2020 Female Founders Forum 2020 – Inspiring all generations of female entrepreneurs

March 27, 2020

By Francesco Lavini


In the wake of the tremendous success of previous years, the NYU Female Founder Forum is back on 2020 for its 3rd edition. Powered by the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute in partnership with the Convergence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute at NYU Tandon and the NYU Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation, among the others, the Forum aims to expand opportunity and community building for current and future female founders. As we all unfortunately know, the event took place on March 6th 2020, at the dawn of the Corona Virus outbreak in the United States and, due to safety concerns, it was therefore deprived of its in-person format, to be held at the Foursquare’s NYC office. In a last-minute rescue, the event was promptly transferred online, with a live streaming coverage of the panels and presentations from the office of the NYU Leslie eLab Entrepreneurial Institute and through the eLab social platforms. Thanks to the perseverance of the organization at the NYU Leslie eLab the Forum turned out to be a great success once again, bringing together the most successful and bright members of the community of female entrepreneurs from all across New York City, for a half day of inspiration, conversation and networking.

Dr. Stacie Bloom addressing the audience at the eLab for the opening speech.

The opening remarks were entrusted to Dr. Stacie Bloom, Vice Provost for Research & Innovation, the first female ever to oversee the research enterprise at NYU. She expressed that the entrepreneurial world is moving and changing at a fast pace, with NYU being at the forefront of this innovation, leading today more than ever in the values of diversity and inclusiveness. At present, 50% of the 30 deans of the school are women. In the last Fall semester NYU welcomed the class of 2023, the most diverse ever in the history of the Institution, with 57% of the student population made up of women. Even the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, a historically male-dominated field, is led by a female dean, Dr. Jelena Kovačević with more than 45% enrolled female students. The diversity and inclusiveness that guide the future of the Institution flourish at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, where 68% of the 151 startups accepted into their programs are led by female entrepreneurs, giving NYU the highest proportion of female founders in the entire world. For all these reasons NYU stands strong as the perfect host for such an event as the Female Founders Forum.


Keynote speaker Susan Lyne and moderator Stephanie Mehta

The first session of the day kicking off activities at the Forum was moderated by Stephanie Mehta, Editor-in-chief at Fast Company, as we listen to Keynote Speaker Susan Lyne, President and Managing Partner at BBG Ventures talking about the core values shared by successful female founders. Thanks to her incredible experience in the field, established while working at Disney and as CEO of Grit.com, among the others, Susan started in 2014 BBG (#BuiltByGirls) Ventures, an early stage fund backing the new wave of female founders who are transforming consumers’ everyday lives. BBG Ventures launched over 5000 companies since then, all led by female founders. She expressed that “one of the main mistakes that aspiring founders make when pitching is spending too little time talking about themselves, the story behind their ventures that brought them to that stage.”  She emphasized the importance of storytelling, as an essential part of the entire entrepreneurial process. From raising money, to customer acquisition, to market penetration founders need to be able to tell customers a story, that can resonate with their experiences and problems, and propose as the right solution.


From left to right, Milena Berry, Chloe Alpert, Olivia Landau, Namrata Mujumdar and Cynthia Franklin

Following, Prof. Cynthia Franklin, Director of W.R. Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship at NYU Stern, moderated the first panel of the day, titled “Who Run the World?”, about successful women-led startups stories. Chloe Alpert, Founder & CEO of Medinas Health, Namrata Mujumdar, Co-Founder and CEO of FUND:THIS, Milena Berry, (NYU Tisch ’03) Co-Founder and CEO of PowerToFly, and Olivia Landau (NYU Steinhardt ’13), Founder & CEO of The Clear Cut, shared the stories behind the origin of their ventures. They took the virtual and in-person audience through their personal backgrounds, their aha moments, their struggle in balancing their startup dreams and everyday lives, and finally to their full-time entrepreneurial career. Making the habit of listening to successful leaders’ stories and startups origins was the key recommendation all the panelists agreed on to share with aspiring female founders. 


From left to right, Rebecca Kaden, Nimi Katragadda, Caitlin Strandberg, Jessica Lin and Emily Baum

In the next panel, “Funding Females – Moving the Needle”, Emily Baum, Inclusive Entrepreneurship Lead at NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, led the discussion about startups funding and VC with four energetic and competent enterprise investors working in New York City. Caitlin Strandberg, Principal at Lerer Hippeau, Jessica Lin, Co-Founder & General Partner at Work-Bench, Nimi Katragadda, Partner at BoxGroup, and Rebecca Kaden, Partner at Union Square Ventures, talked first about career development for women in their field. In an industry that does not offer many occasions for direct mentorship within the firms’ hierarchy, relying on personal networks, and mutually supporting other female VCs is the most helpful resource. When talking about the traits VCs value when considering an investment, the panelists looked for mission-oriented founders, who are able to inspire their teams and engage VC in their dreams, forging the idea of a common purpose around the business. “We want to dream with them”  said Caitlin, “build a vision that can define the future of the startup and the community”.



  Alyssa Petersel presenting My Wellbeing                                           Phantila Phataraprasit for Sabai Design        

Finally, it was time for the Pitchoff! Competition, during which four NYU-born startups were granted exposure and time to pitch in front of the Forum audience and experienced VC judges, from NYU Innovation Venture Fund, Laconia Capital Group and Techstar. First on stage, founder and CEO Alyssa Petersel (NYU Silver ’17) presented My Wellbeing, a platform that matches therapy-seekers with therapist recommendations in New York City. Next it was the turn of Phantila Phataraprasit (NYU Law ’20) and her Sabai Design, that makes sustainable furniture made in the US with recycled and natural materials, at affordable millennials-approved price points. Co-founders Myriam Sbeiti (NYU Tandon ’18) and Daniela Blanco (NYU Tandon ’20) talked about Sunthetics, a startup developing sustainable and electrically driven chemical processes to replace traditional heat-powered ones, driving change in the textile and pharmaceutical industry, one reaction at a time. And finally, COO and Co-Founder Rachel Konowitz (NYU Wagner ’18) wrapped up the session with Motivote, which harnesses research-proven behavioral incentives and social engagement to increase voter turnout and “make America vote again”. My Wellbeing was selected as the final winner, but all the startups and founders were praised with enthusiasm by the judges and the audience.


Myriam Sbeiti and Daniela Blanco for Sunthetics                                        Rachel Konowitz talking about Motivote

Despite the unpredictable difficulties related to the virus outbreak, The Female Founders Forum 2020 was a huge success, with great turnout and participation even from the virtual attendees. The future of women entrepreneurs is brighter now than ever before, but there is still a lot to do beyond NYU in reshaping the entrepreneurial panorama and improving  gender equality. Events like the Female Founders Forums, with the testimonies and stories of its strong female leaders, and institutions like NYU are fundamental for raising awareness. We are all excited to carry on the work for another year, to drive more successful female founders and investors and nourish this wonderful community for next year’s Female Founders Forum.


NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s CIE Institute supports initiatives that help faculty and students reach greater heights by harnessing important technologies and re- imagining business ideas. We catapult these ideas into advanced, problem-solving innovations to address society’s greatest problems.

Our mission is to increase diversity and multi-disciplinary in STEM entrepreneurship and provide guidance as well as resources for STEM innovators to start-up.


For more information about these programs, please contact us at cie@nyu.edu