Georgetown Female Entrepreneurs Find Support in Innovative Courses and Accessible Faculty
Kelsey Lents (MBA’18) wasn’t expecting to create a startup during her time as a Georgetown MBA student. Yet Lents, who co-founded Two Birds, is part of a growing number of female entrepreneurs at Georgetown who have taken advantage of the resources offered by the university to jumpstart a new business.
In the past two years, women-led teams have won around 80% of Georgetown’s pitch competitions, and all four finalists in the alumni pitch competition last spring were women.
“We do a lot in our program to promote diversity in all forms,” said Jeff Reid, founding director of Georgetown Entrepreneurship, which serves students across the university from the McDonough School of Business. “We make sure we have women as faculty members, as guest speakers, as competition judges, as entrepreneurs-in-residence, and in leadership roles.”
In addition to leading the way with female entrepreneurs, the same is true with women in venture capital. A recent report on women in venture capital by Different noted that Georgetown is the second-most attended school among women leading VC firms.
Lents, as well as Georgetown alumnus JP Coakely (MBA’18), came up with the idea for Two Birds, a startup focused on providing working parents with a collaborative coworking space and child care, while studying in Professor Eric Koester’s Startup Factory course.
“It started out as an idea in a class, and every time we pitched it and iterated on it, we got really incredible feedback and responses,” said Lents.
Lents and Coakely would go on to win the grand prize of $30,000 at Georgetown Entrepreneurship’s annual Leonsis Family Entrepreneurship Prize “Bark Tank” pitch competition in early 2018.
Lents recognizes that there are far more male entrepreneurs than female entrepreneurs, but she emphasized that Georgetown has been extremely supportive throughout her journey.
“Georgetown does a good job of protecting the mentality of women in the business school, and that goes all the way down to the way they handle study groups, making sure there are at least two women on every team,” said Lents. “Georgetown recognizes that it is helpful to have diverse people on teams so that you feel like you’re being challenged.”
Christy Felix (B’20) also has performed well at the school’s pitch competitions. She is the founder of UHustle, an e-commerce platform for students with side hustles. She developed the startup after talking with entrepreneurs at Georgetown Entrepreneurship’s weekly Chalk Talks, where students can speak with entrepreneurs about their ideas and progress. After attending several of the talks, she decided to participate in one of the semester’s pitch competitions, where she won $5,000.
Felix would go on to participate in what’s called a rocket pitch, where entrepreneurs are given two minutes to pitch an idea in any type of business. After winning 2nd place, she traveled to New York to participate in more pitch competitions.
Felix acknowledges that in general, women face a lot of challenges in the world that men do not. Yet, she believes that the entrepreneurship community at Georgetown has been supportive of her endeavors regardless of her gender.
“I’ve never felt judged by being a woman in the entrepreneurship community. I feel like it’s so diverse. I compete against men and against women. Being a woman and a minority, it’s surprising that I’ve never been aware of how I look in the entrepreneurship community,” she said.
Like Lents and Felix, Shavini Fernando (G19), founder of tech startup OxiWear, found support in the Georgetown community when developing the idea for her company. Fernando was diagnosed with severe pulmonary hypertension (PH), a condition involving increased blood pressure in the lungs that can lead to shortness of breath and low oxygen levels. Fernando founded OxiWear to assist people like herself who deal with living with PH. OxiWear is a device that monitors oxygen levels to detect if levels become too low.
Fernando did not originally plan to create a startup for her device. OxiWear was simply a project she began working on after her diagnosis.
“I had to figure out a way to live on my own because my doctor said I couldn’t go to Georgetown anymore because it was not safe. He joked that Georgetown is the most hilliest campus and I shouldn’t be going up and down the hill. I wanted to prove him wrong. I thought to myself, ‘Okay, what if I create a device that would warn me when my oxygen levels are low?” said Fernando.
After working on the device through an independent study class, she entered the Bark Tank competition in late 2018, where she won the first place prize of $30,000.
Fernando thanks her advisors and the team at Georgetown Entrepreneurship for guiding her in the right direction toward creating a startup.
“Jeff Reid has been my go-to for advice throughout the journey and is now on the company’s advisory board,” she said.
Lents, Felix, and Fernando exemplify the increasing role of female entrepreneurs at Georgetown and the incredible work being done at the university to support entrepreneurs of all genders.
“I think there’s something special about the women who choose to become Georgetown students. These are people who want to become leaders and want to make a difference in the world and aren’t afraid to step up and be entrepreneurs,” said Reid.