Celebrating Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

Wisdom from the Women Who Support MIT’s Entrepreneurs

Today, November 19, is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day celebrating and encouraging female entrepreneurship. Our student venture accelerator program, delta v, has launched some amazing female entrepreneurs – and our historical data show us that the women-led delta v companies surpass our very impressive overall stat that 3 of every 4 delta v startups are still operating. At MIT, our goal is to support all our entrepreneurs and make them as successful as possible. That is why we are thrilled when we hear feedback like the quote below – it shows us that we are succeeding in our support of diverse entrepreneurs, and neutralizing any implicit biases.

“In the Trust Center, gender, age, race, culture, even hierarchy, are invisible. It’s the only space I’ve ever walked into where all that baggage was truly left at the door. This almost disorienting sense of equality allows for a re-imagining of identity.”
Joan Kelly, delta v entrepreneur and CEO of Abound

For the entire month of November, we’re profiling some of our women entrepreneurs, faculty, and Trust Center staff on our Instagram feed (@eshipMIT) with the tag #WEMatMIT (which stands for Women’s Entrepreneur Month at MIT). Follow the feed and be inspired!

Today, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship celebrates Women’s Entrepreneurship Day by focusing on the women at MIT who support all of our entrepreneurs, and sharing their wisdom.

Here is our lineup of stellar women supporting MIT’s entrepreneurship community and their responses to our questions on entrepreneurship. As I reflect on the contributions of these women, it is evident that the strong entrepreneurial ecosystems at MIT did not just materialize – they are nurtured, fostered, and improved upon by these individuals. They all bring a focused passion to their roles – with a lack of ego, they meet students where they are on their journeys to become entrepreneurs and help them flourish.

What advice can you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Just start! Usually that first step is the hardest one. If you just start you will see that anyone can get started. Figure out what that first step is and do it. And if your first step was to make a PowerPoint, nice job doing that first step, but now get out of PowerPoint and talk to humans!!” – Kit Hickey

“Admit what you don’t know. Share your idea and take every opportunity to learn from those around you. This isn’t always a comfortable way for talented, high performers to operate. But it is critical. Rather than always looking for validation of your ideas, look for evidence that reveals weaknesses in your hypotheses.” – Megan Mitchell

“Seek a broad range of advisors, mentors, colleagues – diversity in terms of age, gender, experience, outlook on life and don’t limit it to people you think you align with – so that you are challenged to move beyond your comfort zone.” Lesley Millar-Nicholson

“Follow your intuition and do what you feel is right. Women have stronger emotional intelligence, use this to make appropriate decisions and follow through with persistence.– Karen Golmer

“Remain open-minded to what you learn through research. Approach research with curiosity, rather than an opportunity to reinforce and validate your current assumptions. Embrace surprising results and be ready to go back to the drawing board and adapt your solutions to a deeper understanding of the problem you’re looking to solve.” Jinane Abounadi

“The outcome of any entrepreneurial endeavor is extremely uncertain, so you should be really excited about the journey. And surround yourself with people you like and respect, because you’ll be spending a lot of time together!” – Carly Chase

What do you believe female entrepreneurs need to do more of/better/differently to be successful?

“Unfortunately, we still need to have incredibly thick skin because the industry is not yet as equitable as it should be. Given the inequities, we’ve got to support and stick up for one another, in both small and big ways.” – Carly Chase

“Recognize that there are fewer female-backed startup companies, fewer women on Boards of companies, fewer patent holding female scientists – but don’t let that be a hurdle. In fact, find those who have or are those things – and learn from them, what inspires them, what tricks and tools have they created to achieve what they have achieved.” Lesley Millar-Nicholson

“Really examine what YOU want out of your entrepreneurial journey. We spend so much of our lives being told what we should be, it is a challenge to break away from that and define what success is for you. Success for you may be completely different than what success means for your classmate, and that’s OK. By actually defining success for yourself, you can have a much more meaningful, impactful and enjoyable career.” – Kit Hickey

“Female entrepreneurs need to own their space, their knowledge, and their brilliance. Women have to be deliberate in the words they use when they speak about their experience and their ventures. Please don’t say, ‘If the pilot is successful, we will…” Come from an affirmative position. Trade that language for something more like: “Following our successful pilot, we will…” – Megan Mitchell

“Speak up more often (males don’t wait for their turn to speak ) – so don’t wait to be asked, offer up your opinions, experience, insight and do it in a thoughtful and measured way – so people are keen to listen.” Lesley Millar-Nicholson

Female entrepreneurs need to work together and hold one another accountable when they see another not owning her own power. Women working together will elevate all.” – Megan Mitchell

“Own your ‘imposter syndrome’ and don’t let it come an excuse to demonstrate your knowledge, passion and capabilities – in fact, challenge that feeling by speaking up.” – Lesley Millar-Nicholson

“Don’t back down, instead listen with respect and learn about other perspectives. When feeling blocked or ignored, don’t speak louder to be heard – try a different approach.” – Karen Golmer

“Try not to take it personally when you hit a roadblock, or your initial ideas get rejected. Be confident in your talent and your ability to overcome hurdles and challenges. Use a network of caring mentors to get honest feedback and be open to listening and growing in the process.” Jinane Abounadi

How do you, personally, keep inspired and moving forward?

