The availability of mentorship, coaching, and funding is a particular challenge for female entrepreneurs. Immersive programs and pitch competitions specifically focused on connecting women to inspiring mentors and giving women the opportunity to refine and perfect their business models with the support of industry experts and mentors is one way to accelerate progress on this issue.

"Our goal since launching

Our goal since launching Project Entrepreneur has been to create an ecosystem that supports talented women as they boldly pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions

— Lori Feinsilver, head of Community Affairs, UBS Americas

The Issue:

Although women start companies at 1.5 times the national average, they account for less than 10% of founders at high-growth firms. Despite the robust participation of female entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, a lack of strong mentorship networks and funding constitutes a barrier to their ability to be highly successful.

The Solution:

Rent the Runway Foundation and UBS joined forces in September of 2015 to launch Project Entrepreneur, which aims to provide women access to the tools, training, and networks needed to build scalable, economically impactful companies. In addition to a series of educational summits, the program invites the top 200 venture competition participants to the annual PE Intensive, where they spend two days participating in hands-on workshops, expert speaker sessions, and network-building with entrepreneurs and investors. Twelve finalists are given the opportunity to pitch their business ventures to a group of investor judges. The winners each receive a $10,000 grant and on-site training, introductions to investors, coaching and mentorship as part of Project Entrepreneur’s five-week accelerator program hosted at Rent the Runway’s New York headquarters. They also receive $5,000 in legal services.

The Impact:

Janice Omadeke, founder of The Mentor Method, participated as a top 12 finalist in the Project Entrepreneur pitch competition. The Mentor Method is a social enterprise that aims to create inclusive company cultures through mentoring the future of tech. The pitch practice and mentor feedback Omadeke received during the Project Entrepreneur competition allowed her to perfect her pitch. Moreover, the support and inspiration from like-minded female entrepreneurs Omadeke received while at Project Entrepreneur lasted far beyond the two-day immersive program: “I met over 12 incredible women living in the DC-Metro area while at Project Entrepreneur… the female founders I met were supportive and excited for one another.”

How it applies to your city:

Both enablers and investors should be intentional about erasing the gender gap in funding for entrepreneurs. Designing initiatives that are specific to the challenges that female entrepreneurs face, particularly around mentorship and networks, can help refine pitches and business models as well as provide access to capital.