An Interview with Deborah Rippol, Director of UP Europe (Startup Weekend, NEXT, Startup Digest)

This post was originally published here and is written by , Founder and CEO of Global Invest Her – catalysts for getting Women Entrepreneurs Funded faster and building Gender-Inclusive Workplaces. 


“Women shouldn’t be afraid to be seen as experts. Sometimes we are too shy and too humble. Humility is good, but if it keeps you from thinking that you can be or are an expert in a field, then that’s bad. Women should really invest in deciding what they are good at and how they can help other people.”


Deborah Rippol is the Director of UP Europe, the organization behind Startup Weekend, Startup Digest and NEXT.

 After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Economics and HR in the UK, Deborah studied law and graduated with a Master’s in Management from Toulouse Business School. 

She worked as a recruiter at IBM before moving to London to open Startup Weekend’s first international office.

In the past 4 years Startup Weekend has grown into UP Global, an organization with a global presence, and has organized more than 1500 action- and innovation-oriented programmes and events in 120 countries. 

As the director of the European branch, Deborah’s mission is to grow UP into the largest provider of experiential education throughout Europe by connecting entrepreneurs and building sustainable startup ecosystems.

Visit their website and follow her on Twitter @DeborahRippol

Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?

I am very inspired by the CEO and Founder of Startup Weekend, Marc Nager, and what he has achieved. Just like a lot of us, he wasn’t necessarily destined to be an entrepreneur and it didn’t come to him on a plate. He fell in love with the concept of Startup weekend, turned it into a non-profit and really brought it to life. He is only 29 but he is a very wise person and brilliantly runs a 50-people company. He doesn’t show any sign of weakness even when he is under pressure and always manages to inspire the team with his vision. I really admire that about him.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

That’s a hard question. I think it’s not one thing in particular but more a series of personal choices that I made that I feel proud of. I feel proud that I took the leap, moved to a new country and opened the European office of Startup Weekend. That was a challenge (mainly because I was by myself at first, working from coffee shops or my couch, things can get lonely). But because it was tough, it makes me proud.

I do think women tend to look back and ask ourselves ‘is that what we should be doing?

What has been your biggest challenge as a Women Entrepreneur?

It may be a bit cliché, but I do think women tend to look back and ask ourselves ‘is that what we should be doing? What’s going to happen with my relationships? What about a family? Should I give up a bit of my career just in case?’ I don’t think men really ask themselves that – they have a career opportunity and just go for it.

I think women do question and doubt themselves too much. A typical example is when I look back at my first opportunity to attend a Startup Weekend. I didn’t want to go because I thought I wasn’t an entrepreneur and would only be capable of helping out for coffee. That makes me angry to think I had that in mind.I was already qualified, I had a Masters and a Bachelors in Business and I could do it just like anybody else. Sometimes women put themselves in position where they don’t think they are good enough and men are the exact opposite! We need to get more confident, that’s the first step.

What in your opinion, is the key to your success?

For our success as an organization, I think that at UP Global, we all have the same vision and passion and that’s what we have in common. Whatever happens, we know we are driven by the same things and that pushes us really far. We understand the organization’s vision that it comes from inside and we are easily able to convey it to other people. UP is a driver for experiential education and supports local community leaders in building their communities. We are convinced about the impact our community leaders have and the rest of the world sees that I think.

What would you do differently? “I would not have allowed myself to work on my own for more than a year.”

If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?

If I could go back in time, I would not have allowed myself to work on my own for more than a year. I think I should have taken a step back, had a more strategic view, realized what roles were needed and tried to get those filled long-term. It’s so different in big corporations, where you have one person for each task and whole departments serving other departments where you don’t even know who the real end customer is. In small organization, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees and split responsibilities.

Being an entrepreneur is a wonderful opportunity to push your own boundaries and work on something you love.

What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur is a wonderful opportunity to push your own boundaries and work on something you love. Being an entrepreneur is identifying a problem you are passionate about that you want to solve but it’s also a mindset. Everybody is capable of having that mindset, even with a normal job. Being an entrepreneur is simply the option where you create that opportunity for yourself.

A lot of people think it’s impossible to have a great team that you love to hang around all the time, but when you find that, it’s not something you want to compromise on anymore.

What is your leadership style?