“I look for and accept the challenges that appear – one at a time. When I end up in a conflict or uncomfortable situation, I use humor to diffuse the tension and redirect to move forward.” – Karen Golmer

“For me, the inspiration at his phase of my career comes from stepping back and hearing about stories of other amazing women that have worked hard and persevered to make a difference. I felt so inspired when I heard that there was a woman scientist (Ozlem Tureci) behind the [COVID-19] Pfizer vaccine. In my role, I see the potential of so many of our brilliant female students (undergrad or graduate) to make significant impact in the future and I will feel proud to have been part of their journey.” Jinane Abounadi

“I love engaging with people – the passion, diversity and new ideas at MIT keep me inspired every day. Every day I learn from a student, and I love it! Being at a place where you continue to learn, can engage with amazing people, and have the autonomy to solve hard problems you are interested in, is what I love about being an EIR at MIT.” – Kit Hickey

“It is the entrepreneurs, their individual stories and passion that inspire me and keep me moving forward. Each entrepreneur has a story that connects them to the problem they are trying to solve. Often that story is deeply personal and offers me insights not only into who they are as individuals, but also the worlds in which they come from.” – Megan Mitchell

“Recognizing that I am part of a community and my contribution (or lack of it) has impact on others and what they can or cannot achieve because of my actions.” Lesley Millar-Nicholson

“Building businesses from scratch is an incredibly difficult, gritty, and uncomfortable experience that forces you to grow in ways you didn’t even know you needed to! I’m addicted to not only the constant growth I personally get from being an entrepreneur, but also to the people who it attracts – they are the most exciting people in the world to be working alongside.” – Carly Chase

Conclusion

At MIT, our definition of entrepreneurship has evolved from a focus on startups to an entrepreneurial mindset – we see entrepreneurship as a skillset and a way of operating. We need entrepreneurial attributes in all our organizations – whether it is within a big company, a small company, or a university environment. These women bring that entrepreneurial mindset to their roles in helping curious entrepreneurs in corporate environments, ready-to-go entrepreneurs, and amplifiers in their communities. They cover the developing world, emerging markets, and corporate innovation. We live in a changing world with changing needs, and students need to test and adapt their entrepreneurial skills. Thank you to Jinane, Carly, Karen, Kit, Lesley, and Megan for your invaluable guidance to MIT’s student entrepreneurs! As we all work together at MIT, we see all boats rise which is what makes the MIT community an amazing ecosystem.

MIT delta v Founder’s Talks Culminate with Hayley Sudbury of WERKIN

Hayley Sudbury – photo courtesy of MIT delta v

This summer, MIT’s delta v accelerator program for student entrepreneurs was adapted as a virtual experience. Although this called for a flexibility and creativity all around, one of the benefits was that we were able to virtually connect with some amazing speakers.

Our Founder’s Talk Series let us hear about journeys of successful entrepreneurs, the challenges they’ve had to face, and their advice for our students. This year, we were lucky enough to hear from: Eleanor Carey, an Australian adventurer who gave an inspiring talk relating to the realities of entrepreneurship; George Petrovas, a serial entrepreneur who shared his founder journey; John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, who spoke about leadership; Perry Cohen, Founder and Executive Director of The Venture Out Project who spoke about his journey; and Ed Baker, Investor, Entrepreneur, and Growth Specialist, previously with Uber and Facebook, who talked to students on scaling their businesses.

We concluded the series by speaking with Hayley Sudbury, founder and CEO of WERKIN, a company that raises the visibility of underrepresented talent. What Hayley and her team are doing at WERKIN is extremely important because although people talk about diversity and inclusion in companies, they don’t always know what to do about it. Here’s a short recap of what we learned from Hayley during her Founder’s Talk.

Overlapping Boundaries between Work and Life

Hayley commented that the boundaries between work and life have formally collapsed since March 2020 when the pandemic hit, and we all went remote. But also, there’s a bit of a trend toward moving back to our true humanity of who we are as people and the businesses we want to build to create change.

As an Aussie Brit, openly gay, tech, female CEO, Hayley jokes that she seems to tick a few boxes around “different.” She comments that getting a more diverse mix of founders will help create change in the world.

Driving Forces for Founding WERKIN

From her job at large bank managing a £ 50 billion balance sheet, Hayley notes she looked around and realized, there were no women above her, and there were certainly no gay women.

Even for the most extroverted types, it’s important to be able to see the version of yourself in life, as you look to create an aspirational pathway for your career or the businesses that you’re building. For Hayley, this was a real motivation to kind of get out and do something different.

Creating Inclusivity and Belonging at Scale for Business

WERKIN is very much focused on helping companies create inclusion and belonging at scale. The name comes from “We Are Kin” – and is dedicated to building a kinship and community within a workplace, helping employees feel visible and supported every day.

With the death of George Floyd earlier this year, there is a greater global awareness that we’re operating in a world where not all is equal. Race is a very important conversation that’s being had right now. This has opened up a broader conversation around consumers demanding more from companies – both companies we work for, and companies that we want to purchase from. Whoever we are, and whatever our lived experience or background is, how we choose to spend our money creates power.

Millennials, particularly, make decisions around wanting to work for a purpose-led organization. They expect more. They expect organizations to not only talk about being equal and fair and transparent, they demand that they are. And they’re looking for the data to kind of back that up as well.

WERKIN has been on a mission for quite a long time around helping organizations create this and inclusion and belonging. But now it feels like there’s much more of a sense of urgency and importance. CEOs are realizing if you really want a different result, you must do different things, and this year has really tipped the balance.

It Started with Mentoring

The seed for WERKIN starting with mentoring and sponsorship, which essentially go hand-in-hand. It’s the stuff that people do for you. It’s the doors that get opened. It’s the connection that someone makes for you to a colleague. It’s those small actions.

So, we looked at ways to democratize this idea of access to the right people, so that you’re visible, and the traditional “having beers in the pub” is not the only way to build rapport. WERKIN was created help that accessibility be open and available to more people.

We then leveraged technology to manage and measure these programs and demonstrate ROI. For us, it is very much a data play, as we create this digital standard for inclusion and belonging.

Love Your Customers, Not Your Product.

Falling in love with your product is a very easy thing to happen. You can see the pain point, for example, but if you fall into the trap of being product-first, not customer-first, it’s very easy to miss the real opportunity to create change.

At WERKIN, we think about how we want to change someone’s journey inside an organization so that they are seen, they are heard, they are visible to a larger percentage of the population. But not only that, they have a clear pathway to accelerate through to the highest levels that are, obviously, economically beneficial for that individual, but also allow them to influence the outcome of the organization.

