Starting to research the subject, a quick Google query brought up several sites about college-dorm-room entrepreneurs. A site that deals with Women Home Business posted an article called “10 Successful Entrepreneurs Who Started in College”. Great, I thought to myself, here I’ll have all the information.
How surprised was I to find that the article was talking about nothing but men: Larry Page and Sergey Brin who co-founded Google, Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook out of his Harvard dorm room, Michael Dell who founded Dell computers while a student, Bill Gates and Microsoft, Marc Andreessen who started Netscape in college, Steve Wozniak who co-founded Apple together with Bill gates, Shawn Fanning who developed Napster and so on.
Where are the women? They are nowhere to be found on that list. Not even one. As if women were never successful as entrepreneurs, didn’t go to college and never shared anything with their dorm room friends.
Another site talked about “18 Famous College Dorm Room Businesses that Made Millions”. It had the same list as before with a few additions of companies started by men: Plaxo, Venus (line of skinny swimwear), FedEx and WordPress.
Then I found one on that list: Allison Perry, who together with some college friends from the University of CA. Santa Barbara, founded InogenOne, a company that creates better, lighter, and more mobile devices for oxygen delivery.
Looking for famous women entrepreneurs I found many lists: most of them talked about Oprah Winfrey, Mary Kay Ash (Mary Key cosmetics), the late Anita Roddick founder of The Body Shop, Madame C.J. Walker, the first African/American millionaire, Coco Chanel, the French seamstress who created an empire and Estee Lauder, founder of the cosmetic company that bears her name. They all have one thing in common even though they come from a different countries and different centuries – They did not start their empires in college.
Some of them didn’t even attend one. They all started their entrepreneurships later in life.
Why is that? Why aren’t there more women entrepreneurs who started their businesses in college?
A recent study found that female entrepreneurs are more prevalent in the developing world. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which studied 59 countries, found an interesting fact: men cited opportunity as the reason why they went into business. Women cited necessity as their greatest motivator.
“Entrepreneurship allows people to create jobs when society can’t provide them with jobs due to the economy” said Donna J. Kelly, one of the authors of the study. That is why there is such a spike in female entrepreneurship in the Unites States and Ireland in the past few years. But it’s still overwhelmingly men. Only in one country, Ghana, women entrepreneurs outnumbered the men.
Digging deeper and with different word combinations, I managed to find a few female-dorm-room entrepreneurs. Most of them are young, some very young, under 25. What will their ventures bring still remains to be seen. Will any of those companies grow to the mammoth size of Google, Facebook or Microsoft?
- Jessica Mah created InDinero in her dorm room in U.C Berkley. It provides easy accounting for small businesses. After using her living room as an office, the company raised $1 million from investors. Today the company has 6 employees.
- Ooshma Garg started a company called Anapata, a job search site, in her junior year in Stanford. After selling that company she focuses on Gobble, a company that connects chefs with people who are looking for home cooked meals. The company raised $1.2 million in funding.
- Jessica Scorpio started her company Getaround after a challenge by Larry Page presented to students in her college. He asked them to come up with an idea that will affect 1 billion people in 10 years. What Jessica devised was a company that allows sharing of personally owned cars in big cities. She followed that idea by opening a company that services the San Diego and San Francisco areas. It worked so well that she rose an additional funding of $3.4 million and plans on going international.
- Susie Levitt and Katie Shea, who started CitySlip-Mates while at NYU. Their company is devoted to developing products that address the needs of working women in the big city. The company brought in over $1 million in sales the first year. Today their bestseller, flat shoes in a bag, is sold in Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Macy’s and more.
- Jessica O. Matthews and Julia Silverman created Uncharted Play while studying at Harvard University. The company aims to turn playthings like soccer balls into sources of energy. Their first product is already in use in developing countries and they were praised by President Clinton as great inventors.
- Clara Shih created her company Hearsay Social with a class mate from Stanford and have raise $21 million in financing. Her company helps businesses manage their social presence on the internet.
- Lynn Jurich went back to school and together with her classmate in Stanford Business School formed SunRun which raises financing for solar systems. They are currently installing about $365 million worth of equipment a year.
Professor Alison Booth of the University of Essex in the UK did a study about competition, risk taking and gender. It is argued, she said, that the difference in gender is the cause for gender disparities in labor force achievement. Is it really so? Are the women built differently?
She divided her subjects to 3 groups; males only, females only and a mixed group and asked them to solve problems and take risks.
What she found was very intriguing. When women were among their gender peers, they were more competitive and take risks than when they were in the mixed group. It turns out that in the presence of men, women tend to tone down their tendencies for competitiveness.
So what can we learn from the new slew of female college-dorm-room entrepreneurs?
- Staying in a dorm during college years has its advantages – and it’s more than just your social circle because a dorm room is filled with people like you are.
- Women who want to become entrepreneurs should start to think about it during the college years when there is a vast pool of like-minded people to choose from.
- Doing it with a partner is much easier than doing it by yourself.
- If you have a good idea, follow your gut.
- It’s never too young to start. Some female entrepreneurs are as young as 15.
- To be successful in the entrepreneurial world, you have to be competitive and a risk taker. Even when ‘playing’ with men.
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