The road to entrepreneurship has been likened to everything from bushwhacking through a jungle to navigating a maze. The message behind these metaphors is clear: Building a successful startup is rarely a straightforward journey.
But throw a childcare crisis, supply chain havoc, and a topsy-turvy economy into the mix, and the journey starts looking more like a trek up Everest. Given the outsized impact the pandemic has had on women, coupled with a persistent gender pay gap and the well-documented difficulties many female entrepreneurs experience when seeking funding, the hurdles facing female founders have never looked more daunting.
There’s little argument that these challenges are significant. According to a report by UNESCO last year, women are still vastly underrepresented in fields like computing, engineering, and digital information technology. Just 27 percent of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers in the US are women. When it comes to entrepreneurial endeavors, venture capital firms disproportionately fund male-led companies. In 2021, a mere 2 percent of venture capital went to women-led companies.
Considering these sobering statistics, women’s entrepreneurial success stories deserve extra celebration — and there are plenty of examples to choose from among Columbia Business School alumnae. Recently, we spoke with a few CBS graduates who are successful startup founders. They discussed the bumps they’ve encountered along the road and the lessons they wish they’d known at the outset.
Each woman we profiled had her own reasons for taking the leap to start a business.
Kelly Ifill ’17 launched a fintech company, Guava, to support Black and brown entrepreneurs in the aftermath of the pandemic, which disproportionately impacted communities of color. Nina Tandon ’12 started EpiBone, a biotechnology company, in an effort to help heal people through the power of their own stem cells coupled with 3D design. Carolyn Butler ’18, a former chemical engineer, sought a greener solution for all the stuff associated with modern parenthood, which kids outgrow so quickly. When she didn’t find one, she launched Borobabi (now Manymoons), the first truly circular apparel business in the United States. And more CBS alumnae join their ranks every day with creative ideas to disrupt industries and change the landscape of business.
While they’ve all taken different roads, one thing each of these founders has in common is a deep appreciation for the network and resources their CBS education afforded them — and a justifiable sense of pride at how far they’ve already come.
The trek may be arduous, but careful preparation, capable mentors, and a strong network have helped each of them. Sharing their stories, these female tech founders generously pass along lessons they’ve learned on their path to entrepreneurship, hoping to spur more success stories and grow their ranks.
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