Investing in Women Entrepreneurs at Smith College

Much has been written about the need for more women in STEM, women in tech, women in startups, and women in investing. I recently wrote about why women should actively invest their own capital and support each other in changing the ratio in these traditionally male-dominated fields. Although I agree with the research, I’m tired of hearing how more VCs and men should fund women and instead want to see more women supporting each other to walk their own talk. As Madeline Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” I believe the same holds true in the business world.

That’s why I was honored to participate as a pitch judge at the fourth annual Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs hosted at my alma mater, Smith College. Forbes recently named Smith College one of America’s top 20 most entrepreneurial colleges. Melissa Draper (Smith ’77) and her husband Tim Draper (a third-generation venture capitalist from Silicon Valley) launched the pitch competition to support innovation and entrepreneurship among young women undergraduates.

Hosted and organized by the Center for Women and Financial Independence, the competition is one of only a handful of startup challenges specifically designed to encourage undergraduate entrepreneurs to start their own business. Entrants in the Draper Competition hailed from more than fifty colleges and included diverse businesses spanning e-commerce, real estate, medical, fashion, services, marketplaces, food tech, beauty, social enterprise and enterprise software. The five winning ventures were awarded more than $20,000 in funding, a generous kick start for the average undergraduate.


As any business owner knows it takes money to make money. Whether founders decide to bootstrap their own startup capital, raise friends and family money, take out a small business loan or alternatively raise venture capital, obtaining funding can be one of the most challenging hurdles to growing a company. Successful fundraising demands not only a viable business plan with a clear path to a sustainable company but also strong founder or founding team capable of delivering a compelling pitch.

I believe building a business (either for-profit or non-profit) can be one of the most satisfying and scaleable ways to impact the world, improve lives, create jobs and enable philanthropy. Now that computers and technology make it possible to launch a business from virtually anywhere targeted at nearly anyone, my hope is that more people become inspired to learn the basics of entrepreneurship to create the economic engines and innovations of the future.

Watch this video by the United States Patent and Trade Office (USPTO) highlighting the importance of women entrepreneurs across the globe, encouraging all of us to empower girls and women to pursue ideas that positively impact the world.

About Smith College
Smith College has a long-standing tradition of encouraging women’s personal and career growth, encouraging its undergraduates to develop their leadership potential and make their mark on the world both while at Smith and after graduation. Today, more than 46,000 Smith alumnae help students take advantage of an “ageless women’s network” to rival the “old boys’ network” across both private and public sectors.

The Center for Women and Financial Independence (WFI) is a resource at Smith College providing women with the skills and knowledge necessary to address financial issues that may arise in their personal, professional, family and community lives. This includes lessons in basic financial literacy, the opportunity to build an in-depth understanding of global financial markets, and tools for entrepreneurs and those seeking skills for successful self-employment. WFI Founding Director Mahnaz Mahdavi was my Economics professor who inspired me to pursue a business career which led to my path as an entrepreneur, for which I am eternally grateful.

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