Embrace the Most Exciting Time in our Lifetimes

While it may look terrifying from an economic outlook, if you’re in the business of building new ways to do things, this is probably the most exciting time in our lifetimes. Both from a change in civil rights, equality, and the move towards shutting down this very separate life we had between work and life, and actually coming back to our humanity. This means businesses that are purpose-driven, sustainability-focused, forward-looking, tech-enabled and changing the way we work, are all presented with massive opportunities right now.

The entrepreneurial journey is certainly a roller coaster ride – enjoy it!

For further insights about Hayley and her founder’s journey, watch her TEDx talk, read the WeAreTechWomen Inspirational Woman profile and the Forbes article on How to Create Change for the Transgender and LGBTQ+ Community in the Workplace.

To see what delta v has been up to this summer, register for our September 17 Demo Day live webcast.

My Reflections: One Week Working from Home

Today I put the dogs in my car to drive to a field where I could take them for a walk. I then went back to the house because I forgot my phone and when I came out, I got into the other car, and started driving to work. I was well into the next town before I realized it was 8:00, and I work from home now. It was a bit of a wake up call.

I know my mind is not in the game yet. I am running from item to item and finishing nothing. And, I don’t even have kids in the house. Like others, I do have family, community, and colleagues that I am worried about.

So, I am going to cut myself a break and figure this out.

I may need a slotted time. At a former employer, I was a slave to instant messaging, and I still hate it. I worked long hours, and I was busy, but not productive. I don’t want to make that mistake again. I don’t know what this “new normal” will look like yet, but I encourage all of you to find a way to work that works for you.  

If you are home with kids, you know they need, deserve, and want your attention. If you have a spouse or partner at home and you are sharing a room or alternating rooms, you have to find a rhythm. If you are caring for an elderly parent, relative, or friend, I’m sure you’re especially stressed right now. 

We all need patience. In one of my training sessions, the instructor said that you need patience and that you may not be able to do everything. They are right. This is a unique opportunity, and how can we take advantage of it? Each of us needs to figure out how it works for them and let one another know. 

As part of MIT’s entrepreneurship community, we are a team that cares about each other. The work will get done as long as we take care of ourselves. So, I encourage you to experiment. If you want to partner up as we do for delta v applications, then set up time ahead so others can plan for it. If you need time for yourself, take it. 

It looks like this is going to be a long road. This is a tough time, no doubt. We need to continue to deliver excellent programming, engage with students, teach in an innovative way, and continue to be a high performing team. However, first and foremost, we need to take care of ourselves, and if we all do that, we will get through this even stronger.  

I know we’ve heard Rudyard Kipling’s quote from The Jungle Book, “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack,” and in this situation, I believe it is extremely apt and timely. 

Those are my thoughts for today. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments as well.

Finding the “Aha!” moment at MIT’s Entrepreneur Development Program

“Enjoy every moment of being fire-hosed.”

This slightly scary piece of encouragement might leave you with a bit of trepidation. But, an alum of MIT’s week-long Entrepreneurship Development Program (EDP) vows this program changed her business completely.

So, what is MIT’s Entrepreneurship Development Program? Let me offer a peek inside the program from the view of a faculty member and coach. I personally find it fascinating part to witness professionals experience their “Aha!” moment during the program – that sudden moment of realization, inspiration, and insight in their entrepreneurial journey.

Bill Aulet kicks off a session on Disciplined Entrepreneurship

For the third year in a row I recently assisted in teaching and facilitating this MIT Executive Education program with Bill Aulet. The group of people who attend EDP are highly motivated, driven, and want to make a positive impact in the world. These individuals are seasoned professionals who are used to delivering results, so we needed to provide the material in a way so that it can be applied to their real world. The MIT style of learning “mens et manus” (which translates from Latin to mind and hand) is a good match for the EDP cohorts. MIT provides the theory and reinforces it with the practical.

The global life experiences in the class make for such a vibrant community. They ask questions to deepen their understanding, and by doing so, we become better educators. The 2020 week-long program had 104 participants from 27 countries and six continents. The participants listen to a MIT fire hose of information during the day and apply the lessons in teams during the evening by going through simulations with coaching from experienced entrepreneurs.

Participants come together on their first day, and we put them through an introduction, then they jump right into entrepreneurial speed dating, pitching ideas, and form teams before they leave that evening. The balance of the rest of the week consists of the Disciplined Entrepreneurship (DE) framework, coaching, and ecosystem tours. The program is not for the faint of heart. It truly is a constant fire hose of content. EDP is more than an entrepreneurial mindset as these folks are building out ecosystems, starting companies, and came to the Entrepreneurship Development Program specifically to learn Disciplined Entrepreneurship. 

These entrepreneurs see the effect they can have in the world through entrepreneurship. After recovery from the week, one participant said, “I am already working on the social enterprise that I have been wanting to build for 10 years, but I didn’t know how to make it into a business.” I appreciate the opportunity to teach and coach in such a results-based program.

During the school year, 90% of my day to day is made up of teaching, leading programs, and supporting current MIT Students. About 10% of my day is working in Executive Education and community building. EDP is such an essential part of our ecosystem as it brings frameworks, application, and experience to people from all over the globe who are experienced executives but are looking to take their entrepreneurial initiatives to the next level.

EDP coaches

However, our MIT educators are not the only ones teaching about the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In EDP, we bring entrepreneurs who have launched after participating in our various entrepreneurship programs. Companies like AirWorks, Floating Point Group, CaroCare, and Ministry of Supply. We also introduce non-MIT related support like Greentown Labs and the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC).

No one program can claim the success of any MIT startup, as it is the collective ecosystem that encourages those at MIT to reach back into the community to help others rise up. Many of the people who come to the Entrepreneurship Development Program are already active in their entrepreneurship ecosystems, bringing the Disciplined Entrepreneurship lessons to others. This is the impact of EDP.  We continue to foster the community.

