March 8th was International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate and empower women. It also marked the first day of the 8th Annual NYU Entrepreneurs Festival. As the largest student-run event of its kind, the two-day festival seeks to educate and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders through talks, workshops, and other events. This year’s festival saw incredible participation from female entrepreneurs. Here are some of the ways the amazing women who were a part of the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival inspired me:
Maryellis Bunn (CAS), Founder and CEO of Museum of Ice Cream, Keynote Speaker
After moving to New York City at the age of 16, Bunn longed for a sense of community. Struck by loneliness, Bunn wandered the city, searching for places where people could feel truly connected. She found that traditional community centers revolved around ethnicity, gender, and religion – pillars that were outdated and hard to relate to in the modern world. Ice cream, Bunn noticed, is universal.
One of the most significant points I remember from her talk was that building a business is not glamorous. When the MOIC team was just her and her co-founder, Bunn would be on the floor, building the exhibits by hand. “You can call every Home Depot in New York City. They all know me,” she said. Even though MOIC is valued at more than a million dollars now, people didn’t always believe in her. Bunn recalled that when the Museum of Ice Cream was searching for temporary real estate in Los Angeles, she got turned down by every single broker. She eventually managed to secure a location on the same street as Skid Row. Bunn confessed that starting a business is challenging and unappealing, “but when you have so much passion, and you believe so strongly that the world needs the thing you’re creating, it doesn’t even matter how difficult it is.”
Female Founders Panel
In various ways, all three women who spoke on the panel have had to contend with resistance from their male peers.
Trisha Goyal (Stern '15) is the founder of Break the Love, an app that helps tennis-enthusiasts locate courts and find people to play with. As a woman of color in the sports tech world, Goyal is crashing the ultimate Boys’ Club. Although we all want to be champions of girl power, Goyal advises women entrepreneurs not to discount male mentors. Some of the men she met in her previous role at ESPN have become her biggest advocates.
Vicki Fulop (CAS '07) co-founded Brooklinen with her husband, wanting to create a cheaper version of the luxurious hotel sheets they encountered on vacation. Fulop explains that as a woman entrepreneur with a male co-founder, she’s in a constant state of proving her credibility. There have been times when people mistook Fulop for her husband’s assistant. As a founder and CCO of a $100m company, Fulop is proving those people wrong.
Allie Diracles (Tisch '07, '14) is one of the founders of Vidcode, an education platform for teenage girls to learn computer programming through interactive video techniques. Before Diracles entered grad school to study computer programming, she was an artist. Her creative input allows Vidcode to serve the teenage demographic in a way that is highly visual, interactive, and social. However, there’s another demographic that takes Diracles and her co-founders a little longer to build relatability with. The number one thing that men can do as allies, according to Diracles, is to advocate for women when they aren’t in the room. “The conversations that go on behind closed doors are some of the most influential,” she said.
Kiley and Sarah, Co-founders of Outro, Winner of The Pitch Competition
Kiley Leff, Sarah Davis, and their co-founder, Josh Bunch (Stern '19), paraded onto the stage wearing vibrant pink and white coordinated outfits. They cheerily described Outro as “a Yelp for bars and nightclubs,” but their vision is rooted in a very serious problem that many women face. After two separate occasions where her friends were drugged at bars, Kiley set out to make the world a safer place for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. The app lets users rate bars and clubs on critical aspects of the going out experience: security, comfort level, attentive staff, vibe, inclusivity, and cleanliness. The founders of Outro believe that bars and nightclubs should be safe spaces where individuals feel confident and empowered – a vision that I think a lot of women can stand behind.
These were only a few of the women present at this year's NYU Entrepreneurs Festival. There were countless others showcasing their ventures in the Startup Exhibition, participating in panels about food, social ventures, hi-tech, and teaching us about social media strategy, design thinking, prototyping, and so much more! That the Festival fell on International Women’s Day could not have been more fitting. It was inspiring to see so many women making breakthroughs and pushing boundaries in their fields – a clear signal that women are making immense progress towards equality.
No matter who you are or what gender (if any!) you identify with, the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival is a place where all people and ideas are celebrated. If you missed it this year, stay tuned for our highlights video coming out soon!