The delta v Culture: Six Entrepreneurial Essentials at MIT

delta-v-2017-On June 12, we’ll open the doors to this summer’s delta v cohort, beginning an intensive 3-month entrepreneurial “boot camp” for MIT student entrepreneurs. This post looks at the culture of delta v and how this environment helps to grow entrepreneurs.

The saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is attributed to management guru Peter Drucker and was made famous by Mark Fields, president at Ford Motor Company. It speaks to how vital culture is in an organizational setting. At MIT, Professor Bill Aulet has written an article that explains why, as an organization, we believe culture is essential for entrepreneurs.

For delta v, MIT’s capstone student venture accelerator, we create a culture of entrepreneurship that is all about risk-taking and the freedom to make mistakes. Although delta v operates out of a cool space with a startup feel, it’s about more than the free coffee and ramen noodles or the walls you can write on. The vibe of delta v is different because of the people inside it and the meaningful work they do. If you’re one of the fortunate student teams accepted into the summer-long “entrepreneurship boot camp,” you’ll be surrounded by smart people all working on new companies with big goals. During the summer, the teams will be working in small cohorts in similar fields and will also participate in being part of a greater cohort, where a true sense of teamwork and collaboration is established.

The staff at delta v know they are assisting students who are making a positive impact in the world. In this experimental culture, failure is expected because students are encouraged to take risks and stretch to their full potential. This is a safe zone to try new ideas and the disciplined entrepreneurship framework provides a basis and common language for the staff to work with students. The framework isn’t a hard and fast set of rules, but it’s more like a common operating system that guides all of the teams.

As part of the culture of delta v, we also bring in the outside community to meet and assess the student teams from an educational perspective – not to look for deal flow but to participate in the students’ learning experience. A key milestone for MIT delta v teams is meeting with their board of directors and gaining valuable input from these advisors. This year we are also starting a delta v cohort in New York City to expose students to a network that is relevant for their company, for example, fintech, real estate, fashion, media, the arts – but, again, with a common operating system. As students gain experiences throughout the summer, they also build trust and respect within the greater Boston and New York communities that will be important as they launch their companies.

Six elements of the delta v culture are shaped by our principles at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship:

  • MIT Standard of Excellence and Rigor – The delta v teams receive not only the highest quality education, but also the highest quality advising, and practical experiences as well.
  • Collaboration – By partnering with various departments and centers within MIT and the greater community these startups will be prepared to collaborate for the success of their businesses.
  • Diversity – Encouraging a wide variety of perspectives, people, and ways of doing things mean that new ideas and concepts are examined from many angles and the diverse contributions make each company stronger.
  • Experimentation – delta v is the place to “fail forward” and try everything in a supportive environment.
  • Honest Broker – Since MIT does not take a financial stake in the delta v startups, our focus is solely on nurturing and assisting the education of the entrepreneur.
  • Mens et Manus – MIT’s motto, “mind and hand,” fuses academic and practitioner perspectives for a well-rounded entrepreneur.

The way the Martin Trust Center shapes the culture within delta v will be reflected by each of the entrepreneurs and their ventures. Good or bad, all our past experiences come into play as we create something new. Sometimes we choose aspects of a culture we want to emulate. Other times, we actively realize that a certain way of doing things is something we want to avoid. Many of the delta v teams will go on to become successful entrepreneurs that help to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. (Read about some of them in the news here.)

We hope that each student and team carries forth the culture of delta v.

 

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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.

 

The Time is Now for Women to Step Up, Speak Out, and Take Control

On this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d like to reflect on how we can encourage women to speak up, be heard, and support each other. The #metoo movement has brought to light countless examples of abuse, mistreatment, and harassment, but if there is one positive glimmer out of all that is being shared, it’s a sense of solidarity and empowerment.

I believe that entrepreneurship can be a path to channeling that energy and creating positive outcomes. The time is now to step up and speak out. The time is now to take control of your own destiny. Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “I’m ready to make a difference.”

I believe that sometimes making a difference is being your own boss. In my role as Director of MIT’s educational accelerator program, delta v, I work every day with both female and male student entrepreneurs. Some of these students have ideas that may change the world someday, but even more important is their sense of pride and accomplishment when they can make decisions that shape their own direction and have a positive impact on other people.