Here is some of the feedback from participants:

MIT Entrepreneur Development Program, class of 2020

Dale Cree, CEO, 3EN Cloud ltd
“At the end of the day, it was absolute proof, you need to complete the 24 steps to have any chance at all. Greatest foundation for any business journey. MIT EDP.”

Kasper Juul, Director, External Innovation at LEO Science & Tech Hub
“The combination of inspiring lectures and practical exercises, with the support of experienced entrepreneurial mentors is simply invaluable. This makes for a very intense course with a steep learning curve that will push you to your limit while having lots of fun. Most importantly EPD makes you feel part of a community that will continue to support you on the entrepreneurial journey.”

Mariam AlEissa, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow at MIT
“I’m so grateful to be part of the Entrepreneurship Development Program where I learned innovative ideas can’t be delivered without entrepreneurial skills. As a Saudi woman, I’m fortunate to live in a time where women empowered as part of 2030 vision and I’m trying my best to be ready to play an active role in my community at all levels.”

Dr. Dani Abu Ghaida, Technology Leader working with Middle East organizations to create, build and launch new ventures
“What particularly attracted me [to EDP] is to find answers on what I did wrong in the ventures I have led and that failed prior to EDP. EDP not only answered this question but gave me the motivation to move ahead and pursue multiple programs at MIT leading to the ACE [Advanced Executive Certificate] qualification I have now. This journey has equipped me with the tools that I need to answer all the management, strategy, innovation, operations, and supply chain challenges I can face as a venture leader, business executive, and a person who wants to change the world.”

Mary Rodgers, Innovation Community Manager, PorterShed (past participant)
“Since returning to Galway, MIT EDP has become an integral part of our daily working lives. Managing a co-working Tech Hub, I regularly meet with entrepreneurs at different stages of their life cycle. I used the DE [Disciplined Entrepreneurship] roadmap to refocus the companies, and provide an objective, practical, advice and actions to progress.”

Want to learn more? Visit these websites:

Entrepreneurship Development Program

Disciplined Entrepreneurship

Why We Need to Redefine Start-up Culture With Positive Mental Health Habits

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Data shows self-awareness practices helped M.I.T. entrepreneurs better manage the stress of entrepreneurship.

Anxiety and depression are rampant among entrepreneurs. The stereotype of a founder — fueled by caffeine and ramen noodles, while forgoing sleep, exercise, fresh air, friends, and family in the quest for success — has been the norm for years. It has been encouraged, and even glorified, by start-up culture.

The Inc. article “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” explores this topic and explains, “the same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them. Business owners are ‘vulnerable to the dark side of obsession.’” Yet this is not healthy or helpful for long-term success.

Compounding this problem is the start-up founder’s hesitation to show weakness or self-doubt. They feel the need to project confidence for investors and employees, despite any inner insecurities. They also tend to connect their self-worth and identity to their start-ups, which can lead to feelings of depression if their start-up fails.

We also commonly see “impostor syndrome” — an unjustified, yet pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence. This can slow down an otherwise well-designed new organization by curtailing its ultimate impact and potentially even its existence. The majority of entrepreneurs have experienced these feelings, but they are pushed away and not discussed.

At M.I.T., we don’t believe entrepreneurship has to be this way. The health of a start-up doesn’t need to impact founders’ mental health. We believe self-awareness and mental preparedness can enhance an entrepreneur’s abilities. This, in turn, leads to creating a more successful business. The right tools can help entrepreneurs work through stress, rather than work in spite of it. This is a real game changer for the start-up culture.

Through a new exploratory program, we’ve found data affirming that when entrepreneurs understand their thoughts, feelings, and biases, it is useful in managing stress — and this is a skill that can be taught. In fact, 93% of M.I.T. delta v entrepreneurs believe self-awareness practices can help them create more successful businesses. Here’s more about the program:

Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication

Last year, we debuted Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication (E.C.C.) at M.I.T.’s delta v accelerator. This is the first comprehensive program to address mental health challenges in the start-up community and builds on our previous smaller experiments in this area. Our goal was to teach 84 student founders and their team members tools to build greater self-awareness and to provide a confidential environment for venting and peer feedback. Stress is inevitable in start-ups, but by learning how to be less affected by that stress, participants could make better choices for themselves and their start-ups.

In the first six weeks of the program, participants were taught the tools of self-awareness, including meditation and mindfulness, and their benefits. What are the benefits of meditation or mindfulness? Studies abound, but two that may be of particular interest to entrepreneurs are:

  • Harvard study on practicing mindfulness meditation for at least 30 minutes a day reports that the practice can increase grey matter in the hippocampus. This is one of the more important meditation facts, since this part of the brain plays an important role in memory and learning.
  • Another study, published in Heliyon, showed that practicing mindfulness meditation for a short period of time may enhance visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.

In the second six weeks, they applied their learnings, discussing key choices entrepreneurs face — taking breaks vs. spending all your time on your start-up, working through limiting beliefs, considering others’ perspectives, and approaching challenges with fear or curiosity. Participants learned through readings, optional group meditation, and small group sessions where they could talk confidentially about challenges they were facing with people who could relate to what they were going through.

The results were significant. Participants didn’t just learn that a self-awareness practice can benefit them — they decided to implement it on a regular basis in their own lives. The overall experience had a measurable effect on their well-being.

The student entrepreneurs started becoming what we call “antifragile.” The term antifragile is used by professor and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book titled Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. When applying his systems analysis to humans, antifragile people are those who “grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”

A comparison of surveys conducted before and after the program, with 60 participants responding, revealed the following results:

Learning new skills

Before the program, 65% of participants had never meditated and only 21% were regularly practicing meditation or mindfulness.

By the end of the summer, 88% of had independently established their own regular, weekly meditation or mindfulness practice, despite heavy workloads and continual critical deadlines. And, their practices were measurably impacting how they worked through stress. After the program, 53% of participants were using a deliberate technique to calm themselves when in the midst of a stressful situation.

