Women and Entrepreneurship: Success Stories

Despite their differences, they share one significant commonality… they are both entrepreneurs. Their advice and introspection is shared to inspire and encourage women to consider all options.

Patience Allen and Kavita Gunda: Embracing the Possibilities

A Master of Business program is quite different from what people may have experienced as an undergraduate. Life is not simply going to and from school (with the occasional stop at the bar). MBA students are out to change their lives, and the lives of those with which they come in contact. People join consulting groups in order to hone their consulting skills and study for case interviews. Nonprofit folks often give back to the community by joining organizations that are civic-minded. So logically it would make sense that those interested in working for themselves would, of course, start their own businesses.

Like many colleges and universities, the University of Michigan Business School (MBS) has an Entrepreneur and Venture Capital (EVC) club. Participating students have the chance to listen to speakers with a lot of experience beginning their own businesses, pitching to venture capitalists, and cultivating new ideas. Students are also able to participate in competitions, with the chance to win the opportunity to gain funding for a business venture.

Although some people think about being an entrepreneur for the first time as an MBA student, most people have had the desire to be an entrepreneur long before the thought of a Master’s degree crossed their mind. This was certainly the case for Patience Allen, former President of MBS’s EVC organization. Patience was born into an entrepreneurial family. Her grandfather bought a small printing company over 60 years ago and all of her aunts and uncles worked in the company. The family members that didn’t work for her grandfather became dancers and actors, creating their own business to teach or direct shows. Even the dinner table was not safe from entrepreneurial conversations, as talk often turned to business. After spending 5 years working for a large international publishing company, Patience realized why she wasn’t satisfied. Growing up in a family that was self-employed, Patience learned to care deeply about the business and to invest everything she had. This desire to make a difference was not appreciated within larger companies. People were actually expected to treat the job as just a job, and nothing more. Patience wanted to care; and the benefit of having the authority to run a business was an added bonus.

Possibly a risk-loving person, Patience has since had a chance to participate in many nonprofit start-ups: “They are chaotic, always growing, struggling and on the verge of closure. They have aspirations of smooth efficient calm 9-5 days, but secretly love the thrill of all the energy and excitement.” Interestingly, even though the statistics suggest a large number of women in self-employed businesses (approximately 46% of privately held companies are owned by women), Patience has met few women within business school that are interested in starting their own business. However, research also suggests that many women that begin their own companies forgo formal MBA education.

Life as an entrepreneur is appealing to many women. It is a great alternative to working in corporate America. As Patience explained, it’s all about flexibility and control. Working for oneself gives women the opportunity to still be part of the business world, but have the flexibility to have a family and be an active parent. And for those women that still believe corporate businesses are a man’s world, then why not strike out on your own and start your own world. Many women Patience has known that begin their own companies are looking for a lifestyle where they can enjoy what they do and have a great life; they are not concerned with having a Fortune 500 company. Whether it is retail chains or service industries, Patience sees women gravitating “towards businesses which are more people interactive rather than widget or technology based.” Although she doesn’t have a specific project she is working on, Patience is looking forward to getting back into the world of entrepreneurial art nonprofits. She has “lots of ideas in the hopper,” and will surely be working on more than one at a time.

Patience’s story is not completely different. There are other women at Michigan Business School that have similar experiences. Another second year student, Kavita Gunda, came to be interested in entrepreneurial ventures by a different route. As a consultant with Deloitte consulting, Kavita worked on a development of a business-to-business exchange that sold aftermarket auto parts. Kavita explained, “I did not feel as though I was using all of my skills and felt limited in my ability to be innovative and creative.” Kavita’s first venture in entrepreneurship was to write a children’s book, “What is That?”, about the dot that Indian women wear on their forehead. “The book stood not only as a contribution to my generation but to every child living in a diverse world.” Like Patience, Kavita also believes that the flexibility and control are the main reasons women become entrepreneurs. Furthermore, being an entrepreneur allows women to use a full range of skills: “I believe most women crave to use their creativity and soft skills more than men and don’t have an opportunity to do so in corporate America.” This, coupled with the chance women may hit a glass ceiling in corporate America, leads women to see entrepreneurship as a logical choice. Finishing up her last term as an MBA student, Kavita has started a company called Mosaic Enterprises. She designs a line of home products (duvet covers, tablemats, etc.) and purses under the Kavita brand name. She creates all items using Indian designs and fabrics, but tailors them to American tastes. Kavita travels to India to source the fabrics and develop the designs, and is able to work with her extended family to manufacture the items.

Patience and Kavita are prime examples of the statistics we often read about. They are the women that will help the unemployment rate, the overall US sales, and the ratio of female to male entrepreneurs. May their business plans be flawless, their funding plentiful, and their execution perfect.