The 2012 TechWomen Emerging Leaders kicked off the second phase of the program with the TechWomen Entrepreneurship Workshop on October 1st. The workshop occurred after completing three weeks of professional mentorships at technology companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The full-day event was hosted at the Mountain View office of Fenwick and West LLP, a major technology and life sciences law firm whose clients include tech giants Apple, Facebook, Virgin Group, Google, Twitter, and Hewlett Packard.
The event was organized by the Institute of International Education and the TechWomen Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee comprised of Jill Finlayson, Menekse Gencer, and Anar Simpson. The Advisory Committee members are all currently serving their second year as TechWomen Mentors. While the first three weeks of the TechWomen program focused on projects-based professional development and cultural enrichment, the last two weeks of the program focused on building leadership skills, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
The workshop included lively panel discussions and practical breakout sessions led by accomplished entrepreneurs and experts in the field. The event featured 15 speakers:
- Susan Burns, Global Footprint Network
- Pascal Finette, Mozilla
- Jill Finlayson, Dallant Networks
- Megan Gardner, Plum District
- Menekse Gencer, mPay Connect
- Dylan Higgins, KopoKopo
- Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz
- Lila Ibrahim, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers
- Maha Ibrahim, Canaan Partners
- Sandy Jen, Meebo
- Meera Kaul, Optimus
- Sepideh Nasiri, Women 2.0
- Hiten Shah, KISSmetrics
- Anar Simpson, Parallel Earth
- Mark Straub, Khosla Impact Fund
In her opening keynote Megan Gardner emphasized the role of risk in entrepreneurship. She cited voices of discouragement from society, tradition, upbringing, education, and the human mind as sources of risk. “Starting a business is like riding a rollercoaster,” she explained, describing the ups, downs, fear, anticipation, doubt, and adrenaline that flood the body before hopping aboard a rollercoaster. Nevertheless, when it’s all over, one can’t wait to experience the thrill of doing it all again. According to Megan, in these instances risk becomes opportunity.
Megan’s speech was followed by a Founders Panel featuring Susan Burns, Menekse Gencer, Dylan Higgins, and Sandy Jen and moderated by Sepideh Nasiri. “Entrepreneurship is like raising a baby,” said Susan. She went on to explain that although starting a business is rife with challenges and doubt, it is fun and rewarding to see it grow and succeed after risking so much and putting in so much effort.
The panelists offered words of wisdom and encouragement to the TechWomen. “Know your market. To begin a successful business in a market, you must be in the market,” said Dylan. “Don’t feel like you’re not as special as the person next to you; don’t underestimate yourself,” echoed Jen. “Price yourself higher; people will pay two to three times more than what you ask for, and they’ll value you more, because people value what they pay for. It’s okay to walk away from something if you feel that you deserve more,” said Menekse.
After the Founders Panel, the Emerging Leaders had the unique opportunity to participate in breakout sessions led by founders to speak more intimately on topics that interested them. Breakout topics included mobile payments, social media and social entrepreneurship.
After the breakout sessions, Pascal Finette of Mozilla spoke on entrepreneurship on the open web. He praised the merits of open source and sharing. He shared his “Rules for Revolutionaries,” a short list of insights and lessons he learned through his years in the tech field.
Pascal’s talk was followed by a Venture Capital Panel featuring Lila Ibrahim, Maha Ibrahim, Meera Kaul, and Mark Straub. The panel provided tips on pitching business plans to investors and provided valuable insights regarding business between the US and MENA markets. According to Meera (who has extensive experience with startups in the Middle East) the most profitable companies in the MENA markets cater to the same, small customer base. Mark noted that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs tend to focus too heavily on acquiring users, while entrepreneurs in emerging markets tend to focus more on revenue. “If only they could find some middle ground,” said Mark. Both Meera and Mark praised the TechWomen participants for their daring visions of starting successful businesses in the volatile MENA markets. The consensus from the panel was that there are not enough women pitching their ideas.
One of the highlights of the day was when emerging leaders Evelyn Zoubi and Noha Abousonna addressed the panel and pitched their startups. The feedback they received from the panel was encouraging and constructive.
After the pitches, Hiten Shah provided a primer on the basics of startups, giving examples of the use of social media as an invaluable, zero-budget marketing tool to build a customer base and the foundation for a company before presenting a pitch to investors.
The Emerging Leaders had another opportunity to participate in a second round of breakout sessions which included topics such as launching “Founder Fridays” and pitching business plans.
The day concluded with a closing keynote with Ben Horowitz, the co-founder and general partner of the successful venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. In addition to early-stage startups, Ben has invested in major tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter.
The TechWomen emerging leaders left Fenwick & West with their minds full of insights on making their dreams come one step closer to reality.