Sharing challenges

Most founders rarely have the opportunity to talk about the challenges of entrepreneurship with someone who is knowledgeable, and whom they don’t feel the need to impress. Participants in E.C.C. reported significant value from both small group discussions and optional one-on-one sessions, which were both 100% utilized by the students. The fact that very busy students took full advantage of E.C.C.’s optional one-on-one coaching, in particular, indicates the strong value the participants realized from the program.

Credit: The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

Making better choices

We hypothesized that self-awareness tools could help founders make better moment-to-moment choices in their daily entrepreneurial lives. We found that after the program, 34% of participants who had established a meditation or mindfulness practice were more confident in their communications with others. And 40% were more aware of the emotions they were feeling, choosing to go ahead and feel those emotions rather than push them away.

The data affirms that self-awareness tools are useful in managing stress — and they can be taught. These tools help you understand your automatic responses to difficult situations and to perspectives different from your own. You start to notice problems earlier and feel more personal confidence, making it is easier to treat yourself and others with respect and to be resilient in the face of entrepreneurship’s challenges.

As demonstrated in this Boston Consulting Group article “Unleashing the Power of Mindfulness in Corporations,” meditation and mindfulness have proven positive effects in other industries — and now we have data that shows they can be significantly beneficial in entrepreneurship. Integrating self-awareness into the entrepreneurial experience will help prevent burnout, encourage better mental and physical health, and create better team dynamics. It’s great for entrepreneurs, and it could be great for their start-ups’ bottom line too.

Self-awareness education can guide entrepreneurs to not only take care of themselves, but to spread these skills across the entrepreneurial ecosystem, building company cultures that are supportive of both individual and start-up success. As M.I.T.’s delta v program works to redefine the start-up culture by incorporating positive mental health practices, we want to help entrepreneurs practice the self-awareness skills necessary to nurture their own mental health and create more successful businesses.

This piece originally appeared in Thrive Global and was co-written by Kathleen Stetson.

Women and Work: Intentional Invisibility?

Be seen. Speak up. Make your voice heard. These are lessons we are taught as we enter the workforce and climb the ladder to corporate success. Yet, many women are uncomfortable with this advice, even though they want to succeed

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Why Women Stay out of the Spotlight at Work,” explores the concept of “intentional invisibility” and why some women use this as a strategy to navigate the workplace. Immersed in a women’s professional development program, the HBR authors learned how this cloak of invisibility enabled women to “get stuff done” and quietly move things forward without drawing attention to themselves. The drawback? Although these women were well-liked, they were underappreciated, (probably underpaid), and often overlooked for promotions.

Women tend to choose intentional invisibility for three reasons:

  1. to avoid conflict,
  2. to be authentic to their personalities, and
  3. to seek personal and professional balance.

The term intentional invisibility really clicked with me. I believe that looking at this issue more closely can help C-level executives and managers value and encourage leadership qualities in women they work with, even if those women may not lead in the same way as their male colleagues. Here are some examples I’ve encountered in my own life.

Conflict Avoidance when Choosing a Startup CEO
At MIT’s delta v, student venture accelerator program, I mentor entrepreneurs. During the program, student teams form startup companies and choose a management team. Although women are well-represented in delta v overall, we still have more male CEOs than female CEOs. Often, the most extroverted person in the group is rewarded with leadership responsibility, and more reserved women on the team defer and don’t put forth an argument as to why they should be considered as CEO. Later, I’ve had female team members share with me that it just wasn’t worth the fight, or that it doesn’t matter who has the CEO title, they will all work together. This conflict avoidance lets the team initially move forward more quickly, but hidden resentment sometimes bubbles up to cause problems later. Ultimately, if the company succeeds, it is important who is the CEO. I’m encouraged that a lot of women in the delta v program this year took advantage of the personal coaching sessions we offer to address imposter syndrome. As leaders, we should ensure employees are evaluated on several different, varied criteria because the person who speaks up the loudest is not always the best for the job.

Self-Identified in a Helper Role
In another example, many women I know (myself included) often end up in the job of the indispensable helper or chief assistant, the so-called right-hand man … only in this case, it’s a woman. Whether it’s as a COO, vice president, or research assistant, the right-hand woman makes it easy for her boss (usually a man) to be successful while she stays in the background. This role may be more aligned with her authentic sense of self, or it may be how she has been guided through the organization. When we meet these women, we wonder if their bosses could ever survive without them. In my opinion, many of these women would make excellent top executives themselves, but they may gravitate toward these roles because they define themselves as helpers. I’d encourage women to think about what they really enjoy in this role and find a voice. They should strive to shine independently and get credit for their accomplishments, not just enable their boss’ success. If they realize they’ve been hiding in their bosses’ shadow and would rather be the boss themselves, they should take the steps to grow into that position. I was fortunate enough to work with an executive coach who told me, “You don’t need a seat at the table, you already have it. Now, act like it.” No one had ever told me that before and it really re-framed the way I thought about my job.

The Balancing Act and the Second Shift
Finally, women tend to choose invisibility over face time when they need to balance responsibilities at work with those at home. However, what women really need is flexibility, not invisibility. Although the dynamic is changing, most of the women I know are still responsible for the lion’s share of household duties, our so called second shift – especially when it comes to parenting and elder care. While face time is important to get ahead in an organization, it becomes deprioritized for women who need the flexibility to bring a sick child or parent to the doctor, assist with after-school activities, or even to be the one who works from home when the cable guy is coming. Jobs that involve travel for work, networking events outside of regular work hours, or even casual after-work drinks often deliver undue stress for women. They know it’s good for their careers, but they either decline to attend or need to do a lot of juggling to make it happen. While the boss is getting chummy with the guys over a beer, often the female colleague is rushing home to pick up the kids, get dinner on the table, throw in a load of laundry, and get everyone ready to do it all over again tomorrow. When it comes time to pick someone for that plum assignment, Tom gets chosen because he’s a good guy and the project leader got to know him socially after work. This is a tough one, because it’s an implicit bias. I believe things will only change when both partners at home equally share responsibilities and both must deal with juggling the needs of a demanding job and home life. Of course, this is even trickier for single parents and caretakers.

