The missing piece of the VC gender inclusion puzzle

By Karin Klein, Wharton BS and MBA, Annenberg School of Communications BA, Founding Partner, Bloomberg Beta

Women invented windshield wipers, the first computer program, life rafts, wireless transmissions technology, the paper bag, Kevlar, fire escapes and, mind you, chocolate chip cookies. If good ideas had only come from people who looked like the founding fathers, then a wealth of advances and joys might have been delayed or missed entirely.

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Creating a New Food System

By Catherine Gonzalez W’16

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Wharton Social Impact Initiative blog.

Wharton junior Catherine Gonzalez spent her summer working on growth and sales strategies for a local food hub with a mind for community impact. Wharton Social Impact Initiative provided her with funding and support through the Bendheim Fellows Social Impact Fund.

Photo credit: Aaron Guo W'17
Photo credit: Aaron Guo W’17

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GenHERation: Wharton Venture Award 2014

By Katlyn Grasso W’15, Founder of GenHERation

At 4:03 AM in the morning, my team met at the entrance of the Philadelphia airport with eight suitcases, four banners, and optimistic smiles. As part of the first GenHERation Summer Leadership Series, we were scheduled to visit five cities in the next seven days to hold workshops for more than 500 girls across the United States. GenHERation is a female empowerment network for millennial girls. We provide girls the opportunity to work with national corporations and nonprofit organizations to develop their own advocacy campaigns to address community issues. After receiving the 2014 Wharton Venture Award, I dedicated my summer to the national expansion of GenHERation.

Los Angeles sm
GenHERation in Los Angeles

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Arab Women Rising

By Rahilla Zafar, MES’11

Arab Women Rising coverAt the end of 2010, I began contributing stories to Knowledge@Wharton on women entrepreneurs in the Middle East. My co-writer Nafeesa Syeed and I began to spend more and more time in the region, witnessing how ripe for opportunities it is as well as being filled with innovators. When the Arab Spring came along, it appeared to open up new opportunities for women’s participation in social and political spheres as well. In addition, the literacy and gender gap in the region has greatly improved over the decades with more woman now holding graduate degrees than men in several countries. On top of that, social media and smart phone penetration is skyrocketing, even exceeding figures in the United States. Nafeesa and I spent much of that past three years in the region exploring these trends and eventually produced the eBook ‘Arab Women Rising’ published through Knowledge@Wharton (price: free).

Esra’a Al Shafei is one of the women I profiled who has become a leading Internet activist in the Middle East. She’s received support from organizations such as the Omidyar Network, along with being an Echoing Green and a TED fellow as well.  She is the founder of Migrant-Rights, which aims to improve the quality of life for domestic workers in the Middle East. Based in Bahrain, Al Shafei grew up appalled by the mistreatment of foreign workers and by how little was being done about the problem. She decided to use the power of the Internet to make a change, and since then has launched several sites, including CrowdVoice.org, a user-powered platform that tracks voices of protest from around the world by crowd-sourcing information. She is also the founder and director of Mideast Youth, an organization that aims to amplify diverse and progressive voices advocating for change throughout the Middle East and North Africa using digital media. Most recently she’s launched Mideastunes.com, a platform for underground musicians in the Middle East, and the iPad application Making of a Century, highlighting 100 years of revolutions and social movements.

In Egypt, Nafeesa profiled Hanan Abdel Meguid, the CEO of OTVentures, where she oversees nearly 1,000 employees who specialize in online and mobile technologies. A subsidiary of Orascom Telecom, the company has exclusive partnerships with outlets like Facebook. A pioneer in Egypt’s tech scene, she founded her first tech company out of college in the ’90s, but learned hard lessons when she lost her first company in a merger. She’s candid about how she bounced back and became among the first to be exposed to the Internet in her country. After building large companies that have withstood upheavals, she says technology holds the key to improving education, health and other sectors. She now mentors young entrepreneurs and says they will serve as “saviors” in the country’s future.

These are just two of the women Nafeesa and I profiled in our book. The other 33 are just as amazing.

Visiting from Saudi Arabia, Reem Asaad who wrote the foreword to Arab Women Rising will be giving a keynote at the upcoming Wharton MENA Conference on April 12th. For more information: http://whartonmenaconference.org

rahilaBio: Rahilla Zafar received a Master of Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 where she was also a member of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program. She is currently based in New York City and working on a follow-up book focusing on women in Saudi Arabia.

