You can’t talk about entrepreneurship these days without mentioning one of the many amazing businesses that has been founded by female graduates from the Harvard community. Gilt Group, Rent the Runway, Birchbox, Bauble Bar…and the list goes on.
The women of Harvard are as innovative and entrepreneurial as they come, and I was very excited to learn that Professor Janet Kraus, senior lecturer and serial entrepreneur, is doing even more to foster the entrepreneurial spirit within our community. Professor Kraus champions women entrepreneurs, and is a firm believer that having a cohort of entrepreneurs that meets regularly to share learnings and help each other navigate challenges is one of the most valuable techniques for increasing enterprise value. To that end, Professor Kraus has established the Women’s Founder Forums at the Innovation Lab. Twenty women from across Harvard University come together in two CEO-like forums –facilitated by Kraus - at the iLab every other week for two hours to help each other evaluate, iterate, validate and to potentially launch their businesses. Many are planning to launch directly after they finish their education or at a point farther in the future, and some are already off and running.
Professor Kraus comments on the genesis of this project: “When I was an entrepreneur, I belonged to a CEO forum that met for 2 days every quarter – and it was always the most valuable 2 days of 90. To have a group of CEOs - also leading venture-backed start-ups- at the ready to help me develop solutions for my most pressing issues was unlike anything else I had in my arsenal of tools. While my Board of Directors and my management team were both very strong, there is nothing quite like having 8 or 9 other entrepreneurs who know you well and having nothing but your success as their goal when thinking about your problem.“
The current participants of these Women’s Entrepreneurial Forums are from the Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard School of Education, and the Harvard Medical School. They include Chrissie Gorman, Alka Tandon, Lindsay Duncan, Elizabeth Trogone, Jamira Cotton, Melody Koh, Doris Lin, Jessica Bloomgarden, Sarah Elliott, Grace Choi, Kara Yu, Dana Hork, Jennifer Hepworth and Katie Nadler (HBS), Annmarie Ryu and Monica Liu (Harvard Undergraduate), Helen Adeosun and Megan Marcus (Harvard Ed School), Katharine Wolf (Harvard Kennedy School), and Andriana Nikolova (Harvard Medical School).
One of the main activities in the forum is the “Member Challenge.” In each meeting, two or three women will bring to the group a Member Challenge -- an issue with which they are currently wrestling. Issues that have been discussed include product value proposition, product/market fit, lean start up approaches, finding co-founders, negotiating equity splits, assessing priorities, assembling and managing a team, raising money, and creating and managing a Board of Directors.
Melody Koh is a first year student at HBS focusing on technology and entrepreneurship, and is also a member of the Forum. She is the co-founder of FirstCrush (firstcrushwines.com), a “Pandora for wine” business that closes the loop between recommendation and purchase through a subscription e-commerce model and fundamentally changes how people discover, purchase, and learn about wines. When I asked Melody about her about her experience so far, she commented that:
“It’s been an amazing experience being part of a group of female student entrepreneurs at HBS and Harvard who are building a diverse set of ventures while at school. I was very intrigued by the concept of the Forum when I first joined, and I – and others - have since benefited tremendously from advice and feedback from a consistent set of fellow student entrepreneurs as we observe our ventures progress throughout the semester. I get feedback from people all the time about FirstCrush, but this guidance is most helpful when it comes from a group of people who are familiar with the evolution of my business and the progress I've made over a period of time. Although I have not yet presented during our ‘Member Challenge’ session - where you present a few topics that ‘keep you up at night’ and fellow members and Professor Kraus chime in to help you think through these issues - our discussions over the past few Forum meetings gave me inspiration around challenges I’ve face while building FirstCrush. These challenges include everything from positioning to customer acquisition strategies to financing tactics. The Forum has also helped facilitate emotional support amongst female student entrepreneurs on campus, as the startup route can be lonely, not well understood, and being a female entrepreneur puts you in ‘the minority of the minority’."
The Forums will continue through the second week in April and will culminate with four industry specific feedback sessions in which the Founders will be grouped into four groups – fashion, two cohorts of consumer tech, and healthcare/social impact. Each Founder will have a chance to present her business concept and model to two to four experts whose intention will be to provide useful, relevant, timely, strategic and tactical feedback, and to enable these women to move their businesses forward. These sessions will be held on four consecutive evenings from Monday April 23rd through Thursday April 26th.
See below for a list of the businesses that these fantastic female entrepreneurs are currently working on!
Tailour offers young professional women affordable stylish dress pants that can easily be transitioned from the office to after-work events. The line will be sold through an e-commerce platform with improved sizing and fit.
Tailored Trends solves the fit problem for women aged 35+ with better-fitting clothing based on women’s body shapes rather than sizes. Our first product line consists of a line of pants for everyday wear that are constructed using fabrics and designs that fit and flatter women’s unique bodies. With the fit problem out of the way, women can finally enjoy the fun of shopping!
At Mill Road Press, we believe that memories are best shared through storytelling. Mill Road Press allows users to turn their personal stories into beautiful, illustrated storybooks that they can gift. Check us out at www.millroadpress.com.
