BOSTON—What do the founders of a mobile electronic health records (EHR) application, a virtual platform for real-time voting, and an on-demand private jet coordinator for patients waiting for organ transplants all have in common? These founders, as well as about eighteen other women across Harvard University, are meeting every other week at the Harvard Innovation Lab as part of the Women's Founders Forums to help each other evaluate and potentially launch their businesses.
The participants, all students at Harvard Business School (HBS), Harvard College, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), and Harvard Medical School (HMS), are at different stages of the business development process, from idea conception to prototype development to meeting with venture capitalists.
The forums are being facilitated by Janet Kraus, a Senior Lecturer at HBS and serial entrepreneur, who champions other female entrepreneurs. According to Kraus, having a cohort of entrepreneurs who meet regularly to share knowledge and help each other navigate challenges is one of the most valuable techniques for increasing the value of an enterprise.
"When I was an entrepreneur," she said in a recent interview, "I belonged to a CEO forum that met two days each quarter, and those two days were always the most valuable of that period. To have a group of CEOs who are 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 and my management team were both very strong, there was nothing quite like turning to a group of entrepreneurs who know you well and want to help you succeed."
Each meeting of the Women's Founders Forums covers a key topic presented by Kraus, followed by a Q&A session and a Member Challenge, where two to three participants present the group with an issue they are currently facing in their business development. Topics have included defining a product's value proposition, determining the product/market fit, launching a lean start-up, identifying co-founders, negotiating equity splits, assessing priorities, assembling and managing a team, raising money, and building a board of directors.
"One of the key benefits of the Forum for me has been the ability to learn from the successes and challenges of other entrepreneurs," said Lindsay Duncan (HBS ’12). "The Forum promotes an open environment where we can candidly share the challenges we face and seek advice from each other. Since we are all at different stages in creating our businesses, we can see what challenges lie ahead."
The Forum will end with four industry-specific feedback sessions focusing on fashion, consumer technology (two sessions) and healthcare/social impact. Each founder will have a chance to present her business concept and model to a group of experts, who will provide strategic and tactical feedback and ideas to enable these women to move their businesses forward. Sessions are scheduled each evening from April 23 to April 26.
"It's been a pleasure to connect with other women entrepreneurs pursuing ambitious enterprises," says Annmarie Ryu (Harvard College ’12). "Entrepreneurship is typically dominated by men, but in the Forum, I am surrounded by women. I think we're better able to relate to each another and are more open about the challenges we're facing. You know you won't be criticized or stereotyped because of the problems that you're facing, so you're open in discussing them. It's refreshing. "
Participants and their businesses include:
- Helen Adeosun (EdSchool), SitterCycle: A platform that empowers long-term caregivers to become a teacher in a child's life by offering games, activities, and tools to enhance learning.
- Jessica Bloomgarden (HBS), AfterSteps: An online end-of-life planning platform with educational resources and tools to create a plan, store it, and transfer it to designated beneficiaries.
- Grace Choi (HBS), Grace Choi & Co.: A contemporary woman's lifestyle brand offering innovative beauty and fashion products. The company strives to deeply engage with its customers through social media.
- Jamira Cotton (HBS), BeautyX: A social shopping site where women of color can discover beauty products based on user photos and reviews.
- Sarah Elliot (HBS), InterRacked: A business-to-business group buying platform that revolutionizes how designer brands and small independent retailers interact.
- Chrissie Gorman (HBS), Tailour: A site that offers young professional women affordable, stylish dress pants with improved sizing and fit that can easily be transitioned from the office to after-work events.
- Dana Hork (HBS), brandNEW: A women's apparel brand and e-commerce retailer, creating essential pieces that women want to wear.
- Julia Kastner (HBS), Kismet Denim: A designer of beautiful, flattering, comfortable jeans for sophisticated women using Fair Trade, organic, and handmade materials, as well as sweatshop-free and environmentally sustainable manufacturing techniques.
- Melody Koh (HBS), FirstCrush: An e-commerce wine subscription service that tailors shipments based on individual preferences, eliminating the frustration of finding "that perfect bottle."
- Doris Lin (HBS), LookMazing: An invitation-only fashion and beauty web site that bridges the online and offline shopping worlds through social networking. Members of the online community can share photos, tag their outfits with purchase information, read the interactive magazine, and browse other's closets for inspiration.
- Monica Liu (Harvard College), Townhall 140: A virtual platform that integrates video technology with real-time voting to bring constituents face-to-face with political influencers.
- Megan Marcus (Ed School), FuelEd: A non-profit organization aiming to develop teachers' social and emotional competencies, ultimately improving teacher retention and quality, and the academic, social and emotional development of students.
- Katie Nadler (HBS), Topshelf Clothes: A website for members to seamlessly create a virtual closet and receive personalized style advice and purchase recommendations based on the clothes they own.
- Andriana Nikolova (HMS), Yosko: A mobile application designed to change hospital-based care from red-tape driven to patient-focused. Yosko provides an on-the-go electronic health records (EHR) solution for doctors to provide better quality care in real-time.
- Annie Ryu (Harvard College), Global Village Fruits: Markets healthy, sustainably and ethically-sourced jackfruit products in India and the U.S. At least 25 percent of company profits provide interest-free loans for processing infrastructure development for farmers groups in India.
- Alka Tandon (HBS), Mill Road Press: Allows users to turn their personal stories into illustrated storybooks.
- Elizabeth Trongone (HBS), Tailored Trends: Provides women aged 35 and above with better-fitting clothing based on body shapes rather than sizes.
- Katharine Wolf (HKS), OrganJet: OrganJet provides on-demand private jet and ground logistics, including timely and affordable air transport, for patients who are listed for organ transplants in the U.S.
- Kara Yu (HBS), Tripossible: Enables users to coordinate group travel by allowing them to save their research, share it with fellow travelers, and book the trip all in one place.