Leaders Examine Obstacles, Give Advice To Help Entrepreneurial Women

By Alex Dixon
The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.


At a panel of women business leaders at Washington Duke Inn on Friday, Kimberley Jenkins said about 5 percent of venture capital funding goes to women.

And, according to a 2013 report from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the National Association of Women Business Owners, around 30 percent of national businesses are owned by women.

“Entrepreneurship is about identifying a problem or a need and building a solution that people will pay money for. And a lot of the needs that women identify come out of our own lives,” said Jenkins, founder and program director for the program Duke in Silicon Valley. “(And those problems) don’t always resonate with a very homogenous group of venture capitalists (who are) typically, almost exclusively, white males.”

Jenkins moderated the panel, called “Building a Dream on Our Own Terms: Building Entrepreneurial Women,” which was part of Duke’s Entrepreneurship Week from Sept. 15-19.

The panel also included Melissa Bernstein, founder and CEO of Melissa & Doug; Rachel Braun Scherl, co-founder of SPARK Solutions for Growth; Christy Shaffer, venture partner for Hatteras Venture Partners; Kathie Amato, senior education strategist for Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program; and Tatiana Birgisson, founder and CEO of Mati Energy, which is made and bottled in Durham.

The panelists discussed what made them entrepreneurs and the challenges and setbacks they’ve faced. They also gave advice to students in the audience who were starting their own businesses.

“If you don’t have endurance, then you’re in the wrong field,” Scherl said. “It is really hard to build a company.”

Scherl discussed the setbacks she faced while developing Semprae Laboratories, a company created to focus on developing and marketing women’s sexual health products.

She said it was hard to get venture funders to connect with her company’s product and mission, even though she and her business partner came from “established companies and had a good track record.”

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