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Sustainability Blog

Amanda Grupp
Amanda Grupp

Striving for Diversity in Innovation and Business

When I began the Full-time MBA program at Scheller College of Business in Fall 2019, I immediately joined the Net Impact club. The chapter regularly hosts events that highlight a topic about which I am passionate: the interconnectedness between social equity and sustainability. I signed up to serve on the Net Impact Task Force so I could explore ways that Scheller could improve performance in all areas of sustainability. This involvement encouraged me to be a changemaker in two meaningful ways. First, I became a 2020-21 Graduate Sustainability Fellow through the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business. Through this program, I am working on a special project to build an outreach program with public schools in the community. Second, through my Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) position, I supported the creation of programming for female founders.

Amanda Grupp speaks to Female Founders about forming teams at a virtual session on February 2, 2020.
Amanda Grupp speaks to Female Founders about forming teams at a virtual session on February 2, 2020.

Coming from a background in the male-dominated tech industry, I entered the MBA program knowing that I wanted to encourage women and other underrepresented groups in business, tech, and innovation. Scheller’s Full-time MBA class of 2021 is 40% women and 17% U.S. minorities. In order to increase these numbers, I’m partnering with Bangseh Akuchu for my Fellowship to build an outreach program aimed at introducing underrepresented students to business and technology, with the expected outcome of also creating a more diverse pipeline of talent for future MBA classes.

While overall Scheller and Georgia Tech have done a good job of recruiting qualified female candidates, my GRA Advisor Melissa Heffner notes in a recent article, “We are not seeing those numbers represented in our entrepreneurship programs.” This gap prompted Heffner and Sara Martin Henderson, the program directors of Georgia Tech’s VentureLab and NSF’s I-Corps South Node, to create the Female Founders Initiative. The program is designed to give participants the opportunity to gain a foundation of lean startup methodology and customer discovery through an NSF I-Corps South regional cohort that focuses on women entrepreneurs. The program (in which all instructors and mentors are women) engages successful female founder speakers to lead teams on a variety of topics related to startups and female leadership.

My background is in anthropology and marketing, which has given me experience in ethnographic research practices and customer discovery; I am also passionate about supporting female entrepreneurs. I was grateful to bring my experience and interests together through my GRA to contribute to recruitment, lectures, and logistics for the four-week program in November 2020. Through my involvement in the Female Founders program, I found that women who are starting their own businesses appreciate support from a network of female entrepreneurs within the Georgia Tech Innovation Ecosystem. Such a network helps women develop confidence and provides a support system that is crucial in entrepreneurship. A female network can make entrepreneurship feel a lot less lonely to women who enter the space not seeing many people who look like them.

Studies show that female-led companies generate 10% more in revenue yet receive merely 7% of funds raised. Female Founders provided the foundation for teams to understand customer discovery to identify product-market fit and gave teams the opportunity to deliver a customer value proposition story that will be crucial when speaking with investors down the line.

The cohort of Fall 2020 Female Founders attends a virtual welcome session on February 1, 2020. 
The cohort of Fall 2020 Female Founders attends a virtual welcome session on February 1, 2020. 

Personally, the experience of being able to be involved with Female Founders was inspiring. I was able to spend time with women who are changing the world with their technological innovations and perseverance. LaVonda Brown, for instance, is building a startup that increases the speed and accuracy of drug detection, and Kaylyn Sinisgalli and Erin Kowalsky are working on technology to aggregate data on microplastic prevalence and help control this pervasive environmental problem. These three aforementioned women (like many others in the program) are participating in Female Founders and working on their startups while holding full-time jobs and attending graduate classes. Professionally, I have also learned a lot. As I’m about to embark on a career in consulting, I’m grateful to have been able to practice creating and delivering lectures on resources within the Innovation Ecosystem, key characteristics of how to form successful teams, and best practices for conducting customer discovery. Sara and Melissa have both been great mentors throughout the process.

Female Founders—the only program of its kind at Georgia Tech—has proven to be in high demand. When Fall 2020 participants asked to dive further into the subject, VentureLab answered with a follow-on program. In February of this year, Female Founders from the inaugural group reunited to dig deeper into their startup endeavors. Participants are currently in the process of studying the application of lean startup as they put customer discovery into action by conducting weekly interviews and receiving coaching from the teaching team. Participant Allyson McKinney described her reasons for returning: “Through Female Founders, I saw how different my way of thought was as an engineer relative to the successful businesswomen who spoke to us. In the first Fall session, they coached me to start developing the type of mindset I need to be a successful entrepreneur while maintaining my love for STEM-related work. I came back for the second session because I would never turn down an opportunity to learn from the best. Being part of a program that is by and for females is all the more inspiring.”

A new introductory program (which is a repeat of what was offered in the Fall semester) will begin in March 2021. This program provides an introduction to lean startup, engagement with successful female founders, early customer discovery activity for the teams, and discussion on key topics related to being a female leader.

Reflecting on the past year and a half, I’m grateful for my opportunities to engage with the community through Scheller and VentureLab. I look forward to contributing to these programs during my last semester of my MBA and carrying the lessons from my Sustainability Fellowship and GRA forward in my future career.

Amanda Grupp is a Full-time MBA Candidate in her last semester at Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. Prior to the MBA program, she worked at Kapost, a content marketing startup, where she built a Voice of the Customer Program. Amanda is passionate about learning what motivates people and building business solutions that meet consumer needs. In her free time, she enjoys hiking the Appalachian Trail.