Reality Check

As the HBR article explains, organizations value leaders who stand up, are visible, and take credit. But, this definition of leadership can leave women out in the cold because their behind-the-scenes contributions are overlooked or undervalued. It suggests that organizations value unconventional forms of leadership, fight implicit bias, and balance women’s second-shift responsibilities in order to make it easier for them to be seen and promoted. I wholeheartedly agree that today’s leaders must dig deeper to recognize and value the contributions and leadership qualities of women who are intentionally invisible in our workplaces. Most of these women truly don’t want to be invisible, so as leaders we need to see them, encourage their input, recognize their contributions, and offer flexibility. We need to make it OK to succeed by following a different path.

If you feel like you gravitate toward an intentionally invisible role at work, what can you do? Be mindful to push yourself out of your comfort zone and step in the spotlight. Find your voice and own your career, rather an allowing other people to do so. There are a lot of paths – you are allowed to do things your way and own your success!

Find Your Voice, Own Your Narrative, and Help Your Mentor Help You

In today’s society, there is an awareness that diversity is important not only as a concept, but also for real bottom line improvements. While this is good news, there is still a long way to go. I recently had the privilege of joining a panel that discussed the successes and challenges facing women in terms of equal pay, gender parity/blind bias, and upward mobility.

“Press for Progress” was sponsored by The Boston Club and held at the offices of Ernst & Young. First, my thanks to our moderator, Tara Alex, an Insurance Partner at E&Y, and my fellow panelists: Linda Rossetti, social entrepreneur and board member; Agnes Bundy Scanlan, who is on multiple boards and an advisor at Treliant Risk Advisors; and Jane Steinmetz, the Managing Principal for E&Y’s Boston office.

The overall feedback from this panel is positive – there is more focus on improving gender parity today, and sponsorship is key to that improvement. When you have a sponsor, someone is advocating for you; they have your best interests in mind and can recommend you for important assignments. The other key takeaway is the importance of having multiple women and minorities in the candidate pool for new hires.

Gender Parity and Sponsorship

The panel provided actionable advice both for women trying to get ahead and for their mentors. It was clear from the panel’s experience, as well as the audience’s, that each individual’s journey is personal and gender parity mandates don’t work. Because each experience is different, the power is shifted to the employee to own their experience and make the most of it. Employees need to leave “breadcrumbs” along the way so that when opportunities arise, the managers making the decision know what you have accomplished. Whether it is seeking a board seat or a new career path, if no one knows what you want (and you have not networked to get the message out) then it will be difficult for the hiring folks to find you.

An interesting Harvard Business Review article by Stefanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman, and Elsa T. Chan delves into the statistics around the number of diverse candidates presented and its impact on selection. Titled “If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired,” the article’s premise is that people are invested in maintaining the status quo. That means if two men and one woman are presented as equally qualified, employers tend to hire a male. The panel discussed making the candidate pool richer with more women and minority candidates, and how this could shift the odds.

The women on my panel have all played a sponsor role in their organizations. They talked about looking at a slate of candidates and finding opportunities to position them, so they are ready for the next opportunity. But this can only be done if the sponsor is aware of what you want and desire as a potential job candidate. This requires you as an employee to own your narrative, find your voice, identify what is of value to you, and link it to the organizational purpose.

Taking Risks

It is also clear that women often wait until they are fully qualified for a job before they apply for it, whereas men are more likely to take a risk and sell the vision of what they can/will do. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty states, “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not co-exist.”

With each risk you take, you build confidence. The first risk is the toughest, and if you’re successful, each subsequent risk is easier. Changing jobs is scary, but this lets others perceive you in a different light and provides momentum to your career. Even if you fail, you will realize what the issue was – wrong organizational fit, skills mismatch, more travel than you understood it to be, etc. – but by taking the risk you’ll be better prepared for when you make the next decision.

Upward Mobility

Pay parity and advancement were topics of particular interest to women who take an extended parenting leave and then return to the workforce. The panel’s advice was that you need to align yourself to market value, not your former salary. Do the work, find the data, and present your case. Today there is more transparency in salaries with sites like Glassdoor, so use this to your advantage. Remember, it is much costlier for your employer to lose you as an employee than to provide you a market-value salary. Also, step back and look at patterns. If you have seen other people’s careers go off track, this is where you must convey your own narrative to decision makers and voice your expectations about what you need to make it work.

Another point women should consider as they negotiate salary and benefits, is that silence is OK. In fact, it is often a powerful negotiation tool, so use it to your advantage. One final point is that you don’t have to do a job the way your predecessor did. Make it your own. If your family obligations don’t allow you to be out every night of the week, then figure out what does work for you and own it.

Further Diversity Research

I looked further at the research and the Harvard Business Review has a series of articles on the latest studies in diversity. One article by Evan Apfelbaum, titled “Why Your Diversity Program may be Helping Women but not Minorities (or Vice Versa),” looks at the problem of lumping women and minorities into one bucket. “The fact is that 40% of women make up all employees in a professional setting, whereas black women and men by contrast rarely comprise more than 5% of employees in these same settings.” These statistical differences affect how concerned people are with “sticking out” as representatives of their group. While the “value in difference” approach may energize groups, like white women, the very same message may, ironically, undermine groups who are represented in smaller numbers, like black women and men.

In the end, business is conducted by people and the way to enhance performance and decrease turnover is to provide all groups the same opportunity to succeed.

