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Female Founders of Boston-based Businesses Offer Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Four founders of Boston-based businesses discussed their paths to success and offered advice to young entrepreneurs at a “Female Founders” panel hosted by the Women Innovators Network (WIN) and the Schiller Institute on April 10.

Each of the founders gave a brief synopsis of how they created their business and the largest obstacle they faced trying to get it off the ground.

“The largest obstacle was probably just overcoming the fear factor and just doing it,” said Michele Heath, founder and CEO of the consulting company Growth Street. “Believe in yourself that you’re going to figure it out and you’re going to land on your feet. It’s not going to be easy.”

Nicole Centeno, founder and CEO of the ready-to-eat, plant-based meal delivery service called Splendid Spoon, said she was drawn to the challenge of building her own business and having the courage to confront fear on a daily basis.

“Early on, the challenge was convincing people something that didn’t exist was worth my time and eventually was worth the time and resources of investors,” Centeno said.

The discussion shifted toward how the women navigate their respective markets and find new ways to grow their business.

Growth is not always linear, according to Heath, and it often takes multiple trials to find a catalyst for growth. Growth Street works with clients ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies to create new business value, build brand momentum, and ultimately deliver growth, she said.

A basic growth strategy states that in order to earn $1 million in revenue, a business needs to raise $5 million, according to Centeno. Splendid Spoon has been able to earn $14 million in revenue while raising only $2 million of funding, she said.

“In a fast-moving company, you have to be willing to delegate responsibilities to somebody else at a much more rapid pace than a company that is well structured and has a lot of resources,” she said.

Rica Elysee, founder and CEO of BeautyLynx, integrates what she calls the “twerk and work” philosophy into the workplace to measure productivity and mental health. She requires all of her employees to assign a song to their notice before handing it off to another person. The recipient must listen to the song before reading the memo. At the end of the week, Elysee compiles all of the songs into one playlist.

“I’ve figured out a way to be the boss I’ve always wanted to be or have—someone who cares about your mental health and also wants to give you the creativity and space to do what you need to do,” Elysee said.

For emerging businesses, it’s critical to shift the power from the investors to the business owner, Zoe Barry, founder and CEO of digital health company ZappRx, said. She advised the audience to never chase an investor and to always suggest to meet at either a neutral location or the business office.

“Be ruthless,” Barry said. “If an investor isn’t willing to walk out of their office and meet you somewhere and you’re showing up and chasing them, they’re fundamentally not interested.”

Barry strategically schedules her meetings with investors so that she meets with her favorites last. She does this in order to identify problems or emerging trends with each meeting and learn how to handle “zinger” questions before meeting with her top picks, both of which are done through practice, she said.

Elysee believes in “the power of the ponytail,” and diversity and inclusion rests in the core of her founder story, as a black female founder. In order to combat the biases women face in the business world, Elysee learned how to “mansplain,” or over simplify her explanations.

“If you can pitch it to an 8-year-old, then you’ve mansplained it appropriately,” she said. “I use that to advocate and push female founders to always tell me what their company did, in the simplest form, and what the opportunity was.”

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor

May 7, 2019