You’ve seen these ladies pitching to audiences with conviction, directing teams with multi-color post-its, smiling from the pages of a beta-version website.
But what challenges do entrepreneurs face when nurturing a seedling business as a full-time MBA student? Wharton women in five ventures open up about the not-so-glamorous side of start-up life and what it really takes to disrupt the status quo.
Amaka Cypriana Uzoh, WG ’18, M.D. candidate., co-founder, My Muse Dolls
- We are guided by the vision: “For every girl to see her beauty, for every girl to seize her dream™”. Our start up furnishes customizable multicultural fashion dolls for customers to act as social change agents. We design 18-inch Muse Dolls for today’s modern girl that celebrate non-traditional career paths and embrace multicultural beauty and fashion realities.
- Female entrepreneurs can mistakenly believe: they absolutely need a co-founder to get something off the ground. I’m all for teamwork, but I wish for an environment where women don’t feel paralyzed by the inability to find co-founders early on. More specifically, I hope more female entrepreneurs with the desire to start a business do so on their own. Many of our male counterparts are advancing their business ideas solo, then raising capital to onboard strategic co-founders on their own terms.
- My entrepreneurial hack to stay focused at Wharton is: turning off my phone. I found GroupMe and other app notifications to be master hijackers of my attention span and to create an uncomfortable sense of false urgency. Updates tangentially relevant to my life were competing with internal dialogues that my creativity and concentration thrive on. So, the update bubbles had to go!
Antina Lee, WG ’17, co-founder, Perseus Mirrors
- We are: a consumer tech startup bringing the world’s smartest mirror to market. Perseus is an interactive, voice-activated, digital display mirror that helps people stay connected, be efficient, and have fun.
- My most uncomfortable moment: was backing out on an offer I accepted at another start-up and getting fined by career services. During the spring, I recruited for start-ups and pushed on Perseus at the same time. A company extended me an offer in March, but by April, I realized my venture would require a much higher time commitment than anticipated. I approached the start-up, explained the circumstances, and withdrew from the internship. The company was understandably upset, and career services issued me a fine. Moral of the story: if you’re serious about your idea, don’t be afraid to focus on it. It’s unfair to your venture and internship companies, if you try to do both.
- My entrepreneurial hack to stay focused at Wharton is: to write three goals on a whiteboard in my room. Every time I feel overwhelmed, I ask myself whether my tasks fall into those three buckets and de-prioritize them if not. The reality of being an entrepreneur is that even with prioritization, you still need to sacrifice some things. But it’s worth it!
Divinity Matovu, WG ’17, CEO, MBA Mama, Watotolly
- The focus of my start-ups is: solutions for busy parents and mothers. MBA Mama is an online platform that provides ambitious women with tools and resources to leverage an MBA and strategically navigate family and career planning. Watotolly is Airbnb for babysitting. Our proprietary technology allows busy parents to exchange childcare in a peer-to-peer marketplace.
- My biggest fear is that: the entrepreneurial risks I’m taking will put me in a position where I am unable to financially provide for my children if my start-up fails. I often think about settling for a job with a predictable career trajectory, salary, and benefits. Ultimately, I know entrepreneurship is the path for me to live a fulfilled life. To me, having the freedom and flexibility entrepreneurship provides is more important than my fears.
- The popular advice for entrepreneurs I most disagree with is: take all the VC money you can get. I am committed to hustling and bootstrapping for as long as possible to grow organically before I take on financing that would significantly dilute my ownership stake.
Jane Fisher WG ’17 and Jenna Kerner WG’17, Co-founders, Emery & Elizabeth
- Our mission is: to support and empower women by providing fairly-priced, everyday bras without the hassle. We offer a seamless online shopping experience, curated designs to simplify choice, and risk-free home try-ons for quality bras that won’t break the bank.
- The hardest thing about starting our own company in business school is: time. There are so many things we’d like to take advantage of and participate in at Wharton, but we dedicate a great deal of time into getting the business off the ground. For all other activities, it’s impossible to give 100 percent. What’s really tough is hearing friends say, “you’re always so busy,” but we’ve had to get used to these realities.
- One of our unique challenges is: male-heavy pitch audiences. While this is a hurdle for all female entrepreneurs, it has proven to be especially difficult for a woman’s lingerie business. Nearly every audience we’ve faced is comprised of 80 percent or more men, making it difficult to convey product benefits on a personal level.
Negar Rajabi, WG ’17, CEO, Cemsica
- We develop: a novel nanomaterial-based technology for carbon capturing and gas separation for industrial use. Our focus is the energy industry, and our product is fully integrable in the existing infrastructure at lower cost and easier installation.
- Female entrepreneurs at Wharton can be feel challenged by: a very male-dominant investment community. As a woman working on a highly technical start-up, I was not considered a typical entrepreneur. We all hear that similarities are very important when you are trying to make connections, but sometimes, you need differences to work to your benefit. The more atypical an entrepreneur is, the more valid a reason she has to start such a company.
- The entrepreneurial path for a first-generation immigrant is: exciting, challenging, and, at the same time, familiar. Creating a new life outside our home country is probably the biggest and the most important venture we have ever built as immigrants. We know the ups and downs, the disappointments and victories, and the fight for survival. Through our personal experiences, we have lived the start-up life without even realizing it. Starting a new company is no different. With a bit of perspective, you can identify a real-world problem and find opportunities to commercialize a new technology.