Maybe being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. But, if and when you are in a position to define your own path, you have turned the tables and now have control. You can help not only yourself but others.

Female Entrepreneurs make a Difference

This infographic from Entrepreneur on female entrepreneurship shows that women are founding companies at historic rates with more than 9 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. today. These businesses will provide over 5 million jobs this year. Interestingly, businesses with a woman on the executive team are also more likely to have significantly higher valuations (64% higher) at Series A. These statistics demonstrate that women are creating new models of leadership, and that is hopefully changing the balance of power.

How to Get Started

Now is the time to be an entrepreneur, yet the hardest thing about entrepreneurship is getting started. Newton’s first law states an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force – and this is true for entrepreneurship as well. So, you need to give yourself a push. For inspiration, here are some stories of female entrepreneurs gaining ground at MIT.

Find the focus that is right for you. Entrepreneurship for small and medium enterprises (i.e. opening your own business in an established industry, such as a florist, hair salon, or consultant) is different from innovation-driven entrepreneurship (i.e. the next “big idea”, inventing something new) but they both let you be your own boss.

What are you curious about? What do you dream of doing? How would you get started? Now is the best time. There are many educational resources (online, classes, workshops etc.), and there are a lot of folks who are willing to be mentors. Plus, check out co-working spaces that are great for startups. In the Boston area, we have the CIC in CambridgeVenture CaféWeWork, etc. that also have speakers and educational resources in all areas of building a business.

Resources for Entrepreneurs

On any given day in Boston, there are events that budding entrepreneurs can attend – many are free, or some charge a small fee. Find the one that fits you. The City of Boston just held a series of events for women, Linda Henry runs HUBweek, there are Mass Challenge programs around the world. These all help expose those interested in entrepreneurship to various options. Here are a number of resources and organizations in the Boston and Cambridge area. Search online to find others in your area. Starting a Business (City of Boston)

The activism among several organizations has opened a lot of eyes, and hopefully recognition. Where women were once dismissed, that there are signs that voices should be heard – from women on boards to women funding enterprises. There is positive momentum, and you can make a difference. The time is now. Give yourself that push!

Originally published here in BostInno.

Entrepreneurship: Making the Middle Matter

minnesota-1086095_1920Call it the problem of the middle—the middle states and the middle class—two groups that have struggled with problems that, while they are inexorably linked, are different all the same.

Historically, most of the venture capital in America has been active on the coasts, leaving a vast portion of the country without seed money for innovative new startups. At the same time, the Midwest has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs and, as a result, has in some ways failed to flourish in the same ways as other parts of the country. And, of course, there is no shortage of news articles outlining the many struggles facing the middle class, in general, in America.

“We live in a fractured society,” argues MIT economist Peter Temin in an MIT News article on America’s two-track economy. “The middle class is vanishing.”

According to Temin, America now features two sectors: an FTE sector, where people who work in finance, technology, and electronics tend to thrive, and a low-wage sector, where workers often struggle. The middle class, traditionally an area of national strength, is starting to disappear. Moreover, the FTE sector overwhelmingly focused and fixated on both coasts, has for a long time neglected investment opportunities in the Midwest.

Venture capital—specifically venture capital aimed at the oft-ignored middle states—could be part of the solution. The central part of our country is often ignored as an ideas hub. Most accelerators, venture capitalists, and startup programs are focused on a few key cities on the east and west coasts. The Kauffman Foundation, known for its emphasis on education and entrepreneurship, recently published an article focusing on both the middle class and the middle states, asking: “Is the Middle the New Edge?”

It states: “The middle ground is too often dismissed as unremarkable when it is truly necessary. The middle should be appreciated as an admirable place to be – where people work together to solve big problems and move our nation forward.”

Interestingly, research from the Kauffman Foundation shows that while startup activity is half of what it was a generation ago, entrepreneurs are making a comeback – and the mid-country states are particularly active. Of the 10 metro areas with the highest growth in entrepreneurial activity last year, six are in the middle of the country. This short video gives a great overview of how the middle might be able to give our nation a crucial advantage.

