Nelly Farra, MBA’10, comes from a family of savvy businesswomen. When her maternal grandmother, for example, came to Miami from Venezuela as a young widow with three children, she managed to invest her savings so she could stay home and take care of her family. “When she passed away, she owned three significant properties in Miami and had put her three children through private college,” Farra recalls.
An entrepreneur herself, Farra is a veteran of three startup companies. In her latest career move, she became director of the Miami outpost of the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, an accelerator designed to help women grow their companies and founded by the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership.
The launch of WIN Lab Miami follows on the success of the flagship WIN Lab in Boston, now in its fourth year. “We founded the program to solve a problem that we first saw on Babson’s campus,” says Heatherjean MacNeil, global director of WIN Lab, “which is that there is a lower participation of women in entrepreneurial extracurricular programming.” Women are less likely than men to take advantage of business accelerators, MacNeil says, adding that only 3 percent of venture capital goes to women-run businesses.
Today the Boston program is based in a co-working space at the College’s new downtown High Street campus. “We saw it as critical that we connect our entrepreneurs into Boston’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, which is really robust,” MacNeil says. Launched this fall, WIN Lab Miami will be part of CIC Miami, the most recent expansion site of what was formerly known as the Cambridge Innovation Center. CIC, which originated in Massachusetts, has similar aims of bringing entrepreneurs together in communities.
Nearly 200 women applied for the 22 spots in the Miami program, which is eight months long and tuition free. Those who made the final cut have a clear vision for their businesses yet are open to advice, Farra notes. Local female mentors, recruited by Farra, will coach the WIN Lab entrepreneurs. Participants also will gather once a week to report on the progress of their companies and to discuss various related topics, such as gender bias in fundraising. “We have really honest conversations with our entrepreneurs around how they can be prepared, how they can build the social capital they need, and which investment firms are investing in women,” MacNeil says. WIN Lab also focuses on preparing women for CEO roles, MacNeil says.
When Silvia Camps learned that she was chosen for WIN Lab Miami, she couldn’t wait to start meeting with her cohort. Camps returned to Miami from New York City almost a decade ago and has struggled to find a supportive network of other professional women. She is founder and CEO of Stow Simple, a provider of valet storage services. The company, which is a little more than a year old, has one warehouse filled to capacity, and Camps needs help choosing her next steps. “I have big strategic questions surrounding funding, business structure, expansion, and talent acquisition,” she says.
As a woman entrepreneur, Camps says she already has experienced gender bias, noting that in meetings potential investors typically direct questions to her brother, head of operations at the company, and not to her, even though she is the founder and CEO. Camps found a different atmosphere when talking with the people behind WIN Lab Miami. “I really felt welcome,” she says, “and thought these people are going to give me the time and attention that every entrepreneur deserves.”—Erin O’Donnell