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Female Entrepreneurs Empowered at Menlo College

ATHERTON, CA – Crunchbase, a database of startups, other tech companies and the people who work in them, recently released a report on the number of women founders of U.S. venture-backed startups. While female founders are still in the minority, there has been a rapid growth in the past five years, from 9.5 percent of startups with at least one woman founder in 2009, to 18 percent in 2014.

Menlo College, a small undergraduate business college in Silicon Valley, is going big to accelerate the growth in women entrepreneurs, graduating women who are destined to boost the female founder statistic. Menlo students — both female and male — are learning to identify promising startups through classroom experience merged with professional business experience.

Entrepreneurship Professor Ron Kovas puts students through the challenge of investigating business ideas, validating the “opportunity” and developing a business plan to seek venture funding. “Launching the Venture,” a capstone class emphasizes that an idea is just the beginning of innovation. With the sound advice of guest speakers from Silicon Valley, including venture capitalists, private equity investors and entrepreneurs, student teams develop business plan rationale and then present their arguments before a panel of Silicon Valley investors. “It is definitely hands-on and not just academic rhetoric,” says Kovas. To further promote student entrepreneurialism, every Menlo College student undertakes a supervised workplace internship in Silicon Valley before graduation.

The small size of the campus and the close collaboration with faculty creates a setting for team building, networking, and preparing ideas for marketing.

President Richard A. Moran says, “It’s every pair of hands on deck on a small campus. Everyone is valued for what they bring to the table.”

Political Science Professor Melissa Michelson concurs, “Menlo College is a great place to be a female student because of the small size of our classes. In large classes, men tend to dominate the conversation, and women can be overlooked and silenced. In a small class, that just isn't as likely to happen.”

Menlo College alumna Ewa Zwonarz, marketing strategist and author, says “Many students don’t realize that they are sitting on a goldmine and can really have fun expanding their networks and practicing interactions with senior executives. Menlo College is a perfect place for that.”

Menlo College alumna Ashley Diamond, a marketing manager at Adello, a global advertising technology company in Redwood Shores, founded the Menlo Women’s Business Society in 2011. “I wanted to get more involved at Menlo College and there were lots of opportunities to start anything you want.”

Marketing Professor Deborah Brown McCabe says, “Menlo College encourages and supports student leadership, and does so in methods that are especially supportive of women's ways of engaging. Not only does Menlo ‘talk the talk,’ the college ‘walks the leadership walk.’ Menlo informally and formally trains our female students to be strong, articulate, confident women, skills that will serve them well in the workplace.”

Nita Singh Kaushal, founder of Miss CEO, has been a frequent speaker at Menlo College Women's Business Society events. Kaushal has also served as co-president of Yahoo! Women in Tech, an organization committed to attracting, developing and retaining more women in technical and executive positions. “It is always inspiring to connect with the young women of Menlo College, who are eager to develop their personal leadership toolkit by learning essential skills such as negotiation, effective communication, risk taking, and networking. These students realize that in order to make meaningful contributions and excel in all phases of their lives, it is valuable to learn how to lead and explore fearlessly.” The Menlo College Women’s Business Society recently hosted tech evangelist and author Guy Kawasaki as a noted guest speaker.

Before she graduated from Menlo, entrepreneur Emmeline Wang ’15 interned at Women’s Startup Lab, a female-focused accelerator in Silicon Valley that supports early-stage companies. The program connects female founders with start-up mentors, advisors, leadership coaches, attorneys, venture capitalists, investors, executives and peer founders. A marketing major, budding entrepreneur in health and wellness, and softball player, Emmeline emphasizes, “Having a vision in business is imperative to gaining the success that one desires. There are going to be obstacles and tests throughout an entrepreneurial life, and those are the moments your visions will push you and help you break through boundaries.”

Other recent Menlo College graduates, like Erin Bedell, now working at Liquid Agency; Google employee Katrina Smith; Facebook employee Emily Estes; and MileIQ employee Brittany Olguin, are all starting out their professional climb in businesses that range from startups to big players.

If Menlo’s aspiring female founders have it their way, gender statistics in business will eventually trend on an equal level. As Economics Professor Craig Medlen defines it, “I see education — here and elsewhere — as gender neutral.”

About Menlo College
Menlo College was established in 1927 in Atherton, CA, as a small, private school that focuses on business education with a strong liberal arts emphasis. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley midway between San Francisco and San Jose, Menlo has been named among the "Best Colleges in the West" by the Princeton Review seven years running and a U.S. News "Best Regional College" for the last five years.