One way to energize innovation and entrepreneurship in Middle America is with infusions of capital and training. Steve Case, the billionaire co-founder of AOL, has started a seed fund called Revolution that plans to raise up to $100 million to fund promising startups in the Midwest. J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, has teamed with Case to find the right companies to champion. They are also starting a “Rise of the Rest” tour to educate entrepreneurs and fund pitch contests in emerging startup communities in the middle of our country.

How can innovation and technology help in the middle?

As new technology is disproportionately displacing middle-class jobs, how can innovation help narrow the income inequality gap?

Boston Globe article titled “MIT Awards Focus on Tech That Helps Low, Middle-income Workers” focuses on MIT’s first Inclusive Innovation Competition. Erik Brynjolfsson, who helped launch the competition, points out, “Technology is creating enormous wealth and curing diseases. But a lot of people aren’t sharing in that bounty. It’s been easier to think, ‘how do I take an existing task and automate it?’ We are trying to change the conversation.”

The competition awarded prizes of $125,000 to four companies that target the “sweet spot” between technology and people to drive more innovation to underserved communities. Twenty other finalists received $25,000 each. One of the goals of the competition is to start getting more nonprofits and private investors thinking about how to ensure the innovation economy works for all.

It is tempting to get wrapped up in the excitement around the next unicorn company with a $1 billion-plus valuation, but we also need to take a step back to see not only the shooting stars, but also the entire night’s sky. Those in the middle can offer a lot – backed by hope, pride, and rigor. As educators and supporters of entrepreneurship, let’s make sure we support their opportunities.

This article was originally published on Xconomy.

Reflections on delta v 2017

mit_delta_v

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.

MIT delta v 2017: Ready to Change the World!

demo day pic 2017Are you ready to be inspired? MIT’s student venture accelerator, delta v, revealed itself to the world at our 2017 Demo Day on September 9. It was a fantastic culmination to this year’s program and our students are ready change the world with their startup companies.

I want to thank the students, our speaker Shireen Yates from Nima, the staff at the Martin Trust Center, and our live and online audiences at Demo Day. I invite you to watch the video and view the entire program to see our entrepreneurs pitch their startups.

This year, delta v hosted the largest cohort to date with 21 teams.  In addition to bringing a wide range of skill sets to the program, our 2017 cohort was the most diverse in gender and ethnic background, and had a worldwide perspective with representation from many different countries. This had a tremendous benefit in terms of networking and the teams helping each other solve challenges, supporting the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. The teams took their skills in science, technology, design, management, and entrepreneurship to tackle everything from fresh water scarcity, climate change, and different ways of producing energy to the opioid crisis, soaring healthcare costs and gender inequality in healthcare to global financial transparency – all big problems in need of innovative solutions.

At delta v, our goal isn’t to tell the students how to do things, our goal is to lead them to their own conclusions. We are looking for students with the “heart of an entrepreneur” who are looking to solve the world’s really hard problems. We give them the opportunity to fail and get feedback in a safe environment. Plus, they learn from each other. Our value add is to help guide students who are ready to positively impact the world.

demo day 2Here’s a brief overview of each startup that presented at Demo Day (in alphabetical order). Remember them. It’s likely you’ll be able to point back and say, “I saw them when they were just a startup at MIT…”

 

 

Alba

Focused on empowering women to achieve their goals, Alba is a care giving marketplace for parents in Latin America.

Biobot Analytics

Biobot’s mission is to equip cities with data to build healthier and safer communities. Biobot Analytics’ first application is generating a new type of data on the opioid epidemic. (See recent coverage of the team in Boston Magazine.)

Blockparty

Blockparty tackles food insecurity through fun, engaging cooking classes where young professionals can learn a new recipe while also providing meals to our neighbors in need.

Bloomer Health Tech

Bloomer Health Tech is transforming heart health and quality of life for women suffering from, or at risk of, heart disease. Bloomer delivers effortless and comfortable medical-grade sensors embedded in a woman’s bra to monitor multiple biomarkers using patent-pending advanced fabrics and algorithms.

Divaqua

Divaqua is committed to making water scarcity yesterday’s problem. They are developing and commercializing higher performing, safer, and more cost-effective technology to treat wastewater.

