Georgetown McDonough Welcomes Rising Female Saudi Entrepreneurs for Executive Training and Mentorship
A few weeks before International Women’s Day, a group of innovative, passionate, and ambitious Saudi female entrepreneurs joined forces at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business to build their entrepreneurship, leadership, and executive capacity as startup founders and gain exposure to the top U.S. government and business leaders in the region.
As part of their weeklong road show to the United States, the cohort of Saudi women traveled to Washington, D.C., for the first part of their Women Innovators (WIn) Fellowship experience and completed their journey in New York City with a visit to the Goldman Sachs office and PepsiCo’s Global Headquarters.
The WIn Fellowship is led by the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative in cooperation with Georgetown McDonough with support from U.S. Embassy Riyadh, UPS, and PepsiCo. WIn Fellows are citizens of Saudi Arabia and have either founded or co-founded their own businesses. Throughout the course of the fellowship, members of the cohort are involved in workshops, four Custom Executive Education training modules taught by Georgetown McDonough professors, and mentorship opportunities.
“Our custom executive programs have a long legacy of offering uniquely tailored, research-driven educational experiences for executives, future leaders, and entrepreneurs alike,” said Kim Hunt, director of program development for Custom Executive Education at Georgetown McDonough. “Our partnership with the Atlantic Council and the WIn Fellowship is a great example of our multidisciplinary approach to help prepare the next generation of leaders around the world.”
The top-performing fellows were selected to participate in the week-long venture as part of the roadshow to the United States. The U.S. travel portion of the WIn Fellowship included two days of leadership training at Georgetown McDonough — including meetings in D.C. and New York City with private sector officials and government leaders.
One of the WIn Fellows, Rawan Al-Kharboosh, who is the founder and CEO of AtPoint, a company that customizes and tailors stem cell therapies, said the cohort has connected very well and they have all learned a lot from each other both professionally and personally.
“We’re essentially all young entrepreneurs. We’re all alike; we have this sort of alpha mentality and personality; we’re very work-oriented. Even based on our discussions, it’s apparent that we’re more strategic,” Al-Kharboosh said.
As a scientist, the WIn Fellow said she wants to play a part in the revolution of Saudi Arabia — the country she left when she was very young.
“Through my experience as a WIn Fellow, I wanted to connect with other Saudi women entrepreneurs and really get their take on the world, and how it’s evolving in Saudi Arabia. The landscape is very different than I remember, and I really wanted to meet very powerful women that essentially fought the system and rose to the top.”
Al-Kharboosh is also a strategic consultant to the Saudi FDA and hopes she can make a difference in the future of biotech in the region. She said networking with other Saudi female entrepreneurs who are looking to pave the way for other innovative technologies, sciences, and ideas on a global scale has been extremely rewarding.
“It’s very interesting to speak with a woman when it comes to business because a woman will tell you her flaws, strengths, and everything in between. So there’s a sense of camaraderie and a lot of honesty. I appreciate everyone’s candor, and it’s about getting all perspectives through this experience,” she said.
As it relates to International Women’s Day, Al-Kharboosh said there are several ways that society as a whole can honor and celebrate the achievements of women around the world from a political, social, and business-oriented perspective.
“It’s recognizing the unconscious bias that we all have. If we can have one standard as far as rating certain behavioral traits, that would be great. For some reason, women are seen as sentimental and emotional. I think it’s because of that high empathy score for different perspectives — but it’s one of the most powerful traits of a businesswoman, especially.”
Sara Bin Ladin, another WIn Fellow, is the chief technology officer at quantum platform based in Saudi Arabia. She said one of the most rewarding aspects of the fellowship has been the exposure to an entirely new network of female entrepreneurs and business ideas.
“Being able to share the same issues and problems and finding a solution just by being together — the educational aspect of it all has been great. It’s been a great opportunity to engage with other entrepreneurs and amazing coaches, professors, and just helping to give us the lay of the land and make it a bit better for us, or help us, prepare for what could come next in our professional journeys,” Bin Ladin said.
Bin Ladin explained that each member of the cohort wants each other to succeed and reach their unique goals.
“We’ve had a huge amount of growth in the Saudi ecosystem for entrepreneurs in the startup environment. The country is doing its best to help propel us toward the fastest route to growth, but we still need a lot of experience, including learning from individuals who have already been in these positions. This way, it will help us be better competitors in our region.”
Jeff Reid, professor of the practice and founding director of Georgetown Entrepreneurship, shared some of his biggest takeaways from the cohort’s visit to campus and why the partnership with the Atlantic Council remains significant to the Hoya entrepreneurial community.
“Georgetown Entrepreneurship prides itself on providing opportunities for experiential, hands-on learning, thought leadership, and service and engagement. We were honored to be a part of the Atlantic Council’s empowerME Initiative, to support more women in entrepreneurship — and we look forward to continuing our partnership for years to come,” Reid said.