I think I do have a bit of a mother/friend style. I try my best to fill in the gaps when someone is in trouble, to see if I can help them. I think that comes from the fact that most of the positions in the team were things I was doing at some point myself, so I think I can help. But that might be overwhelming for my team as well, so I’m working on doing that a bit less. I’m also lucky that I’m surrounded with a wonderful team that loves their jobs. Not everyone has that chance and that makes everything a lot easier. A lot of people think it’s impossible to have a great team that you love to hang around all the time, but when you find that, it’s not something you want to compromise on anymore.

Advice to my younger self: “I would tell myself not to be afraid [in business negotiations], that’s business and that’s how it works, there is nothing wrong with being direct.”

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself to be a bit more blunt, opportunistic and straightforward in business negotiations. I personally have a hard time talking about money and when you are in position where you need to move and shake some things to achieve it, in my case, I would almost feel guilty about asking directly, ‘How much money can you invest in our organization?, What can we do for you in return?’. I would tell myself not to be afraid, that’s business and that’s how it works, there is nothing wrong with being direct.

 Pampering yourself is important. We work hard, we deserve it. Ultimately, when you are kind to yourself, you are kinder to others too

What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?

I want to help more communities grow and support more entrepreneurs.

I also want to achieve more of a work-life balance and invest in myself more, in skills that are not so work-related, because I think there are so many beautiful crazy things to discover! Being open-minded in that sense is important for what it does to you and your beloved ones. Pampering yourself is important. We work hard, we deserve it. Ultimately, when you are kind to yourself, you are kinder to others too.

3 key words to describe yourself:

  • Enthusiastic
  • Optimistic
  • Brave


Introducing StartupDigest’s Latest Mailing List Featuring Women in Entrepreneurship

By Anna Curran, Founder


I have to be honest…there’s something I’ve never quite understood. Why is it that women and men have different opportunities when it comes to access to visibility, power, and wealth?

Time and again, I hear people calling out the problem by name, and often the proposed solution is to create a new space where women can connect with other women. But this only creates a pink curtain that keeps talent, ambition, and success separate and hidden. In essence, it’s the making of a pink ghetto.

The Startup Digest Women’s reading list is not that; it’s a look behind the pink curtain. We are here to give visibility to leaders, founders, mentors and investors who are inspiring, building, and doing is noteworthy things – and we are bringing these stories the broader community.

We are the place where anyone can come to read profiles of amazing entrepreneurs founding great companies. Our roundups will be curated for writers, angel investors, venture capitalists, and anyone else who wants to hear about companies that may not have otherwise come across their radar. We will tell stories of investors who are changing the nature of the game (again, investors who happen to be women).

Our goal is to create visibility–that’s why I’m investing my time in curating the StartupDigest Reading List for Women.

You can keep up with me on Twitter @AnnaCurran and @CookbookCreate.

Sign up for the StartupDigest Women in Entrepreneurship reading list today

Learn more about our 2014 initiative, Startup Women, here.

10 Tips from Female Founders

This post is written by Mary Lemmer, author of, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth

As an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist I have been privileged to work with amazing entrepreneurs from around the world. Each entrepreneur I’ve encountered has taught me something, as the best ways to learn anything are through action. In my recent book, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth, I share 111 pieces of advice from venture capitalists to entrepreneurs.

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Now, in honor of UP Global’s focus on “women in entrepreneurship”, some of my favorite female founders shared their advice for entrepreneurs. These ladies have started and built companies that span industries and the lessons they’ve learned and are sharing are valuable for entrepreneurs of any type.


Lauren Bass, founder of LolaBee’s Harvest, recommends starting your company with a co-founder.  She admits, “the biggest mistake I made was starting the company without a co-founder.  Entrepreneurship is a very lonely path. If you can find the right person to take the journey with, take that risk.  It takes an army of great people to build a company that can grow and make an impact.”

If you played sports or every worked on teams growing up, you may have learned similar lessons as Lauren Bass. She recommends entrepreneurs learn how to be good at failing/making mistakes. She shares, “being a competitive athlete growing up I lost way more often than I won. I learned how to study my mistakes, learn from them and let them go.  and most importantly, not to take them personally or think that they define my ability. They were education, and education isn’t free. I’ve even grown to appreciate my mistakes, they make the successes that much sweeter.” She also says “building a strong team is the most important thing you will do”. Hire people who share your values, are open to constructive feedback, and are more committed to professional and personal growth than they are committed to their ego. Then work through the challenges together relying on open communication to build trust. Once you hire someone and they show promise, trust them, delegate, don’t micromanage but offer support.”


