Startup Yale awarded prizes totaling $100,000 to four teams, all of which were led by female entrepreneurs, at the Yale School of Management last weekend.
In its third iteration, the event, which showcases Yale student entrepeneurship, drew nearly 300 members of the University community to the School of Management. The winners of four $25,000 entrepreneurship prizes included students behind a mobile app to deliver sex education through storytelling, a company to address corrosion in manufacturing plants, an app to control utility bills and a program supporting community college enrollment among low-income, first-generation high school graduates.
The four entrepreneurship prizes were the Aetna Foundation Prize for Health Equity Innovation, the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize, the Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health or Education and the Miller Prize, for which tech-enabled service startups were eligible. Each of the teams winning these awards was led by a woman.
“The face of entrepreneurship is changing,” said Cassandra Walker Harvey, associate director of social entrepreneurship at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. “I think that it has been primarily a white-dominated space and we’re seeing a change in the tide.”
According to Harvey, of the team members who submitted a final application, 41 percent were women, while of all team members in finalist teams, 36 percent were women. Harvey added that among the main founders in finalist teams, 63 percent were women, suggesting increased female leadership in the field.
Harvey said she believes the increased participation of women in entrepreneurship is likely the result of more support and more visibility for women in the field. She said she credits programs encouraging innovation from women at Yale, including the Yale Women’s Innovator Breakfast Series and the Bright Lights, Green Sights speaker series at the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale.
All four teams awarded Yale entrepreneurship prizes at the event were founded by School of Management students.
“Part of that is due to the fact that SOM students can take credit for working on their ventures through the Founder Practicum at SOM,” Harvey said. “SOM, with [Kyle Jensen] and [Jennifer McFadden], has been able to create a culture for entrepreneurship.”
She said SOM students can now take broader courses related to entrepreneurship, including the theory of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial finance, adding that if this was seen at other parts of the University, it could promote more entrepreneurship among students.
In addition to the four Yale entrepreneurship prizes, finalists competed for $250 Audience Choice Awards in various categories, as well as a $1,000 Impact Investing Award.
Jennifer McFadden SOM ’08, associate director of entrepreneurial programs at SOM, also emphasized the importance of diversity in entrepreneurship.
“I wake up everyday with the goal of reducing the gender gap in entrepreneurship and technology, both here and outside of Yale,” said McFadden, adding that she has brought much of her research about academic barriers to women in tech and entrepreneurship to her classroom.
According to McFadden, there is a lack of female faculty members who are engaged in entrepreneurship and innovation programs, noting that between 2010 and 2015, only 10 percent of venture money went to companies with female founders.
McFadden said that to increase the representation of women, she has reached out directly to women to discuss benefits of entrepreneurship, noting that some of the issues of gender disparities in computer science and entrepreneurship are related to issues of self confidence among women.
“I really believe that as an academic institution, we have an obligation to maintain our liberal arts — the heart of what Yale is — but also prepare our students with a set of skills that they can use to excel wherever they go, and that includes everybody,” McFadden said. “I am a firm believer in having diversity — when you have diversity, you have more successful teams.”
According to Katrina Barlow SOM ’17, funding may represent a particular challenge to women-led startups, noting that women accounted for only 7 percent of full-time partners at the top 100 venture capital firms.
Barlow and her team won the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize with Powerhouse, an energy-technology startup that allows households to “optimize for renewable energy on the electrical grid.”
“I do think that male partners can be subject to homophily — it may be easier for them to champion male founders in public and to challenge them in the boardroom,” Barlow said. “One way to remedy this is to increase the percentage of female partners in venture capital. The other is for men to learn how to better coach women.”
Despite this potential challenge for women-led startups, Barlow said she personally has not encountered any challenges or barriers. She noted that women have always participated in the entrepreneurial space, citing small-business owners and successful founders of companies such as iRobot.
Dianna Liu SOM ’18, who won the Miller Prize with Arix Technologies, said that she, too, has not experienced challenges or difficulties as a woman in entrepreneurship. She noted that in her background as a mechanical engineer, merit is most important, though she acknowledged that she has heard that women find it harder to access venture capital and angel investors.
Other winning teams included MyHealth Ed, led by Vichi Jagannathan SOM ’17, and Bridge Year, led by Victoria Chen SOM ’17.