We’ve been providing programming for founders for just over two years now — all in-person. We were forced, like everyone else, to rethink one of our core programs into a virtual experience. We learned a lot and were surprised at the impact. The impact was so significant, that we are re-imagining a key offering as fully virtual going forward so that we can reach more female founders around the world. In this article, we wanted to share the context and experience in creating a virtual program, and to announce the most recent alumni of Ad Astra.
First some background: we categorize our founder development programs roughly into three categories. The first is our accelerator program that runs over 10 weeks. In this program we work 1–1, giving each founder access to an Ad Astra Partner as well as extensive interactions with advisors, mentors and investors. This is our flagship program and we select businesses at a certain stage — ready to grow, and often in midst or getting ready for investment. This is program is comprehensive in terms of the content and weaves in our proprietary female founder programming every step of the way.
The second category of programing consists of talks, and mini-workshops that we offer throughout the year at various conferences and partner events. We think of this as a brief introduction to Ad Astra and offer a high-level review of key concepts to broader audiences. The last category is fairly new — we introduced it last year because we knew we needed something in between the high-touch and mass audience format, so we introduced a new type of development programming — the bootcamp. We launched with the goal of impacting (mainly) earlier stage entrepreneurs over a short period of time. The bootcamp offers a very different feel — an intensive in-person experience where entrepreneurs are placed into small groups based on product/industry. They learn from each other, and from our programming. The bootcamps are exhausting and exhilarating, and we’ve had founders light up with “aha” moments which they’ve told us has significantly impacted their businesses. We proved that we could give founders the detailed personal feedback that helps solidify their product and business, and strengthens them as leaders in a very short amount of time. And we loved seeing the personal growth, and the interpersonal support system that naturally springs up when you pull together incredibly smart, driven female leaders. There’s a magic that takes place as a cohort goes through this experience together, and we were excited for the first bootcamp of 2020 that was scheduled for April.
We started the call for applications early Feb and were looking forward to offering another uplifting and transformative experience. But, in the middle of selecting candidates, Covid-19 struck us all hard, and a shelter-in-place order was announced. And for a few days — we wrestled with postponing until we could repeat the in-person experience that we knew worked. Canceling wasn’t an option. Our mission is “Get to Even” and knew the pandemic would hit entrepreneurs especially hard. We made the decision to move the bootcamp to a virtual experience, and, to alleviate the financial stress and disruption that was suddenly imposed — we provided full scholarships to all the finalists. We wanted the successful applicants to know that we believed in them, we supported them — and do what we could to support their businesses.
We invited the 15 women we’d selected as finalists from around the country to join us. 15 women in three sectors — Life Sci/Hard Tech; Software as a Service, and Consumer Packaged Goods. We translated the 18-hour bootcamp into a series of 3-hour sessions over 7 days. And we learned a lot — about how to rethink delivery of content when you don’t get to present personally, how to build trust with strangers over zoom, and what parts of the content really matter when you are forced to make hard prioritization calls.
We learned what parts of our curriculum really have the biggest impact — whether in-person or virtual. And we’re not surprised — uncovering the personal strengths that are foundational to building authentic leaderships, unpacking the very real barriers for female founders, providing meaningful and impactful feedback through our network of investor advisors — these all resonate regardless of the platform through which they’re delivered.
We were exhausted at the end of the bootcamp — as were our founders! But the feedback was outstanding — and it made us realize that we can have a much broader and meaningful impact to female founders around the world. And that has got us incredibly excited and motivated. More on this soon.
For now, we want to present the most recent alumni of Ad Astra Ventures — we’re so proud to have them as part of our Ad Astra family, and suggest you all follow them to see what they do next.
In alphabetical order:
Jenny Beeghly, Founder & CEO of Perilla; fashion-forward line of comfortable scrubs
Jessica Bell, Founder & CEO of reVessel, a innovative, resusable modular container system
Bhawanjit Brar, Founder & CEO of Jann Biotherapeutics; novel therapies to activate cardiac regeneration
Annie Brown, Founder & CEO of Lips; an inclusive, cryptographic, social platform
Sivan Cohen, Founder & CEO of Noria Water Technologies; optimizing processes for water purification plants
Carol Curchoe, Founder & CEO of ART Compass; a platform to guide all parties within the IVF ecosystem
Shannon Erely, Founder & CEO of Pomp; connecting consumers with trusted skincare professionals
Sophie Frank, Founder & CEO of Resprana, an innovative, effective, fashionable air filter
Amy Keller, Founder & CEO of PurePlus+; a candy made from whole fruits and vegetables
Michelle May, Founder & CEO of Seva Foods; redefining healthy snacks and treats
Martha Montoya, Founder & CEO of AgTools; the Bloomberg of the agriculture supply chain
Kay Olmstead, Founder & CEO of NanoPharma Solutions; drug delivery platform for poorly soluble drugs
Sonya Satveit, Founder & CEO of Qanik DX; revolutionary device to test & monitor hormone health
Jessica Tishue, Founder & CEO of Bliss Foods; first edible superfood bowls, cups & cutlery
Carol Titus, Founder & CEO of Golden Poppy; an augmented reality game that supports girls in STEM