At Georgia Tech’s VentureLab, Program Directors Melissa Heffner and Sara Henderson saw a need for a program for female entrepreneurs. After an initial lightning-fast 20-minute brainstorm session, they created the Female Founders Program, a four-week virtual cohort experience where participants gain a foundational knowledge of lean startup methodology and customer discovery while tackling topics associated with the specific journey of female-led startups.
“The issue was raised that Georgia Tech has done a great job of recruiting women into the Institute, but we are not seeing those numbers represented in our entrepreneurship programs,” said Heffner. “One of the things that instructors know is that students learn well when they feel that they are represented by their teachers - when they look like them, have a lot of the same experiences that they do, or relate to them in some way. I threw out the idea to have a female-based cohort taught by female coaches to provide a space where women felt like they had a voice.”
Enter in second-year Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business Full-time MBA student Amanda Grupp. Grupp, who is a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) for VentureLab, helped with recruiting teams, creating the agenda, and assisting with virtually running the program. In addition to helping to organize the program, Grupp also presented a lecture during the program.
“I was able to lead a session on customer discovery and the Atlanta innovation ecosystem, and how the founders can network in Atlanta, which I knew especially well coming from business school,” said Grupp. “One thing I love about my GRA position and lean startup methodology is that with customer discovery, we talk a lot about ethnographic research to uncover customer needs. As an anthropology undergrad major and current MBA candidate, it is a great space to partner both my degrees and my experience.”
Grupp assisted Henderson, who spearheaded the recruiting efforts for the Female Founders Program in reaching out to MBA students, innovation and entrepreneurship groups across Georgia Tech, and individuals from the Atlanta community that promote women in tech. The interest in the program exceeded their expectations, with 28 teams joining the inaugural session, including three former Scheller MBA students - Evening MBA alumna Dr. LaVonda Brown and Executive MBA (EMBA) alumnae Dr. Shruti Singal and Donna Quinn.
“What I will take away, aside from the team’s generosity in doing this, is the authenticity and the real world experience from the speakers,” said Singal, who is the Vice President of Medical Management at First Choice Health and an Emergency Medicine physician. “I never would have had the opportunity to hear from the wonderful speakers that built businesses that were completely out of my scope of healthcare. Entrepreneurs that built companies from just an idea, such a coup for them to bring in these women who had a boutique, a virtual reality company, and baby product companies. I will carry their stories with me.”
In addition to listening and learning from the guest speakers, teams worked through a strengths assessment to determine where they could excel as an entrepreneur and what skills they might seek in additional team members on their entrepreneurial journey. The program culminated with founders using their newfound knowledge to craft and deliver a customer value proposition story.
“I’m very excited that we initiated this program and am very proud of the value we provided to this first cohort of teams,” said Henderson. “I feel like the need was there for our female entrepreneurs, yet no program on campus was really fulfilling it. This was obvious from the number of teams who participated, and we heard from our participants throughout the program how valuable this initiative was to each of them. I’m looking forward to continuing this journey with our women entrepreneurs on Tech’s campus and more broadly in the Atlanta community.”
In February, Female Founders Phase II will be held as a continuation from this past program. It will be a five-week course in which the entrepreneurs will be required to talk to 20 to 30 customers to understand what their first business model should look like. The VentureLab team will also bring in a brand-new group of female entrepreneurs for a second iteration of the Female Founders Introductory Program starting in March.
“Being involved in the Female Founders Program has meant a lot to me because it is really empowering to be surrounded by women, especially women in different fields who are doing really great things,” said Grupp. “We are much stronger as a community because of it.”
Learn more about Georgia Tech VentureLab’s Female Founders Program.