Nearly 40 students, professors, entrepreneurs and professionals gathered to celebrate the launch of the Yale Women Entrepreneurs and Innovators initiative — WE@Yale — in the Beinecke Room at the Yale School of Management on Tuesday.

WE@Yale, a cross-campus community for women and nonbinary femme innovators and entrepreneurs that provides skill-building opportunities and organizes storytelling workshops, aims to help 500 women launch new ventures and projects over the next five years. It was co-founded by Cassandra Walker-Harvey, the program director for social entrepreneurship at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking and the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, and Jennifer McFadden SOM ’08, associate director of the SOM’s Program on Entrepreneurship. The WE@Yale Summit at the SOM on Tuesday marked the official launch of the organization.

“Whether women are interested in starting high-tech, high-growth ventures or in creating novel nonprofit organizations to address the myriad and complex challenges we face in society today, we want to provide an infrastructure of support that will help them get their projects off the ground,” Walker-Harvey said.

In her opening address for the event, McFadden underscored the role of entrepreneurship as a driver of change. According to McFadden, entrepreneurship teaches people to recognize and act on opportunities, to make decisions effectively in complex circumstances and to accept and learn from failures. She added that entrepreneurship offers students the opportunity to develop the technical skills they may need to contribute to the creation of their products, which is increasingly important in the modern world. The goal of WE@Yale, McFadden said, is to broaden the definition of entrepreneurship at Yale and to support all students equally in their entrepreneurial endeavors, whether they are launching a creative project at the Drama School or a high-tech, high-growth start-up company.

McFadden also touched on the lack of gender diversity across industries in her address — pointing out that a meager 6.2 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, among other statistics. She also noted that the lack of representation of women of color and LGBTQ women is “far worse” and that gender discrimination and sexual harassment affect many industries.

“Time is, indeed, up for this nonsense,” McFadden said. “Despite progress in some areas, women simply are not being given the same opportunities as their male colleagues … We believe that if we arm more women and femme-identifying individuals with [entrepreneurial] skills, they will be empowered to make change in whatever industry they enter.”

The event featured an interview with Sheila Marcelo, CEO and co-founder of Care.com, the world’s largest online care marketplace that connects caregivers and caring companies to families. Marcelo, who was interviewed by former New York Times staff reporter Louise Story ’03 SOM ’06, recently endowed the Sheila and Ron Marcelo ’92 Lectureship in Social Entrepreneurship at the SOM, along with her husband.

Marcelo spoke about her personal and professional journey with Care.com and offered her insights into navigating the business environment while attempting to create systemic social change. Pregnant with her second child while a graduate student at the Harvard Business School at the age of 29, Marcelo said she found herself “sandwiched” between caring for her children and for her elderly father, after he fell backwards on a staircase and suffered a heart attack. Care.com was born from this personal experience.

Story said she appreciated Marcelo’s message about the importance of espousing ethical business practices even as the leader of a for-profit organization.

Six attendees and SOM affiliates told the News they enjoyed the event and appreciated Marcelo’s insights.

“At Yale SOM we believe that leaders at the nexus of business and society must be able to build successful, diverse teams,” said Kyle Jensen, associate dean and director of entrepreneurship at the SOM, who has conducted research on gender inequity in the patent process. “Sheila Marcelo is a shining exemplar for social entrepreneurs. I find her journey inspiring and her wisdom profound.”

Allison Mishkin SOM ’18, a joint doctorate and master’s student at the SOM and a WE@Yale research fellow, said she left the summit energized and inspired, and that she hopes WE@Yale will encourage women to step outside their comfort zones to pursue their passions. Hannah Stonebraker SOM ’19, who will coordinate programming for WE@Yale, said Marcelo and her “absolutely incredible company” prove that it is possible to create a high-tech, high-growth venture while creating social change and fighting for women.

“I find it really fascinating how she copes with sexism in the industry, which is inevitable when you’re working alongside men who are twice your age,” Carolyne Newman ’21 said. “And I thought it was really inspiring that she continues to be so headstrong this way despite these obvious difficulties she faced not only related to gender but also the rough start she got to her company.”

WE@Yale is funded by the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking and the Yale School of Management Program on Entrepreneurship. The WE@Yale Summit is part of Startup Yale, a week-long entrepreneurship conference featuring five start-up pitch competitions.

Saumya Malhotra | saumya.malhotra@yale.edu