Barnard Startup Summit
From June 17 to 19, 2021, the Athena Center for Leadership and Barnard Entrepreneurship Network (BEnet) hosted the Barnard Startup Summit.
In this three-day virtual boot camp, participants:
- Determined which business structure best suits their for-profit business idea.
- Learned how to protect their business's name and brand.
- Got a look into the ins-and-outs of financing your business, including how to raise capital and source investors.
- Saw how they can use marketing and PR to advance their idea.
- Developed and practiced an elevator pitch.
Read about one student's experience below.
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If you had told me four months ago that I, along with twenty two other Barnard students and alums, would be attending a Startup Summit at Barnard — and that I would have helped plan it — I wouldn’t have believed you. Not because I didn’t think it was possible, but because no such event had ever been held. But as an intern at Athena, it’s my job to help bring big dreams to life. And as an entrepreneur at Athena, it’s my job to work in partnership with others to create things that do not already exist.
This March, Jennifer Perusini ‘10, chair of BEnet, told Athena’s director Umbreen Bhatti ‘00 about a boot camp she attended some years back and how she was eager for members of the Barnard community to have access to such an experience. In turn, Umbreen told her about her plans for a summer event for entrepreneurs at Athena — and in that moment, the Startup Summit was born. I was honored to be asked to join them in planning it. I had recently started my own company, Trofi Granola, and expressed how helpful this type of event could be for Barnard students with existing companies or with nascent for-profit business ideas.
We began to compile what we thought was company formation 101. From determining the right business structure, to trademarking, IP law, marketing, and investing, we started to see a core curriculum develop. All we needed now were speakers with expertise in each topic to teach the Summit’s participants. I started to cold email dozens of Barnard alums asking for just 15 minutes of their time to tell them about what we were planning. They were all very excited about it, and said how they wished something like this existed when they were in school. And as the number of committed alums grew, other things started to fall into place. We received incredible applications. I started to see the entrepreneurship community materialize, which was invigorating. I wanted so badly to meet all of these women. Would I find my co-founder? Would I start a new company all together? I couldn’t wait to find out.
Time flew, and suddenly it was 6pm on June 17th - the first day of the Summit. I got onto the Zoom a little early, and watched with excitement as everyone logged in. One after another, from places all over the world, our cohort came together. Jennifer’s pride was palpable through her screen. She welcomed everyone in, and we introduced ourselves in smaller breakout rooms. We talked about our backgrounds, business ideas, and companies or brands that we admire. Two out of the 5 women in my group were alums, both courageously looking to pivot away from their careers and start their own businesses. We came back together to talk about good ideas — what makes something a great idea? What makes it a great business? Jennifer shared her story, as did Victoria Meakin '85, Allison Domeneghetti ‘93, Camille Varlet ‘01 and Jessica Meksavan ‘05. By the end of the night, we were all ready to dive into Friday’s tightly packed agenda.
We started on Friday by talking to lawyers Yashreeka Huq, Tracy Randall ‘96, and Stefania Geraci ‘93 about company formation, trademarking, and intellectual property law. This was especially interesting for me, because I saw how much I don’t know about the legalities of startups. Now I know what I need a lawyer for, which is incredibly helpful. From there, we moved into a session with Audrey Roofeh ‘00 about building teams. She started out by asking us whether any of us have ever felt underappreciated at a job we have worked at. Most of us raised our hands. This highlighted how important it is to create a diverse, inclusive culture at your startup. Audrey led us through a discussion on how to do so, which left everyone feeling very empowered and energized.
The afternoon investment and fundraising panel really resonated with me as well. It was a conversation between co-founders of Alinea Invest Anam Lakhani ‘19 and Eve Halimi ‘19 and investors Jenny Fielding ‘94 and Eva Yazhari ‘06. They touched on a lot of different topics, but particularly stressed the importance of being prepared for anything in an investor meeting. Jenny said that when she was in fundraising meetings for one of her past startups, she knew everything about their tech, even though she “doesn't know tech.” I think she was highlighting the importance of learning on the job, but not letting that diminish your confidence in your work. This tied in perfectly with the last workshop of the day, led by Monique Lopez, where we talked about confidence and pitching. My main takeaway from that was in your pitch, give a clear ask. This can be hard, especially because many women feel that they have to have everything figured out before raising money.
We ended the second day energized and psyched up, which was the perfect segue into the next morning where we all pitched our ideas. This was an incredible moment for all of us. To hear everyone’s brilliant ideas, and then to receive feedback from successful women entrepreneurs was extremely empowering. I am so grateful for the time and energy each participant and speaker put into the Summit. I can see it occurring year after year, reaching more people as the entrepreneurial community grows at Barnard. Today, not only does the Startup Summit exist — so does a thriving community of entrepreneurs who want to keep building.
The Athena Center for Leadership is a very special place for me. It is where I discovered my passion for entrepreneurship, and met many amazing women who have inspired me to seize leadership opportunities that will make a difference in the world. With my remaining two years at Barnard, I will continue to create opportunities that unleash potential in the women around me, and unleash power in me.
-- Christina Graham '23
|This program is in partnership with