used to be afraid that asking a question would make others see her as ‘stupid’: “[This cohort] has given me more confidence because I know I’m not alone.” As a talented student in both math and the arts, Yinyin Liao, co-founder of PRJ Girl, always felt she had to prove herself in any category. Through Ladies First Founders, she and her cohort learned the value of, in her words, “Owning your identity and your own personality and applying that to whatever you do.”