5 Reasons Women Make The Best Entrepreneurs

By Emelyn Northway WG’13 and Dorie Golkin WG’13, co-founders of Of Mercer

We are women entrepreneurs. As such, we’re part of a small (but growing!) group. We’re members of the Wharton MBA class of 2013, a class with not only the highest percentage of women (45%) in Wharton history, but also the highest number of students pursuing their own startups (7.4%). Clearly, change is happening, and we’re proud to be part of it. Our startup, Of Mercer, makes affordable, stylish workwear for women. We like to think we’re helping other women succeed in business through great style.

Stereotypes about women, and women entrepreneurs, abound. We often pride ourselves on breaking out of them. But today, we’re going to embrace them, and show you why women may just make the best entrepreneurs:

Stereotype #1: Women Don’t Take Risks

We are risk averse. So how did two people who don’t take risks start a business?  We did enough testing and research to get to a point where the decision to start Of Mercer no longer felt risky. Months before our November launch, we introduced a beta line of dresses to test fit, style, color, etc. Had we produced a full-line based on our initial designs (which at the time we thought were stellar), we would be sitting on a lot of unsold inventory. By taking our time, testing our products, and analyzing our data, we better understood the preferences of our customers.

Stereotype #2: Women Take Things Personally

When a dress that we worked so hard to perfect doesn’t work out for somebody, we take it to heart.  It would be easy to try to keep our egos intact by assuming the problem was with the customer, not the dress. But that’s not going to make our product better, and it’s definitely not good customer service. Instead we accept the feedback because it enables us to constantly improve our product, and better serve our customers.

Stereotype #3: Women Stop To Ask For Directions

You can get where you’re going a whole lot faster if you stop and ask for directions. Before starting Of Mercer, neither of us had experience in fashion or retail (besides being avid consumers).  So we talked to everyone we possibly could, admitting we were novices.  Doing so gave us free reign to ask all the questions that we wanted, without judgment, and as a result, to get up to speed on the industry as fast as possible.  And the sooner you can get those “stupid” questions out of the way, the less likely you are to actually look stupid later on when someone is judging you.

Stereotype #4: Women Love To Talk

As entrepreneurs navigating a new industry, networking is our best friend, and it’s a lot easier when you like to talk.  Being willing to talk to anyone about our business (or about theirs), opens up unexpected business and learning opportunities. Being honest and up front about what we need help with, not only gives others the opportunity to help out (thank you very much, Adam Grant’s Give & Take), but also opens up communication channels to create deeper, more involved relationships.

Stereotype #5: Women Are Obsessed With Relationships

Many women report being more satisfied with their jobs when they have strong relationships with coworkers and feel liked and supported. While this applies to co-workers, it also applies to vendors, developers, and anyone else with whom you work.  We tend to view those relationships as long-term, not just as transactional.  Seeing them as people who don’t just work “for you” because you are paying them, but as part of your team, helps develop trusting working relationships.

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Okay, so we’re kidding around when we say that women make “the best” entrepreneurs. But while the percentage of Venture Capital funding going to women-led businesses has plenty of room for improvement (it was 13% in 2013), it is growing (up 20% over 2012). With the huge success of a number of recent female-founded startups—think Rent the Runway, Spanx, Birchbox—we expect this number to continue to grow, and for good reason.  According to research cited in this Forbes article, VC firms that invest in women-led businesses performed better than all men-led businesses.  Further, women-led private technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35% higher return on investment.

We hope to see more and more women choosing to become entrepreneurs in the near future. And if you need some fabulous yet businesslike clothes for that VC meeting, we encourage you to check out Of Mercer.

Emelyn and Dorie - smallerBio: Dorie Golkin and Emelyn Northway, both WG’13, co-founded Of Mercer, a direct-to-consumer brand of stylish, affordable women’s workwear.  Dorie graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Civil Engineering. Prior to Wharton she was a strategy consultant at Deloitte.

Emelyn graduated from Cornell University with degrees in Economics and Psychology. Prior to Wharton she worked as an analyst at Bank of America and later as an associate at Liberty Partners. They both love residing in New York but miss their go-to restaurants in Philadelphia.