Entrepreneurial Institute

Announcing the Female Founders Fellowship Campaign

The NYU Entrepreneurial Institute is kicking off a fundraising campaign for an ambitious new program to address the gender gap in entrepreneurship: the NYU Female Founders Fellowship. The program aims to provide loan alleviation grants as well as extensive training, mentorship and support to female NYU student entrepreneurs, thereby setting a new standard for gender equality in entrepreneurship at universities. 

Photo of Female Founders working at the Leslie eLab     Photo of Sabina pitching


Female founders have historically faced cultural stereotypes, media biases, roadblocks, and other forms of gender bias and discrimination which often “discourage women from pursuing entrepreneurship and/or detract from their ability to garner support for a new venture,” (Kauffman Foundation, 2016). As a result, female founders are statistically much less likely to start businesses and to raise venture capital financing, with only 2% of VC funding in 2018 going to companies with female founders. At the same time, venture backed “businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue—more than twice as much per dollar invested—than those founded by men,” (BCG, 2018).


Challenges faced with acquiring financing are compounded for female university students and recent alumni, who also face substantive student loan debt. "$10K in student debt, versus being debt free, lowers the chance of launching a startup by 7 percent, drops startup earnings by 42 percent, hits technology and fast-growing startups especially hard, and worsens the impact of business failure," (Center for American Entrepreneurship, January 2019).

Photo and logo of Govern for America


The co-founders of Govern for America, Kyleigh Russ (NYU Wagner ‘20) and Octavia Abell (Tulane University ‘14), who launched their company in 2018 out of the Institute’s Leslie eLab, know first hand how financial burdens affect female founders. Their company has created a Teach for America-like fellowship which connects diverse recent college graduates with jobs in state government. Russ noted, “entrepreneurship is an inherently unpredictable endeavor - when you’re a founder your finances are your organizations finances.” Abell went on to say “I just finished paying off my student loans which allowed me to leap into Govern For America, without a financial burden. Having student debt can prevent women from doing things they know will create real value for themselves and society, rather than just focusing on an immediate financial return.” 


Govern for America is just one of many female-led ventures supported by the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute in recent years. The Institute is in the center of the University-wide entrepreneurship ecosystem which provides inspiration, training, coaching, and investment capital to the diverse 60,000+ NYU student and faculty population. Gender equity, diversity, and inclusion is a priority in every one of the programs and resources offered by the Institute. Last year, Forbes noted “New York University emerges as the school with potentially the most female-friendly culture,” while just last academic year (2018-2019), of the 152 teams who participated in training programs at the Entrepreneurial Institute, 67% included a female founder


Building off this momentum, “we have a huge opportunity to create a pipeline of successful female-led companies out of NYU, by helping them overcome the obstacles in their paths through mentorship, training and financial support,” says Frank Rimalovski, Executive Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute.

Photo of Female Founders working at the Leslie eLab      Photo of Female Founders working at the Leslie eLab, with prototyping machine


Our goal is to better support and remove financial barriers for women pursuing startups out of NYU, enabling more female founders to launch ventures during school and after graduation. Annually the fellowship hopes to provide 15-25 female founders, with:


  • Loan Alleviation Grants: Fellows will have the opportunity to apply for loan alleviation grants to lessen the student loan barrier and to enable more female founders to pursue their ventures after graduation.
  • Training & Coaching: Fellows will have access to comprehensive startup training through programs and dedicated support from expert startup coaches.
  • Network of Female Founders: Fellows will be invited to participate in monthly female founders community events, an annual full-day Female Founders Forum, and have access to a network of 120 external mentors and investors.


Photo of Female Founders working at the Leslie eLab     Photo of Female Founders working at the Leslie eLab     


Through the Female Founders Fellowship, NYU will reduce structural barriers for female founders, provide entrepreneurship training for women in tech and build a pipeline of talent between the campus and the greater startup ecosystem. 

“The Female Founders Fellowship will allow more female founders from diverse backgrounds to have the freedom to pursue their vision.” noted Russ. We are seeking partners committed to addressing gender equality to contribute to this ambitious program. Join us in creating a new standard of representation in entrepreneurship. 

If you’re interested in contributing, please contact Frank Rimalovski, fbr4@nyu.edu or contribute here. To learn more about this initiative, read this document.