Whether it’s creating products and services that intentionally benefit women, make life better for everyone, or transform an industry, women leaders in our i-lab community continue to inspire us.
Over the past few years, we’ve interviewed a diverse group of 30+ women founders (students and alumni) from across all 13 Harvard schools. As we celebrate Women’s History Month at Harvard, we’re excited to share some of their perspectives and key lessons learned. And, as we approach the 2023 President’s Innovation Challenge on May 3, take a few minutes to learn about some of the women-led teams that have been selected as semi-finalists this year.
1. Never compromise on quality. – Shelly Xu, Shelly Xu Designs
Shelly Xu (Harvard Business School, Class of 2021) is the founder of Shelly Xu Designs, a fashion-tech startup that creates beautiful, accessible, zero-waste designs.
“Never compromise on quality or on the principle of creating zero waste products…” Read more.
2. Practice patience. – Beth Ann Lopez, Docosan
Beth Ann Lopez (Harvard School of Public Health, Class of 2017) is co-founder and CEO of Docosan, a health tech startup dedicated to improving access to healthcare in Vietnam and beyond.
“Healthcare in particular requires a diligent, meticulous approach to challenges. It’s not a sector where ‘move fast and break things’ is applicable.” Read more.
3. Create an emotional connection with customers. – Roshni Mehta, Hibiscus Monkey
Roshni Mehta (Harvard Kennedy School, Class of 2022) is co-founder of Hibiscus Monkey, a women’s beauty and personal care company on a mission to become India’s most trusted body specialist brand.
“As a millennial Indian woman, I speak directly to consumers and forge a strong emotional connection that goes beyond transaction. Our campaigns are honest, edgy, and bold and focus on bringing us together over our collective experience…” Read more.
4. Build the right team. – Tolu Odugbesan, YayVictor
Tolu Odugbesan (Harvard Graduate School of Design, Class of 2022) is founder and CEO of YayVictor, a real estate platform where members compete to win the listed homes.
“It’s important to have the right team. It can make or break everything. We’ve had some growing pains finding the right people, but the experience has offered us a lot of lessons and was consistent with the phase of our venture at the time.” Read more.
5. Ask for help. – Lisa Zhu, Helthy
Lisa Zhu (Harvard Graduate School of Design and Harvard John A. Paulson School Of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Class of 2021) is founder and CEO of Helthy, an online shopping assistant that provides real-time recommendations for people with diabetes as they shop for groceries online.
“As a trained architect and designer, I learn through doing and building… Focus is key… I stay focused on my drive to make Helthy a success [and also] ask for help because there is a lot that I still don’t know yet.” Read more.
6. Go beyond making a DEIB statement. – Joanna Smith-Griffin, AllHere
Joanna Smith-Griffin (Harvard Extension School, Class of 2016) is the founder and CEO of AllHere, an AI-powered ed tech company dedicated to mitigating chronic absenteeism in schools and improving student engagement
“DEI is not just a statement; it’s a practice that extends to how you treat your employees of color and customers of color. How do you collaborate with them, support them, and give them meaningful opportunities to sit at tables that matter?” Read more.
7. Entrepreneurship can happen at any stage of life. – Kate Terry, Surround Insurance
Kate Terry (Harvard Business School, Class of 2005; Harvard College, Class of 1999) is co-founder and COO of Surround Insurance, a company on a mission to “reinvent age-old insurance” for the modern consumer.
“I had a 20-year career before this, and I’m married and have a child, so I also don’t fit the stereotype of an entrepreneur… And yet I’m bringing everything I’ve learned to a startup where deep industry knowledge is key. I’ve been surprised and delighted by the generativity of midlife.” Read more.
8. Live up to your organization’s values. – Gulnaz Kordanova, Connect-Ed
Gulnaz Kordanova (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Class of 2023) is founder and CEO of Connect-Ed, an organization that works to bridge the digital divide in Kazakhstan by distributing laptops and other learning equipment to schoolchildren.
“We help our colleagues in the field, share our knowledge and expertise, and aim to empower others to make educational and digital opportunities accessible. Most importantly, we are a highly ethical organization. We make sure that our work positively influences our beneficiaries, and we live up to these principles…” Read more.
For Women, By Women
We’re proud that 63 semi-finalist teams in our President’s Innovation Challenge are founded by women. And six of these women-led semi-finalist teams are tackling issues specifically affecting women. Learn more about their ventures below.
Led by Lola Olaore (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Class of 2022), bloss.m combines community, education, and technology to empower women and girls to discover and achieve their purpose.
Led by Barbara Ploix (Harvard Business School, Class of 2023), BoldShapes designs and sells plus-size women’s wardrobe staples.
Led by Mariam Khayretdinova (Harvard Extension School, Class of 2022), Brainify.AI assists pharma in success in clinical trials for female antidepressant drugs.
Led by Yinka Ogunbiyi (MS / MBA Candidate at Harvard Business School and Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science), Halo is an automated hair braider that saves time and money for the 180 MM women who get their hair braided regularly.
Led by Debbie Dickinson (Harvard Law School, Class of 1995), Thermaband is a smart predictive bracelet that provides cooling relief for menopausal women.
Led by Alejandra Guardia Muguruza (Harvard Kennedy School, Class of 2022), UMA Peru offers to the international market handicrafts made by Peruvian artisan women in conditions of socioeconomic vulnerability and violence.
We can’t wait for you to join us May 3 at the President’s Innovation Challenge Award Ceremony!
View a full list of events celebrating Women’s History Month from the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.