 

Why Consistent, Passionate Leadership Makes all the Difference

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I had lunch the other day with a friend and former colleague; he had been the CEO of a successful company that we worked together to build. As usual, we caught up and reminisced, but what struck me about our conversation was our discussion around leadership, and how much truly good leadership contributed to the company’s success, culture, and camaraderie.

He shared that as he visits companies that have been built by previous employees – and staffed by a lot of talent from his previous companies – and he is greeted with such warmth. He said folks tell him that being a part of the company he led was one of the best experiences of their lives. I agreed. We had a great team, a great product, and built a company of significant value that positively impacted customers’ businesses.

He chuckled at my recollection, said he kept emails from his staff telling him how badly things were going, how people disagreed with decisions that were being made, and that working with “so and so” was painful. In hindsight, that is true. So, is it the halo effect, where you remember only the positive and time fades the rest? Or, were we really accomplishing something as a team? I believe it is a bit of both.

Certainly, there were some low points – like when we blew a presentation, a product launch, hired the wrong people and took too long to recognize it, failed a customer, or failed to deliver as a team. We scaled fast but not fast enough, we forecasted sales but sold different models, we worked ridiculous hours. But, at the end of the day, we delivered it together. If we didn’t deliver on a customer commitment, it was “all hands on deck” to get that issue corrected, and that was a core value of the company. However, we also did a lot right. We focused on organic growth, so there was an opportunity to grow and learn. We took risks and learned from what worked and what didn’t.

I also talked to a former colleague who was just 21 when she joined the company. She remembers feeling personally responsible for making customers happy and making the company successful … and, everyone felt that way. If we weren’t passionate about the company, we wouldn’t care so much, and we wouldn’t have told the CEO all the things that we thought were wrong.

As a leader, how do you get employees to think like this? Part of it is to be transparent, celebrate successes, and think ahead to what is next. Communication of both successes and failures is essential, as is laying down the challenge to do better. I remember every day, as I left my office, I saw a sign that read, “Did I move the company forward today?” It was simple, yet meaningful. It was personal for me, and it was personal for others.

We had a mantra of: Performance; Simplicity; and to Be easy to do business with. It was a simple, yet consistent message of expectations – the expectations of our customers (who called us on it), and the expectations of our employees who focused on it internally and externally by communicating in an authentic way (rather than with charts or PowerPoint). This shared set of beliefs and living the culture every day became the guide rails we used to make decisions.

Leadership in building an enterprise is fraught with strife. How you show up everyday matters. It matters how you lead by example through good times and bad, the signals you send to the employees, prospective employees, customers, and investors. It matters what you say, and how you say it. People see how you carry yourself, and how you treat others. The CEO job is lonely, and all paths lead there, so it is vital that CEOs have their support network to provide perspective.

Maybe I have been lucky (or wise) in choosing the companies I have worked with, but I have experienced terrific leadership at a variety of companies, including employees that challenge those leaders to be better, and customers who depend on that. So, at the end of the day, I am pleased to hear that my former CEO is treated well – as he should be. There might be a bit halo effect as we reminisce, but in my experience, creating something special for others creates its own halo.

 

Where are the Hungry Dogs? A Look at Entrepreneurs in the Nordics.

When you think of an entrepreneur, you probably conjure a picture in your head: a tenacious achiever, a passionate risk-taker – essentially one of the “hungry dogs.” But culturally, this is not a universal characterization.

I was recently invited to Norway to teach an “Innovation Crash Course” workshop to postdocs and PhDs at the Technoport 2018 Deep Tech conference, technoportwhich focused on deep tech and what governments, universities, entrepreneurs, and corporations are doing to speed research from R&D labs to make a real impact on society. I was fortunate enough to spend time with entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, and those supporting entrepreneurship in the Nordics, and the experience taught me quite a lot – including not to filter my view of entrepreneurship with a US-centric lens.

This article in Entrepreneur outlines “7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs,” which include tenacity, passion, tolerance of ambiguity, vision, self-belief, flexibility, and rule-breaking. But, it makes me think –are we looking only at entrepreneurship from an American perspective? This post shares my experiences in Norway and my thoughts on how the region’s culture and social policies influence its entrepreneurs.

The Entrepreneurial Scene in the Nordics

Although Americans are known for our entrepreneurial spirit and the “American dream,” Nordic countries are also embracing entrepreneurship. Interestingly, according to The World Bank Economy Rankings, Sweden is ranked #13, Norway #19, and Denmark #34 for ease of starting a business, as compared to the U.S. at #49. (New Zealand is in the #1 slot.)

Oslo, Norway is seen as one of the world’s best startup hubs even though it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. Entrepreneurs can expect a refreshingly balanced approach to work/life and a great environment to base tech or communication startups. Norway’s startup scene is also starting to blossom in terms of investment, and these articles in Shifter and Medium show how other Nordic countries, specifically Finland and Sweden, are doing particularly well in terms of investments, with Denmark also catching up.

The Problem for Entrepreneurship in Norway

Although there is a welcoming environment, is the drive to be an entrepreneur similar to the U.S.?  An in-depth article in Inc. magazine reports, “The problem for entrepreneurship in Norway is it’s so lucrative to be an employee,” says Lars Kolvereid, Professor at the University of Nordland, who was the lead researcher for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in Norway.

In the U.S., about one-quarter of startups are founded by so-called necessity entrepreneurs – people who start companies because they feel they have no good alternative. In Norway, there is less necessity; the number is only 9 percent, third lowest in the world after Switzerland and Denmark, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

The social welfare system is quite different there as well. The article explains there are no private schools in Norway; education is public and free, from nursery school through graduate school. In addition, the unemployment rate is low, and, if you are unemployed, there are generous benefits. Every Norwegian trondheim-2068802_1920worker also receives free health insurance in a system that produces longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than in America. At age 67, workers get a government pension of up to 66 percent of their working income.

Zoltan J. Acs, a professor at George Mason University and former chief economist for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, summed it up, “The three things we as Americans worry about – education, retirement, and medical expenses – are things that Norwegians don’t worry about.”