Jennifer Beall, Founder of CleanBeeBaby, recommends entrepreneurs “start small and test your idea. Create an inexpensive pilot or a minimum viable product (MVP) that you can try out with customers before you raise money. If your pilot proves there isn’t demand for your concept, its easier to call it quits before you pour a ton of cash into it. Conversely, if your pilot is successful, you can build traction before seeking investors.” Her company, CleanBeeBaby, is proof that if you are scrappy, you can do a lot with little resources!  CleanBeeBaby provides an eco-friendly cleaning service for baby strollers and car seats and has a vision to become the “Geek Squad” for the baby industry. Jennifer bootstrapped her company in order to test demand in Los Angeles and was able to align major partner, such as Nordstrom and Whole Foods, before fundraising.


We’ve all heard the advice to network, network, network.  Megan Smyth, founder of GoRecess, emphasizes the importance of building your network as an entrepreneur.  She says “The most important lesson I have learned is the value of networking and relationships to open new doors. More often than not, it is who you know, not what you know.  Take the time to expand your network, build relationships, seek out mentors and stay in touch.  And don’t limit your relationships to the office; coffee meetings, happy hours, conferences, volunteering, fitness activities, and networks such as Levo League, Women2.0 and 85 Broads are all invaluable to building relationships and expanding your network.


Neha Sampat, CEO of raw engineering, recommends entrepreneurs “surround yourself by people who are smarter than you; and that are your best champions. My most successful career triumphs have been those in which I have been backed up, every step of the way, by men and women who believed in me, my ideas, and carried the torch with pride — fully sharing the accomplishment. Embrace positive people and positive energy, and make a graceful exit from negative and cumbersome situations.”


When starting and building your company ask for help when you need it.  Clare McDonnell, founder of True Link Financial, shares “As a founder, you not only have to excel at whatever your function is (call it software development, operations, or customer acquisition), but also be able to tackle the unfamiliar, often random challenges that pop up every day in the course of building a business. These might have to do with hiring, HR, legal issues, evaluating partnership opportunities, branding and naming, the list goes on. The internet can get you pretty far on this front — I can’t imagine running a startup before the days of Quora and Stack Exchange. But I’ve found that there’s no substitute for a conversation with someone who’s expert (or at least experienced) with the issue at hand. Almost every time I’ve thought to ask for help, I’ve found such a someone, and it’s saved a lot of time and at least a measure of angst. And, if you’re worried about imposing, it turns out that most people seem like being asked to share their hard-won wisdom.”


Kelly Hoey, an investor, startup board member, and co-founder of WIM, challenges entrepreneurs to “take ‘funding’ off the table (because we all need or could use more money), and pause to ask yourself ‘right here, right now, what does my startup really need?’ or ‘what will help my startup really grow?’  Is it an introduction to a strategic partner? I s it sales leads or technical advice or guidance on a revenue model? Write down your answers then start moving on that list. Fast. Very few startups get funding (from either VCs or Angels) so stop imagining that money is the answer to your startup problems.”


According to Emily A. Hay, founder of Hay There Social Media and, “when you get started as an entrepreneur, you need to do all you can to propel yourself forward, to keep taking action towards realizing a goal.  In order to do so, you must tell yourself you are too far to turn back now.  When you reach the point of no return, not going forward isn’t an option. Plain and simple.  It took me a while to grind out to get to that point of no return, so while you are pursuing that point, stay laser focused, keep your nose to the grindstone and know that reaching the point of no return is liberating!  Then it’s not as scary to keep going forward because it would be silly to go back.  Even though I haven’t reached my end goal, getting to that point of no return is one of the most satisfying accomplishments I’ve had to date as an entrepreneur.  Only you can define that point of no return for yourself.”

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And of course, don’t forget to have fun!  Christine Luby, founder of Pinrose, shares “Things go wrong all the time.  When they do, there is a temptation to put even more pressure on yourself, feel bummed out, feel alone.  The truth is, the sun is still going to rise again tomorrow, you (hopefully) have your health, and things are going to be a-ok.  Most mornings I try to write down three things I’m grateful for to help me keep perspective on how lucky I am and remind me of what a fun journey I am on, even when the going gets tough.”

Like these ladies, as you pursue your entrepreneurial venture take note of what you’re learning, as the lessons you learn not only will help you weather the storm of your startup, but can also help other entrepreneurs just like you!

Women start it up: Women’s Startup Weekend looks to empower female entrepreneurs.

This article is written by Sherri Richards was was originally posted here

Fargo – Ashley Hahn wanted to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. She also had an idea, one that would change physical therapy from isolated exercise to a game that would track the patient’s progress.