FuelEd is a non-profit organization that is building a training to develop teachers' social and emotional competencies. We believe that while pedagogy and content skills are important, current teacher education is missing a focus on a key ingredient to successful teaching: a teachers' ability to build relationships. By developing the interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and emotional wellness of teachers, FuelEd will leverage a teachers' ability to build relationships in schools. Ultimately, FuelEd will improve teacher retention, teacher quality, and the academic, social and emotional development of students.
Townhall 140 was founded with the singular goal of harnessing technology to promote civic engagement. Launched out of the Harvard Innovation Lab in November 2011, the Townhall 140 virtual platform integrates video technology with real-time voting to bring constituents face-to-face with political influencers on the issues that matter.
BeautyX is developing a subscription ecommerce site to help women of color discover and purchase hair and beauty products. We match women to curated products that solve their needs.
SitterCycle is a platform that empowers long term caregivers to become a teacher in a child's life. SitterCycle will offer games, activities, and tools that aren't just engaging but actually enhance learning. Visit us at www.sittercycle.com.
OrganJet provides end-to-end services, including timely and affordable air transport, for patients who are multi-listed or distant listed for organ transplants in the U.S..
The availability and desirable matching of organs for transplants depends heavily upon location. Currently, about 15% of organs that could be used are wasted due to time constraints or poor matching. Couple this with the significant shortage in supply, the geographic disparity in waiting times is large and growing, and more and more patients are waiting longer and longer. Additionally, there have been recent logistical fumbles in transporting "perfect match" organs in multi-leg commercial airlines. This situation can be significantly improved. OrganJet uses private jets (at a reduced fee or as a free "angel flight" when possible) to move patients or organs around the country when and where these organs become available. This increases the overall supply of organs, offers better and earlier matching, provides a significant cost savings to Medicare and insurance since kidney transplants are cheaper than its alternative, dialysis, and improves the success of transplants for patients, which ultimately allows them to lead a longer and fuller life.
LookMazing is an invitation only fashion and beauty haven that bridges the online and offline shopping worlds through social networking. LookMazing's online community showcases real people and allows members to upload their photos/videos and tag their outfits with purchase information that can be easily shared with friends/admirers. LookMazing's users can also peruse our interactive online magazine or other members' closets for inspiration on how to style items they currently own or for discovering newly coveted items to add to their wishlist.
InterRacked is a B2B group buying platform that revolutionizes the way that designer brands and small independent retailers interact. It's sort of like Groupon meets a flash sale site for small retailers.
AfterSteps is an online end-of-life planning platform. Just like TurboTax simplifies tax preparation, AfterSteps simplifies end-of-life planning by guiding users step by step through the process. The service enables users to create a complete end-of-life plan, store it, and then transfer it to designated family members upon death, ensuring that they have this critical information when they need it most.
brandNEW is a women's apparel brand and e-commerce retailer, creating essential pieces that women want to wear.
Global Village Fruits markets healthy, sustainably and ethically sourced jackfruit products in India and in the U.S. Global Village Fruits' first products are dried jackfruit, a one-of-a-kind flavor loaded with potassium and magnesium, and jackfruit seed flour, a gluten-free, protein-, fiber-, and B vitamin-rich alternative to wheat flour. At least twenty-five percent of company profits provide interest-free loans for processing infrastructure development for screened farmers' groups in India, helping farmers while expanding supply to meet demand.
FirstCrush is a Pandora-like e-commerce wine subscription service that tailors shipments based on individual preferences, eliminating the frustration of finding the bottle that you’ll enjoy. FirstCrush's vision is to fundamentally change how people discover, purchase, and learn about wine, becoming the ultimate wine preference composite and disrupting the traditional 3-tier system to connect wineries directly with consumers.
Yosko changes hospital-based care from red-tape driven to patient-focused. Yosko is a mobile front-end to the hospitals’ electronic health records (EHR) system that boasts unrivaled design, intuitive workflow and all-inclusive functionality so that patient care can be delivered in real time. Yosko is the first-of-its-kind app designed to meet the needs of the physician in the hospital setting, providing a comprehensive on-the-go solution that cuts red-tape by 70% and allows more patient face-time, better quality care and less resident burn-out.
Grace Choi & Co. is a contemporary woman’s lifestyle brand offering innovative performance beauty and fashion products. The company strives to deeply engage with its customers through heavy utilization of social media and encourages interactions with executives through digital and traditional media platforms.
Tripossible helps users coordinate group travel. With Tripossible, users can save their research, share with their fellow travelers, decide on their trip and finally book from one place. Tripossible creates potential itineraries from your trip options before you book so you can fully assess your options.
Kismet Denim will make beautiful, flattering, comfortable jeans for sophisticated women using responsible production - Fair Trade, Organic, and handmade materials and sweatshop free and environmentally sustainable manufacturing. By sourcing fabric from family farms in India and artisans from around the world, Kismet Denim will make women feel beautiful while making a positive impact on the planet.