March 2019 has been a whirlwind Women’s History Month.
In just the past few weeks, women all over the world have made history. The prime minister of New Zealand has exemplified compassionate leadership. Greta Thunberg has inspired an entire generation to climate activism. And Ruth Carter and Hannah Beachler have epitomized the black women increasingly at the helm of more representative storytelling.
To add to the global celebration of women’s contributions, we would like to highlight some of the remarkable women making history at the Harvard Innovation Labs. A month-long celebration doesn’t feel nearly long enough, given that female founders and co-founders make up 50% of the Venture Incubation Program, Launch Lab X, and the Life Lab teams – but it’s a start.
Since the Harvard Innovation Labs exist, above all, to inspire and to help transform ideas into reality, we asked these groundbreakers to share what inspires them and their advice to women considering the entrepreneurial path.
We hope their words inspire you in your own journey.
“Believe in yourself. An entrepreneur’s journey is like a roller coaster ride filled with innumerable feats/celebrations and bouts of frustration/self-doubt. What’s important is to keep going! A positive attitude to learn, coupled with self-belief, can make you win any battle that this journey will throw at you. We as women have innate capabilities, which we realize once a situation is thrown at us. So never lose your self-confidence and passion.”
“My biggest dream in life has been to create impact and give back to my home country, Turkey. My venture, bao, embraces something truly Turkish, empowers women in Turkey, and does so in an environmentally sustainable way. I strongly believe I can change the lives of many people and create significant shared value by revitalizing this old, traditional and, unfortunately, now-dying art. Being based in the US and studying at Harvard Business School, I felt like I am uniquely positioned to awaken this culture and introduce it to the world.”
“For anyone looking to start a venture, I think it’s integral to have a burning passion for what you’re building. Going down the innovator’s path requires extreme conviction and persistence, and it’s very difficult to persevere if you don’t love what you are doing. Encountering obstacles and experiencing doubt are both inevitable parts of the process; if you don’t believe in your own business, no one will.”
“I grew up on the Iron Range of Minnesota, and was in the minority when I left the state for college. From an early age, I saw how having strong female role models shifted what I believed was possible for me, in terms of career and education, and how that wasn’t a guarantee for every young woman.
When I entered consulting out of undergrad, and was supposedly ‘living the dream,’ I had another realization: that to be successful, I had to essentially perform the role of a successful man (which I did), and that there were very few examples of what it looked like for a woman to be successful by playing to her uniquely female strengths. Those two realizations, paired with one hundred other small insights along the way, inspired me to build Rise.
Rise is an online mentorship, community and learning platform that positions itself right at the point when young women are ripest for transformative adult development experiences, in their early- to mid-20s. We’ve created a crazy strong, strategic community of knowledge, relationships and support for women at the beginning of their careers. Ultimately, we facilitate the development of positive self-concept, which supports our members as they rise through the ranks, standing firmly in their power.”
“So much of my inspiration to become a founder came from wanting to make the lives of moms easier. I went back to work after my first baby was born and was so stressed out trying to pump during the workday, worrying my milk supply would drop and savoring every precious ounce of milk I had. It was such a hard process and it didn’t need to be. I know the feeling so many moms have when they are away from their baby, whatever the reason is, and my goal is just to alleviate some of the stress that comes with it.
ReMana is about empowering Mom to recognize how amazing she is and how much she is doing for her baby, give her time back in her day, and bring her stress level down. The times when this journey of starting something gets really difficult, I remind myself that my reason for doing this came from talking to other women about wanting something better, and that’s the inspiration that keeps me going too.”
“My mantra: Break free from your cocoon, it is but a myth; fly out far over those waters both furious and tranquil, for your unique journey multiplies beauty and diversity to make a better world.
From a very early age, girls are conditioned into the dichotomy that men are the natural problem solvers, leaders and innovators, and women are the natural followers. Slowly and gradually, this mindset engrains itself into our subconscious, coloring our decisions. Though I was fortunate to have had excellent female scientists as mentors during my time doing research at Johns Hopkins and HHMI Janelia, my journey to becoming the founder of Theraplexus was also laden with self-doubt.
My journey began with my love for biology and passion for making a positive difference in the world. Fiercely driven by scientific curiosity and passion for improving medicine with technology, I built the Theraplexus platform for drug discovery while still in high school. When the realization hit me that this technology must be made available for discovering better drugs faster and at lower costs, I took it to the next level, forming Theraplexus.
Girls like me are easily intimidated, especially in the life sciences and engineering fields, where the number of female founders is very small. Girls need continual reinforcement of their brilliance and worth, every day. So surround yourself with the company of doers that cheer for your success.
The i-lab is my temporary cocoon to break into new waters.”
“If he can do it, you can too!”
“My inspiration to work on Chord runs across the personal and professional dimensions. I’m innovating at the intersection of real estate, technology and finance: fields where women, especially women of color, are notoriously underrepresented – but just so happen to be my areas of expertise. Using my skills and knowledge to solve a problem that touches so many people – how to finance a home purchase – is the icing on the cake. Starting the conversation around how the conventional homeownership model is doing us all a great disservice is the cherry on top.”
“I was inspired by the opportunity to bring the nanotechnology research I’ve been working on in academia for many years to practical applications with positive societal impact. In today’s world, air purification is becoming an increasingly urgent need, and it’s critical to get this right for future generations.”
“One of the foundational aspects of my journey as a research-scientist-turned-social-entrepreneur has been reframing goals into “experiments.” The focus is not about being right or wrong, but rather about being curious and trying things out. Entrepreneurship entails posing questions, getting data to make decisions, and evaluating how decisions affect goals. It is an iterative process that we can all use. There is no formula, we just have to start – and keep – experimenting.
I created FooFii in a course focused on designing mobile apps for health promotion. The concept drew from my family experiences and Master’s thesis, and won the Tufts Institute for Innovation’s Human Health Hack (2016). Despite this lived experience and initial success, FooFii remained an idea for over a year, until my Harvard DrPH program director/advisor encouraged me to pursue it through my doctoral studies. While grateful for his validation, I realized that I had been afraid. Shelving my ideas prevented potential failure. I had already founded a company, EmVision Productions, so what were the odds that this second venture would also be successful?
I was letting self-doubt get in the way of success. In life and business, believing in yourself is the best investment you can make.”
“I grew up a contradiction. I was the shy kid, but also the kid with all the ideas. I wanted to speak up, but no one ever taught me how to advocate for my ideas. As women, we often aren’t taught this essential skill. I see debate as a tool that teaches students, especially women and students of color, how to advocate confidently for their ideas, often for the first time. That’s why I co-founded Debate Spaces, an organization that helps share the power of debate with middle school students.”
“Never forget that you are more than enough. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you look like, you are the right person to change the world.”
“The three of us share a passion for early childhood education – and a commitment to improving education in Brazil! Combining Maria and Elisa’s corporate, social impact, and entrepreneurial work with Angela’s classroom and school background in Brazil has allowed us to build mopi, and to merge our passion for education with research-backed solutions to promote systemic change in Brazil.”