That’s why Hahn took part in last year’s Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event where the tech- and business-minded gather to pitch ideas and then break into teams to develop the most popular. Hahn’s pitch was one of the top vote-getters.

“It’s so much cool talent and ideas that come together in one weekend,” says Hahn, a project manager at Intelligent InSites of Fargo.

Fargo will host another Startup Weekend on March 7th – this time geared specifically to women across the state.

Of the 1,068 Startup Weekends completed worldwide, about 8 to 10 have been women’s edition events, says Claire Topalian, communications manager for UP Global, which oversees Startup Weekend and Startup America.

Hahn, who will mentor participants this time around, says there were very few women at the Fargo’s first Startup Weekend. It wasn’t awkward or intimidating for Hahn, whose electrical engineering classes were male-dominated, but she thinks the Women’s Startup Weekend will be empowering for women.

“Women interact a little differently than men,” she says. “It has a completely different feel and impact than the mixed (weekend).”

Dr. Susan Mathison, one of the Jan. 24-26 event’s organizers, says Startup Weekends foster creative collaboration, and women are by nature more collaborative.

“I think we flourish in the presence of other women,” she says.

Mathison was a judge at last year’s event and struck by the small number of women taking part. She hopes this event will have about 60 participants.

She believes there is an “untapped entrepreneurial spirit” in women.

“Women are starting so many businesses, but I think sometimes we tend to think small,” Mathison says. “I wish we could encourage that big thinking, entrepreneurial mindset in women.”

Kari Warberg Block, of Bismarck, describes herself as a “serial entrepreneur.” She had bookkeeping and housecleaning services in high school. She started a balloon delivery service when she was 19.

Now she’s the founder and CEO of Earth-Kind, which makes an all-natural rodent repellent and an all-natural air freshener.

Block was named to Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program in 2012, and was the Small Business Administration’s 2013 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year.

Through the Winning Women program, she attended a meeting at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, a major funder of Startup Weekend. There, she says, she learned about the Startup movement, and then sent books about starting Startup communities to people around the state.

“When you engage with other entrepreneurs, it’s amazing,” Block says. “You create something that didn’t exist. It’s transformational.”

Block notes that women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men, but are not scaling their businesses, often because they don’t have the support they need. “Sometimes it might just be an introduction,” she says.

Block says she wants to be a good role model and help women reach their potential. She’s giving a kickoff speech at the Women’s Startup Weekend, and will be a coach.

By gearing the event toward women, Block says organizers hoped to see a better turnout of women than a traditional Startup Weekend.

“There’s some awesome ideas out there just dying to take root,” Block says. “I can’t wait to water them.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

Introducing The Women's Circle Powered By Coca-Cola

We all know that diversity is critical to innovation. A recent study by the Center for Talent Innovation claims that teams with diversity are 158% more likely to innovate effectively.

Wouldn’t it be great if this year’s Global Startup Battle was the most diverse of all time?

To that end, The Coca-Cola Company is proud to sponsor the Women’s Circle for the 2013 Global Startup Battle to encourage just that. The Coca-Cola Company has a shared goal to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs by the year 2020 as a part of our 5by20 initiative.

Global Startup Battle, Startup Weekend

As part of our partnership with UP Global, we want to inspire and empower entrepreneurs all around the world. Initiatives exist to support the inclusion of nearly every underrepresented group, and they’re all important. We’re just picking one. While focused on women, the underlying construct is still diversity in the ecosystem. We believe that the best solutions come from diversity of thought and perspective and that diversity breeds more diversity.

To enter the Women’s Circle, at least 50% of your team must be women. So, it’s not too difficult to figure out that more women at your event increases diversity, increases the quality of your ideas, and increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to enter the Women’s Circle. So, let’s use the Women’s Circle Challenge as the jumping off point and join forces to dramatically increase women’s participation in this year’s Global Startup Battle!

Women Rock! 14 Ideas from Startup Weekend San Francisco

This blog post was written by Marius and originally posted here

I just came back from the Women Startup Weekend San Francisco and it was amazing, everybody was so happy!

SWwomen use


I was feeling really down because startups are hard…and I thought maybe there is a cool startup event happening in San Francisco where I can hang around fellow entrepreneurs a bit. So, I looked at and there were products featured from female startup weekend attendees. I love female entrepreneurship!

Did you know that only 7% of VC backed startups are founded by women? There would need to be 7 times more women in tech to get to the equal split of 50/50 again! If you look at it statistically, this means ideas that could only have been executed by women have been tried 7 times less and they are lying around, just waiting to be executed.