Essentially, the wealth and comfort prevalent in Norway and Denmark mean there is less of a “hungry dog phenomenon,” something that was even remarked upon by the people I met with at the Technoport conference. This makes it a challenge to recruit young people to work for startups since they are well compensated in the public sector, don’t have debt, and generally lack incentives to take the risk. In addition, while I was in Denmark I heard that many startups are bought by American companies before they have a chance to make an impact on the Danish economy, so the benefits are not seen by the founding country.

Of course, Norway’s generous social benefits are financed largely from higher taxes, another consideration for entrepreneurs. However, as the Inc. article explains, Norwegian entrepreneurs tend to see taxes as an exchange of cash for services, rather than a burden. All of these factors certainly set a different stage for Nordic entrepreneurs as they consider starting their own businesses.

A Need for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Public Sector

I met with MIT alumni in both countries and came away with a better understanding of a need for entrepreneurship in the public sector. There is a strong corporate culture of innovation programs that are challenging the current thinking, but these share some of the same challenges that U.S. corporations face. Examples include budget cycles that are often incompatible with the reaction time needed to respond to new market changes and conditions, attention that gets divided between current versus future business challenges, functional silos, and challenging organizational dynamics.

A Successful Transformation from an Oil-Rich Economy

The economic impact of the oil industry is another factor when considering entrepreneurship in Norway. The focus of the Technoport conference was on energy, education, and ecosystems. And, although Norway’s oil industry has always been a key economic contributor for the country, it is a finite resource with all constituents looking ahead to what industries can, will, or should do to replace (or supplement) oil in the future.

In an article in TechCrunch, Anita Krohn Traaseth, the CEO of Innovation Norway, says that it’s time for the country to look beyond oil. “Norway needs to develop and build several growth sectors to contribute to a more diversified and sustainable national economy.”

“The fundamentals in Norway to make a successful transformation are solid,” she explains. “We still have a low unemployment rate, we still have a huge capital reserve toentrepreneur-593358_1920 make necessary investments for the future, we have a strong growth of entrepreneurial focus and companies. This is all about how we prioritize, reposition investments, build competence, and have the guts to make important, and maybe radical, political decisions today to secure tomorrow.”

Conclusion

Just as entrepreneurship in the U.S. is complex and driven by many factors, so is the entrepreneurial environment in the Nordics. On the plus side for Nordic entrepreneurs, because higher education is free in Norway, students don’t graduate with the crippling debt that is an issue for so many young professionals in the U.S. This provides an opportunity to focus on jobs they love, versus jobs that can pay back the loans.

A Forbes article titled “Four Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Denmark’s Work Culture” cites teamwork, a flat, non-hierarchical structure, autonomy, and a compassionate management style as reasons for successful entrepreneurship – quite a different list than the seven traits listed by Entrepreneur at the start of this post.

At Technoport I was able to see that Norway is working to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem to provide solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems. I believe the mix of people I met in Norway and Denmark – young, older, entrepreneurs, corporates, and investors – are all willing to learn from each other and are looking for their role in supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

 

Reflections on delta v 2017

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It’s hard to believe I’ve recently finished my third year of guiding MIT startup teams through our delta v student venture accelerator. The 2017 cohort was another fantastic group of entrepreneurs and startups, and I look forward to seeing the places they will go as they develop their businesses and grow as individuals.

One useful exercise that we’ve done each year is to look critically at the delta v program at the end of each session and assess what went well and what could be improved. I believe this has helped us refine and grow our program, and I’d like to share some of our top findings:

Positive changes

We had great feedback from this year’s cohort, and did a comparison between 2016 and 2017. Here are some stats, and our take on what we’re doing well:

  • This was our largest cohort to date. We supported 21 teams and 65 entrepreneurs.
  • The average team size decreased from 5 members in 2016 to 3 members in 2017 – we feel that a smaller team size means more involvement in the process for each student.
  • The percentage of female entrepreneurs increased from 26% in 2016 to 45% in 2017 – we are making good strides toward gender parity and neutralizing gender bias, both important goals.
  • For the first time we expanded the delta v program with a Startup Studio in New York City supporting seven additional teams
  • The students were especially pleased with the founders’ dinner speakers and the interaction and support from our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs).
  • They also generally liked the amount of programming included this year.
  • We implemented longer and more structured board meetings in response to requests made after the 2016 program; this was well received.
  • The teams closed more business during delta v than ever before, reaching more than $100K in revenue over the summer months.
  • Based on a survey of the students, the average net promoter score for the 2017 cohort was 93.6.
  • 100% of students surveyed are willing to be a reference for the program going forward.

We also reached out to our delta v board members for their feedback. Here’s what two of our board members had to say:

“Serving on a delta v board reminds me of the interdependency of the roles of ‘change agents’ and ‘game changers,’ irrespective of age or accomplishment. Board and delta v members, alike, seamlessly assume these roles while educating and constructively guiding each other to the launch milestone.”

  • Kristine Van Amsterdam, delta v board member

“As board members, we have the thrill and privilege of helping young entrepreneurs take those critical first steps to turn their ideas into real-life and life changing entities. Many of the ideas born here will become companies that impact the world.”

  • Janet Wu, delta v board member

 We’re thrilled that 100% of the 2017 board members are interested in participating in the program again next year.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. Here’s what we’re working on:

  • Our (new!) physical space is getting cramped with 21 teams.
  • Next year, we want to work more with the students to prepare them for meetings with the investment community.
  • The students gave us specific requests for new programming in areas from budgeting to negotiation to team development.
  • There was also a request for even more structure with the board, in terms of setting the agenda to focus on upcoming milestones.

We take feedback from our students and board members seriously and will be evolving the program for 2018. We wish our 2017 cohort much success! If you are interested in more detail on delta v, including seeing what some of our past alumni are doing, check out this year’s Martin Trust Center Annual Report.