InfiniteCooling

Power plants, the US’ largest water consumer, use 139 billion gallons of fresh water every day, which amounts to 50% of total US freshwater withdrawals. Infinite Cooling captures water in evaporative cooling tanks and reintroduces it into a powerplant’s cooling cycle.

Klarity

Klarity’s vision is to provide widespread access to concise and trustworthy legal advice through intelligent technology using machine learning to reduce the time spent on contract review.

Mayflower Venues

Mayflower Venues enables customers to create one-of-a-kind weddings and events while helping preserve unique open spaces across New England.

Mesodyne

Mesodyne is bringing portable power to those who need it most. Its breakthrough technology enables ultra-portable, reliable, and affordable energy generation for the military and beyond.

Octant

Octant’s data curation platform uses deep learning to accelerate autonomous vehicle (AV) development. Equipped with Octant’s solution, innovators can spend less time collecting and managing data, and more time improving the future of mobility.

Pine Health

Pine Health helps patients follow through on doctor’s orders by using patient data to trigger conversations with an AI-augmented health coach.

ReviveMed

ReviveMed is a precision medicine platform that aims to improve people’s health by unlocking the value of metabolomics data, allowing the right therapeutics to be delivered to the right patients.

Roots Studio

Roots Studio is a for-profit social enterprise that curates, digitizes, and markets culturally iconic artwork from indigenous and isolated artists to a global marketplace.

Sigma Ratings

Sigma Ratings is the world’s first non-credit risk rating agency and helps companies more effectively and efficiently navigate increasing regulatory challenges.

Sophia

Sophia connects patients with the right therapists for them using a data-driven matching process, creating stronger therapeutic relationships.

TradeTrack

TradeTrack aims to improve personalized customer services in the fashion industry. Their solution increases brand loyalty and helps to improve customer retention.

W8X

W8X helps athletes to become their best and strongest selves with strength training equipment that adapts to their specific needs. Inspired by robotics, W8X has developed a weight lifting system that creates resistance electrically.
Waypoint

Waypoint uses augmented reality (AR) to help frontline workers rapidly capture, access, and scale expert knowledge.

The delta v teams also present to alumni and investors in New York City and San Francisco – quite the exciting month!

See more coverage of Demo Day in the MIT News and MIT Sloan Management newsroom.

demo day 1

How Educational Accelerators are Aiming to Neutralize Gender Bias for Entrepreneurs

Overcoming-Gender-BiasGender bias is sneaky. It’s often subtle, yet pervasive – and the effects are far reaching.

We’ve heard a lot this summer about outright sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the tech industry. This is certainly disgraceful and I applaud the actions taken to remove the offenders from their positions. Yet, beyond these blatant examples, there is an implicit gender bias that has a cumulative effect in everyday decisions that stacks the deck against women and minorities.

This blog post will look at how we can help budding entrepreneurs to think differently – and how Educational Accelerator programs, like MIT’s delta v, are making changes to identify and root out these implicit biases.

Gender Bias in the Tech Industry

First, let’s look at some examples of gender bias in established tech industry companies. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an exclusive feature for Vanity Fair on “How to Break up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club.” She says she was “frustrated that an industry so quick to embrace change and the future can’t break free of its regrettable past.”

Wojcicki brings up sometimes subtle forms of bias that even well-intentioned male colleagues or managers may overlook. These include:

  • being frequently interrupted or talked over;
  • having decision-makers primarily addressing your male colleagues, even if they’re junior to you;
  • working harder to receive the same recognition as your male peers;
  • having your ideas ignored unless they’re rephrased by your male colleagues;
  • worrying so much about being either “too nice” or “sharp elbowed” that it hurts your ability to be effective;
  • frequently being asked how you manage your work-life balance; and
  • not having peers who have been through similar situations to support you during tough times.

Wojcicki states that by employing more women at all levels of a company, it creates a virtuous cycle that has proven to address both explicit and implicit gender discrimination.

So, how can we work with startups to take these biases out of the picture from the very start of a company’s formation?

Experience of Women Entrepreneurs at MIT

Steph Speirs

Steph Speirs, co-founder of Solstice presents at MIT delta v Demo Day, 2016

At MIT, we embrace the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. By bringing together people with different backgrounds and experiences – people who don’t necessarily think the same way or agree with you – you will spark innovation from these diverse perspectives, even though it may be more difficult working together at first.

