By Stephany Yong
I love startups.
Now before you let out a sigh and roll your eyes at just another Stanford student with startup fever, hear me out.
I remember the first time I set foot into StartX my freshman year. It was the third week of winter quarter, and I was set to meet Kyle, the founder of a startup called Pixlee, whom I had met at the BASES career fair the week before. Walking through the floor space to the room where the interview would be held, I took note of the interesting set up, with tables forming clusters of makeshift offices for the startups housed there.
It was unlike any office space I had ever seen – there were nerf gun bullets and swivel office chairs strewn across the floor, whiteboard paint walls with customer acquisition strategies half mapped out in marker. And another glaring thing – I was the only girl in the building that afternoon.
Over the next few months, I dove headfirst and worked there part time on marketing when I wasn’t in class. The experience transformed me and how I viewed myself and my work. I loved how I was making an impact, preparing sales decks, writing blog posts, and consulting with the CEO on my projects (of a 10-person company at the time but still pretty cool). Furthermore, I adopted a fascination with shipping and building things. At Pixlee, three engineers had built a service that delighted hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It inspired me to get more serious about my first computer science class, and ultimately, pursue a degree in computer science.
My first foray (if you can call it that) into entrepreneurship opened up an entirely new world to me. The environment was infectious, marked by cheeto-stained keyboards and standing desks, but more importantly, a scrappy and growth-driven mindset that made me want to improve, be sharper, and learn more about the space by asking good questions. When thrown into an unstructured setting, I was forced to find a way to add value to the team, and now it’s a skill I want to continue to improve over my career. But looking around me at StartX, I noticed how the Valley’s celebrated startup culture only featured a handful of women.
I thought back to all the remarkable women I had met at Stanford – amazing engineers, product gurus, designers, and marketers – I know that they would bring tremendous value to any startup, whether it be one they start or one they join. There are unique problems that can and should be tackled by the other half of the population, who are just as creative, strategic, and determined to solve the world’s consumer, enterprise, health, and energy problems as their male counterparts. And this is where I see the value in the BASES Women in Entrepreneurship Summit.
The summit is going to feature female founders who will lead intimate discussions with at most 15 participants about topics that they think are key discussion points: the things you should know as an entrepreneur, from splitting equity with co-founders to navigating the murky waters of defining your company’s culture and everything in between.
This naturally leads us to ask why we need a womens’ summit to begin with. And I think this statistic speaks for itself: Only 13 percent of VC deals went to women-led startups in 2013 (Pitchbook). I think this minority percentage stems less from an issue of competency or interest, but rather, starting a conversation around the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face. How do you pitch to a group of male investors and navigate any doubts they may have about the industry you are devising a solution for? How do you handle being a strong negotiator without coming across as overly aggressive? How do you build a network in a male-dominated venture capital scene? These are tough questions for anyone to address, let alone asking in front of 100 other people at one of Stanford’s several VC panel discussions and mixers throughout the year. We hope organizing groups of 15 entrepreneurial women in workshops led by female entrepreneurs will create an open and encouraging environment where women can freely ask questions, share their stories, and build meaningful relationships with one another.
I’m so glad that this spring we’re finally bringing together some of the most driven, entrepreneurial women across campus and the Valley to get to know each other and start a discussion about something that means so much to me.
We look forward to reading your applications, and can’t wait to see you in April!