Takeaways from Cohort 2 of Ladies First Founders


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Today marks the last class of the semester for Ladies First Founders, a one-credit course led by Sara Herald, the Dingman Center’s associate director for social entrepreneurship. Last year, Sara launched Ladies First Founders as part of the Center’s Ladies First initiative to get more women engaged in entrepreneurship programming at University of Maryland. Ladies First Founders provides a platform for aspiring female and non-binary founders across campus to come together, find community and learn strategies for overcoming the gender gap in entrepreneurship.

Last week, each female founder in the course provided perspective on their journey this semester to a room of their peers, Dingman Center staff and mentors. While many made significant progress on developing their ideas, all of these young women reflected on the value of the course for their own personal growth. Below are some notes on each of the founders, their ideas and their journeys.

Sadia Alao ’20 – InstaBeauty
Mentor: Shelly Bell, Founder of Black Girl Ventures
InstaBeauty is a beauty supply delivery service to suit the needs of busy women of color. Through the course, Sadia said she learned to overcome her fear of failure and take risks: “If I never overcame my fear I would’ve never applied to the Terp Startup accelerator.” Sadia was accepted into Terp Startup, so stay tuned this summer to follow her story! 

Barathi Aravindan ’22 – Azelle
Mentor: Kelly O’Malley, Regional Director at The Vinetta Project
Azelle is a company that sells charm bracelets to support preservation of the Chesapeake Bay. One of Barathi’s most helpful experiences during the course was participating in the Spring 2019 edition of Terp Marketplace, where she sold out of her product. “Getting that validation meant so much to me that someone did want my product at that price.” Personally, the course’s Imposter Syndrome workshop helped her take ownership of her accomplishments as an entrepreneur: “Before when anyone would hear me talk about it I’d say oh it’s nothing, just a project I’m working on. Now I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished and I’m happy to talk about it.” Barathi will also be joining us for Terp Startup this summer, so stay tuned to learn her founder story!

Leah Barnes ’21 – FOY Drinkware
Mentor: Tonia Wellons, Founder, Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund
Leah joined Ladies First Founders initially to work on a different idea, but the course helped her discover a way to solve another problem she was passionate about. As a community health major on a study abroad in the Dominican Republic, she noticed that school children often had to share water bottles and cups, creating unsanitary conditions. With the support of the course, she decided to start a social venture to supply reusable water bottles for public school students in the Dominican Republic.

I’Shea Boyd ’20 – Baltimore Leading Baltimore
Mentor: Erin Janklow, Founder and CEO of Entrada: Employer Sponsored Learning
I’Shea joined Ladies First Founders to develop her program, Baltimore Leading Baltimore, which helps first generation college students complete the application process. As a computer engineering major, she focuses on building content for the program to support high school STEM students. Through the course, she learned that Imposter Syndrome was something she suffered from not just in STEM, but also in her comfort level with the label, “entrepreneur.” By the end, she was able to confidently identify herself as an entrepreneur, saying, “It’s ok to change from who you used to be to the best version of yourself.”

Sabahat Fatima ’21 – Tailormade
Mentor: Carolyn Yarina, CEO and Co-Founder at Sisu Global Health
Sabahat joined Ladies First Founders to work on her idea for a mobile app to connect tailors in India with customers beyond their neighborhood. During the course she reached a milestone in finding the name, Tailormade, and pushed herself to attend UMD’s hackathon Bitcamp to learn some of the coding required to build the app. While the prospect of participating in Bitcamp felt daunting, she was encouraged by the “go-getter attitude” of her fellow students in the course.

Dana Hashem ’20 – NeuroWhiz
Mentor: Deborah Hemingway, PhD ’18, Founder and CEO at Leon Scientific
Dana also pivoted from her initial idea after joining the course to work on something she was more personally passionate about. As a neuroscience major, she decided to start an after school program to teach neuroscience in state schools. She is working directly with the schools to improve their content, ensuring that students will learn real, applicable skills to further their education. In her presentation, Dana said she learned to go beyond who she would immediately think of in her network for help.

Nazea Khan ’20 – Fitzea
Mentor: LaKisha Greenwade, MBA ’11, Founder of Glam Tech
Nazea is working on Fitzea, a mobile app that creates a fitting room experience for users to try on clothes. She came in with just an idea, but made significant progress toward launching a prototype, slated for Sept. 2019. The sense of community in the course helped Nazea overcome Imposter Syndrome: “It’s something I walk around with every single day. It felt comforting to me knowing I’m not the only one and it’s something that other women face.”

Lara Sharma ’22 – Ele’ve
Mentor: Xina Eiland, President and CEO at X+PR
Lara is building a digitized fashion editorials app to connect models, photographers, directors and other independent creative professionals. During the course, she found that being around a community of female founders helped her progress on her venture: “It’s refreshing to be in this class and meet other women who want to start ventures. I don’t think I would have been able to start this business and take it to where I really envision it without being in this class.”

Saba Tshibaka ’20 – Rendered Inc.
Mentor: Ali von Paris ’12, Founder and CEO of Route One Apparel
Saba is the founder of Rendered Inc., a consignment clothing site with a focus on sustainable wardrobe solutions. During the course, Saba made significant progress on her venture: she rebranded the company’s website and social media, expanded her team and saw an increase in profits. At the end of her presentation, she made the statement, “I’m going to win Pitch Dingman this year, so watch out for me there!” We will, Saba!

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