We also believe that hiring more women is part of the solution. We’re proud that 45% of our 2017 delta v cohort are women, and 75% of our teams have at least one female co-founder. I reached out to several of these female entrepreneurs and asked one fundamental question:

What is your perspective on what is being done at MIT and elsewhere to help women entrepreneurs?

Overall, I heard that:

  • Women are looking for role models and opportunities;
  • It is less about the classes at MIT and more about experiencing – programs that allow students to challenge themselves; or the attraction of going out of their comfort zone was appealing to them;
  • Many women have spent time with a non-profit, being motivated by a strong connection to the mission but it was often limiting as well;
  • There was a strong feeling of wanting to do things or make things happen as a reason to become an entrepreneur;
  • Several women had family members who were entrepreneurs, giving them a built-in role model;
  • In general, role models were significant – and seeing a female role model or working with a team with a woman founder was a clear reason for their interest in entrepreneurship.

Three of the entrepreneurs in particular summed up the feelings that many have – a hesitancy and second-guessing that sometimes held them back. Yet, the power of role models and mentorship helped propel them forward.

“Even when I started GETRID I didn’t really think I could be an entrepreneur, and kept telling everyone for a while that this is just a school project. Only when we had external validation (customers) and official external support (FUSE) is when I started believing in our ability.”

Get Rid

“One of the most meaningful moments was in the FUSE accelerator when [Entrepreneur-in-Residence] Nick asked the cohort on the first day ‘Who made money today?’ When I was the only one who raised my hand, and everybody clapped, it helped me realized that we accomplished something and it might indicate that we have the ability to succeed.”

 

-Bar Pereg, Founder of GETRID

Bloomers“As an engineer, I started asking questions about how things work. I wondered ‘Who is going to fix these big problems in the world?’ Then, it dawned on me … I can help fix these problems.”

-Alicia Chong Rodriguez, Founder of Bloomer HealthTech (P.S. To learn more about this female engineer founder and CEO from Costa Rica, read here.)

“Having other women on my team was one of the defining highlights of my first experience in entrepreneurship. These women were visionary, incisive, and caring. They made the team more thoughtful and our work more rigorous. They showed me what I could accomplish with team members that trust one another, are secure in their own contributions, yet are eager to get to the next level.”

-Joanne WongOctant

Here at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, we can see some of these gender differences in action. As we practice for our big Demo Day company presentations, some of the entrepreneurs don’t want to “sell” their companies too strongly, because not everything is proven yet.  We see this much more frequently with the female entrepreneurs than the male entrepreneurs. We let them know that investors want you to explain your vision and the milestones you’ll achieve to get there – and you need to be confident in your presentation and your abilities. This type of mentorship and hands-on experience is one of the ways we believe we can help female entrepreneurs effectively express their ideas and be considered equally alongside their male peers.

Here’s What Other Educational Institutions are Doing?

I also reached out to my personal and professional network and asked colleagues at other universities how they are tackling this issue. I believe their input is valuable and we can learn a lot from each other.

Wharton

“The business case for diversity has already been made. VCs can play an important role. This article from Knowledge@Wharton captures different approaches to Gender Lens Investing. This includes seed funding in targeted sectors (e.g. improving women’s health care or financial inclusion), helping startups sharpen how they think about their market, influencing startups to include women on the board or on the leadership team, or looking closer at policies and practices within the company.”

-Dr. Candice Reimers, SPHR

Stanford

At Stanford, Fern Mandelbaum will run three different entrepreneurship courses focused on diversity this coming year — one focused on Entrepreneurship from Diverse Perspectives, one focused on Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations, and one about Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital from the Perspective of Women. They are popular courses (she’s increased from two last year) that address these topics, bringing in a wide range of diverse role models with entrepreneurial and/or investing experience

-Deb Whitman, Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Our hope is that by examining, and hopefully eliminating, these biases at the beginning – when a company is first formed – it will lead to more equality, parity, and diverse viewpoints as the company grows. What better place to start than at the university level?

Come see how we’ve tackled this issue head on at the MIT delta v Demo Day on September 9 – Join us at Kresge Auditorium, and we’ll also live-stream the presentations.

Originally published on the MIT Sloan Experts blog, here.