But now, more and more women dare to go into tech and fortunately, the Startup Weekend peeps have seen this opportunity. I attended the event and it turned out great! Over 80 women and around 10 men were there and worked on 41 projects over the weekend, of which 14 made the final cut to be allowed to pitch for 3 minutes with 3 minutes of questions.



Below are 14 startups that came out of the weekend:

Stylend –  Infinite closet, but instead swapping dresses, they are rented out. 

Stylend wants to tackle the problem that women have many dresses, but use them rarely. I told the founder that several startups have tackled this problem before (sorry to upset you!). comes to mind, which actually went through Y-Combinator, but shut down afterwards for several months. They are now up again, but it seems hard scaling this business. Renting dresses instead of selling them doesn’t make the business easier. It makes it harder, because you have to deal with return policies and such, but I always like to be convinced by the contrary.

Joyvite – Find wedding venue easily. 

Finding wedding venues is a high involvement process and can be nerve-wracking. Joyvite tries to make that process easier. Worth a try, however there are a few well funded startups already out there managing the whole wedding process such as WeddingLovely and Weddingful.

Mentorshack – Connecting girls in tech to women in tech. 

Mentorshack connects teenage girls who are interested in tech with women who have gone through the process of having had to fight their way into this male dominated industry. There are many services out there that help you find a mentor online for all areas, but they seem to have trouble scaling up. For instance, Tutorspree a Sequoia backed company had to shut down recently, however Mentoshack picked a strong niche, which has a good cause behind it. Scaling bottom-up instead of top down is always a good idea. Start small…

Infinitelooks – Shows you what to wear for the day. 

Just woke up, but no idea what to wear? Infinitelooks is a mobile app that lets you choose your mood and then displays an outfit that you could wear today based on your wardrobe. Fun idea!

CoHabit – To do list with your roomies. 

My favorite app! Know the problem of your roomie forgetting to clean the dishes again? Forgot to water the plants? Founder Allison Cooper can name 20 more problems with “Co-Habitants”. Well now, with the CoHabit app, you have a to-do list for your apartment to keep track of your house chores. Get points by always completing your chores on time, get rewards and all roomies are happy. Strong problem, big market, lovely idea, not too hard to execute in terms of tech and market, this will work! They also won the weekend giving them free coworking space and mentoring.

Storylink – Capturing your grandparent’s stories. 

How nice would it be if your kids knew how their grandparents met, fell in love, lost everything and how they built up their lives out of nothing again? Storylink tries to capture these stories. A friend of mine has actually tried the same thing, they had an amazing iPhone app, website, design, everything. However, now they pivoted to doing branded videos, so it might be a tough space, especially because you are targeting elderly people, who don’t use technology.

PredictionLog – Track predictions from individuals. 

Great idea! Everyone is always predicting things, but nobody checks if their predictions actually hold true? Well now with PredictionLog, you can predict things and increase your standing on the platform by making valuable and correct predictions (can you please call yourselves actually). On the app, you can see the predictions for this week, be it politics or sports, for this month, this decade, the next 10,000 years, etc. This is actually a great extension to Future Timeline, which gives an outlook into our future of what will happen to humanity until the end of time. Predictions can be upvoted and discussed. Think of a twitter/instagram/whisper hybrid for predictions. It has the same kind of flair as whisper, which shows you the secrets that people tell in your area anonymously. Popular secrets can be upvoted and shared. They just raised $24M. People love anonymous social networks.

Bstreet – Crowdfunding for social causes.

Bstreet gives women a chance to invest small amounts into social causes. Neat idea and always good to start out of the niche and expand later.

Dailybread – Uber for your daily bread.

Recieve fresh bread to your door every morning without the hassle of going outside! This is one of the subscription services, which are the lowest risk startups, since they almost always work. Get a niche product, put up a nicely designed website, do some quick SEO with niche keywords and adwords, and deliver your product monthly to your customers. The thing is though, this works well for durable products such as razor blades, muesli, condoms, coffee bones, since you can distribute through wholesalers easily. Plus, you only send them out monthly. With bread, you have to deliver every day and partner with local bakeries, which requires tons of effort and lots of micro-management.

MIH – Make it happen, set your goals and get people to help you.

