Let’s Empower more Female Founders Across Campus

Jess Li, Sreeya Sai

There has been a rise in formal pitch competitions across universities, providing an outlet for startups to present their ideas and receive feedback or prizes for their work. While competitions are a great forum for entrepreneurs to establish themselves, they can be an intimidating place for new founders who are still solidifying their ideas.

To take the intimidation out of formal pitch competitions and give women a comfortable space to share venture ideas, the MIT Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) joined forces with Rough Draft Ventures (RDV) and Silicon Valley Bank to launch the FoundHers Retreat last year. We (Jessica and Sreeya) had the honor of attending this year’s retreat as RDV Venture Fellows and witnessed the long-lasting support system formed between female entrepreneurs at MIT.

Why is a retreat for female entrepreneurs important?

Women continue to be underrepresented and underserved by existing infrastructure, including venture capital funding. The Kauffman Foundation found that women are half as likely as men to consider entrepreneurship. The issue of underrepresentation is a self-perpetuating one, exacerbated over time if there are no mechanisms established to overcome these barriers. The current and ongoing disparity of C-suite level executives at Fortune 100 companies creates negative trickle down effects across companies and leadership roles more broadly.

Due to unconscious biases like these, women only received 2% of all VC money in 2017.

Hoping to help change this stat, the second annual FoundHers retreat this fall brought together 12 accomplished female entrepreneurs for the weekend. We met with fellow female entrepreneurs such as RDV founder Mariana Matus (co-founder and CEO of Biobot Analytics, YC W ’18, that brings wastewater epidemiology to cities), previous FoundHers retreat attendee Aagya Mathur (co-founder and CEO of Aavia, a platform improving the birth control experience through empowering women to take their pills on time), and RDV founder Sara Remsen (co-founder and chief product officer of Waypoint Labs, acquired by PTC, that leverages AR sensors to revolutionize how knowledge is captured and transferred in frontline industries).

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Participants of the retreat left inspired and motivated with the new skills that they learned from fellow female founders. We have highlighted the impact this female focused retreat had on three participants below:

In the words of participants:

Vivian Chen (MIT Sloan Class of 2020, Founder of Instacam)

“FoundHers was one of the most memorable experiences at Sloan — truly unique, an experience that I would never get anywhere else. The open and honest conversations between founders and aspiring founders allowed us to talk about our vulnerabilities and difficult challenges. It was wonderful to meet individuals with similar backgrounds and stories; moreover, giving the timing of the retreat, afterwards, we still have time to digest feedback from these discussions and make improvements accordingly ahead of the next semester. Through FoundHers, I always have an incredible community of women helping each other — a safe space to discuss and receive guidance on all my future challenges.”

Andrea Xu, MIT Sloan (Class of 2020, Found of Nookley)

“I really loved how focused on the journey the FoundHers conversations were. Too often the focus is on the idea rather than the challenges, ups, and downs of the journey, and I was glad to have an open and honest space to discuss these with an incredible group of women. The all-female group was also empowering in and of itself, a great platform to discuss unique challenges facing female entrepreneurs.”

Siranush Babakhanova, MIT Physics and CS (Class of 2020, Co-Founder of Xapiens)

“What makes this event unique is the format in which the retreat is organized and a perfect combination of the following: mental and physical health-oriented procedures, an out-of-town lodging and chill environment for discussion as equals through unbiased analysis of what it takes to be a female founder, how to overcome possible obstacles, relationship development with the team, co-founders and other companies/VCs etc. And what makes this community and event the most special is, of course, the spirit and the people who shape and maintain it: the spirit of sisterhood and innovation, collaboration and competition. In my opinion, having this support at an early stage is super important for more successful career and personal growth.”

RDV is excited to continue supporting the community of female founders at MIT and the broader female entrepreneurship community. We were incredibly impressed by each of these founders stories and have no doubt they will accomplish incredible feats in their ventures and beyond.

If you are interested in running a FoundHers retreat on your campus, reach out and lets find a way to collaborate.