In the last decade, the number of women in entrepreneurship skyrocketed worldwide. At the same time, more schools and universities are starting to offer courses and degrees in entrepreneurship related skills.
Still, female entrepreneurs, like many other women in business, face special roadblocks to success, from lack of confidence to limited market access or representation.
Current students and a graduate from the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute’s programing shared their tips and lessons for making it in the rapidly growing field.
1. Find a mentor
Having someone to look up to makes navigating the world of entrepreneurship easier. For Sasha Singh, software engineering major at the University of Utah, those people are a mix of peers and superiors.
“I have had two or three female professors,” she said. “They have been amazing in supporting me and encouraging me to make a seat at the table for myself.”
But it was another student who got her into the entrepreneurship major initially.
“I actually started exploring this field after meeting Yasmin Khan, a former Master of Business Creation student here,” she said. “I wrote an article about her being a girl boss and the challenges that came with it. I have so many female friends at the Eccles School of Business and have always felt supported.”
Sadie Bowler, owner of SadieB Personal Care, says Utah is a place where people want to support each other, and there is a growing number of male entrepreneurs going out of their way to support small, women-owned businesses.
“As I was connected with mentors, I found multiple of these successful men in business looking to support women,” she said. “One of those is Davis Smith, founder of Cotopaxi who is now on my board. We are all a lot more successful when everyone supports one another.”
2. Be the one to stand up
But if you’re struggling to find mentorship, know you’re not alone.
“My advice is to make your own seat at the table,” Singh said. “Your ideas and opinions are valuable. Don’t ever let anyone stop you from creating something you’re passionate about.”
If you feel like you are being stopped — whether by another person or yourself, Bowler says look to the past.
“Women entrepreneurs paved the way for me and everyone else doing this work today,” Bowler says. “Because of their example and progress, they have made it possible for me to build something like SadieB Personal Care.”
Bowler says she’s been the only woman in a lot of rooms, and even short-changed on calls.
“There have definitely been times where I’ve thought ‘if my dad was here, this would go differently,’” she said. “But I think we can get confidence from seeing these other women overcome these challenges and have the confidence to keep going.”
Camryn Polansky, a recent graduate in entrepreneurship from the University of Utah and owner of Camspire, a jewelry company, says just sharing your stories can be enough.
“I’ve always struggled with self-confidence,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage to share parts of yourself, but when you get out of that comfort zone and share those personal sides of you, people can relate. And when they relate, they listen.”
Polansky built her own network of women in entrepreneurship around her by sharing her fears and struggles.
“I typically bond better with women by having deep conversations,” she said. “Those wouldn’t have happened if I let myself get stuck in being one of the only ones talking at first. It takes brave women to make space for the next generation of brave women.”
She also took advantage of the resources at both the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and the rest of the David Eccles School of Business to meet other women with shared interests.
“Lassonde and the University of Utah in general fostered an environment of learning and conversation,” she said. “I miss being there because topics like this came up naturally, and I was surrounded by people who wanted to talk about entrepreneurship.”
3. Know you don’t have to hit a home run
For Polansky, her college courses felt like a safe space to pitch and get feedback. The biggest lesson she learned? Not every idea has to be the idea.
“You don’t have to have an incredibly life-changing, amazing idea to be successful, or even just to study entrepreneurship,” Polansky said. “To be an entrepreneur, you just need to be passionate about something. Classes and peers and experience will help you hone everything and get you in the right direction. I think the feeling that you must perfect everything before trying is something that limits a lot of women from this field.”
The field is getting more diverse, too, Singh says.
“I don’t think there is any one way to describe what entrepreneurship looks like,” she said. “It’s a journey and a different one for everyone, an ever-changing career field. If you are picking this as your career path, all you need to be is a go-getter.”
Bowler thinks of it in baseball metaphors.
“You don’t have to hit a home run,” she said. “Just get to first base. At that point, there will be people who see you, acknowledge your work and want to get involved.”
4. Use what you know
Bowler’s startup is focused on changing the dialogue in the beauty industry. She wants to take the focus off looks and instead uplift girls for their accomplishments and abilities.
“The current messages in the beauty industry makes girls feel isolated and alone,” she said. “That’s due to the unfair and unrealistic beauty standards girls feel pressured to meet. I decided that I could change that with SadieB, where we reprioritize to put mental health and personal care first through our products, messaging, and partnerships.”
As a teenage girl, Bowler said she has a unique viewpoint as an entrepreneur, and she’s taking advantage of it.
“I have an advantage going up against the large beauty brands, because I am the target demographic,” she said. “I know first-hand what GenZ girls need, feel, and struggle with.”
Polansky’s company is also very personal — her jewelry sales support mental health services, something she’s struggled with.
“Everyone is impacted by mental health,” she said. “And while there’s an overall stigma on conversations about issues like depression and suicide, women are statistically more likely to talk about it than men. When I got the idea for Camspire, I thought ‘Why not use that to our advantage?’ We’re starting conversations with everyone.”
5. Remember that the world is changing
“There’s been a cultural shift,” Polansky said. “When you say a business is ‘women-owned,’ that just makes it more interesting now. Women in entrepreneurship are different in a good way.”
Since Bowler started SadieB in high school, she’s seen changes, too.
“The dialogue is more positive,” she said. “I think as more women stand up and take charge of their entrepreneurial careers, we all become more confident. I think we’re starting to feel more like we belong.”
Out of all the places to be with a startup or business idea, Singh says she’s glad to be an entrepreneur in Utah.
“Utah is at the height of the startup market,” she said. “It is the hub for starting a new venture, and so many of those [ventures] were founded by women. I think the University of Utah is a great place to start your entrepreneurial journey.”