For Princeton Entrepreneurship Council (PEC) Chairman Mung Chiang, the motivation behind promoting women in entrepreneurship is simple: “It is important to make sure that half the human race, with all their creativity, dedication, and capabilities, get their fair shot and opportunity to be entrepreneurs and innovators.”
The panel discussion featured two current Princeton students and one alumna, who shared their unique experiences as women entrepreneurs. Natalie Tung ‘18 is the cofounder of HomeWorks, a project-based, after-school boarding program for homeless children in Trenton. Tung devised her nonprofit in a social entrepreneurship class and developed it through the eLab Summer Accelerator Program. Jen Lee ’17 is the cofounder of Cartful, a fashion discovery engine that focuses on making new, up-and-coming brands accessible. Lee also developed her startup via the eLab Summer Accelerator. Meg Partridge ’14 is the founder and CEO of Deià, a fashion brand that works with artisans from post-conflict areas to create luxury products. Deià is also an Princeton Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF) portfolio company.
Anne-Marie Maman, Executive Director of PEC and panel moderator, kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists what advantages they have experienced as female entrepreneurs. Lee remarked, “There is a lot of awareness, especially recently, about the problem of gender disparity in entrepreneurship. People who are passionate about this issue work to create a strong community, and that community is very supportive.” Lee shared the example of a female partner at Y Combinator who made introductions to an online network of women entrepreneurs on Lee’s behalf. Partridge believes “there are a lot of exciting opportunities in the consumer markets that are not really understood or tapped into until you have a woman bringing her perspective to that market.” Partridge cited the fashion industry—where most executives are men—as an example, adding that from her own experience, “it has been very helpful to be a woman selling products to other women.”
For Lee and Partridge, family played an important role in encouraging entrepreneurship. Partridge emphasized the paramount roles her parents played in nurturing her entrepreneurial spirit with an anecdote about her father, who purchased materials for her to construct a toothbrush that came attached with refillable toothpaste. “It was like that my entire childhood,” Partridge said. Lee recalled similar experiences growing up: “Every crazy idea I had was discussed seriously, whether or not it was actually (feasible),” recollecting her childhood venture of cutting large erasers to sell individual pieces. Tung’s passion for entrepreneurship, however, was cultivated later in life. “It wasn’t until I came to Princeton when I was exposed to all these resources and funding that I was able to take my passion for education and helping kids and channel it into entrepreneurship,” Tung said.
The panel also shared advice for entrepreneurs looking to fundraise, unanimously agreeing that raising funds can be one of the most daunting aspects of entrepreneurship. “At first, (fundraising) was jarring, trying to get (VCs) to identify with you,” Lee said. One tip she offered is to “approach (fundraising) with a sense of empathy. The key is getting your audience to empathize with you and the problem you’re trying to solve.” Lee added that your audience might not fully understand your idea, but inspiring empathy enables them to care about it. Partridge shared one of the early fundraising mistakes she made: “It is really hard to fundraise for consumer products in a landscape where everyone’s focused on tech…my first mistake was not really discriminating between the different types of investors and the types of things they were looking for.” Partridge encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to do their due diligence when seeking seed money, making sure partnerships are a good fit for both the startup and investor.
The panel discussion closed with questions from the audience. Perhaps the most poignant question came from a freshman in high school, who asked the panel what she could do to position herself for success as a young entrepreneur. The panel encouraged her to pursue even her most far-fetched ideas, because you never know what the future might hold. One thing is certain: if the future of women in entrepreneurship looks anything like the panelists or the young woman in high school, the future is bright indeed.