Wanna go skydiving? Climb Mount Everest? Learn how to back flip? Set your goal on the platform and people with the same interest, will jump in to help you. Their founder has sold her previous startup, worked as a consultant for 2 years and felt it was time to try a startup again. As well, get offers for the thing you want to do, such as a skydiving experience. This is where the money is. You want to go skydiving anyway, so putting the idea in front of your nose doesn’t leave you with many excuses. Something similar is out there called, which helps you to accomplish your life goals. They got $1.5M in funding including Peter Thiel, so it could be interesting.

Grogbot – A robot to mix drinks for you.

Over the weekend, these girls built a robot that has containers (cups), which hold whatever type of alcohol you pour in. Via their Grogbot app, you can select your drink and the robot mixes it for you based on its existing mixes. This can become really cool as a slick designed robot with some glass parts showing its insides and how the drink is actually mixed. Could become a hit on kickstarter.

Flaminga – Block throwaway accounts on twitter.

Do you hate it when trolls on twitter that created an account 15 minutes ago harass you? Well with Flamingo, these throwaway accounts would be filtered out. They could also expand to youtube, reddit etc.

Koffee – Meet like-minded people around you for a coffee.

This is the greatest idea ever, the best actually! However, many have tried such as Highlight or Circle and 100 other startups, but no one has been able to make it work yet. Koffee added a Tinder spin onto it though, which makes it more interesting. You can select the people around you that you want to meet, but only if they select you back, you have a match and can message each other. Tinder wants to go into the “meeting like-minded people without dating” direction actually, we will see. However except for dating, it is hard to grow these kind of social networks if you don’t focus on one specific use case.

Insura – A better insurance finder.

According to the founders whose background is in the insurance industry, there is only 1 website that shows you proper insurances and that is However, they ask for the most basic questions such as age, name gender and that’s it. Insura explained they were different by also asking about preferred sports or activities in order to find the perfect insurance. It’s to be seen if this gives them the competitive edge. Ehealthinsurance is massive and to compete with someone you need to be 10 times better, we will see.

These were all the startups presented at the weekend. If you’re a girl and you like tech, more and more events are popping up tailored to introducing women to tech. You don’t have to be super smart to build a successful startup, drive outmatches a formal IQ by far. Most of the 1000+ billionaires in our world are quite smart, but most of them are just as smart as every other college graduate. What made them successful was their drive and their ability to think differently than everyone else.

If you feel your eyes opened now, definitely check out Women 2.0. They have established themselves as THE platform for women who are interested in entrepreneurship and want to find out more.

Would you like to become a writer for your community?

Interested in organizing or attending a Start Weekend? 


Want to Build Your Startup Skills? Pitch and Pitch In!

This article was originally posted on the Catalytic Women Blog by Melanie Hamburger (CEO and Founder of Catalytic Women) 

If you’re looking to develop your startup leadership skills, try volunteering for a non-profit or attending a pitch conference. 

image1Having spent most of my career in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, I can tell you that there isn’t much reward for risk-taking. Two of the smartest things I ever did to build my leadership were: go to a pitch conference and volunteer.

Six months ago, I attended Launch. It changed my perspective on everything about my work. Specifically, it made me more focused on profitability and more fearless about playing with the boys. (Sorry to admit it, but seeing them get up there and struggle with pitches made it seem a lot more accessible to someone like me, a working woman new to startup culture.)

Last weekend, I got to walk the talk. I pitched an idea at SF Startup Weekend Women’s Edition. Out of 41 pitches and 14 finalists, our team came in third (with a product to offer impact investing to young professionals). The experience was crazy and awesome – totally out of my comfort zone. I went into it not really knowing anything about the process; at Launch I’d only seen the final result of what happens when you join a team of strangers for 36 hours to make a dream tangible.

What was so special about this Startup Weekend? For one, it focused on women entrepreneurs. And, it created a space where we could be in the majority, doing something that we do so well naturally – collaborate and problem-solve. It also made me think about another ecosystem that has been central to my career success: nonprofits.

Nonprofits offer a safe place for women to build leadership skills. The U.S. Dept. of Labor says that in 2012, “women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics.”

Let’s face it, we like to roll up our sleeves, get involved, and give back. Yet there’s another, more personal, reason for women to volunteer – it builds leadership skills that can launch our careers, especially in male-dominated professions.

No one tries to solve big problems on limited resources like a nonprofit. Volunteering –especially on a committee or board – is a great training ground for public speaking, budgeting, project management, and sales and relationship building (skills key to fundraising). Points of Light Foundation (which also has a Civic Incubator – how cool is that?) and VolunteerMatch list thousands of opportunities to get involved.

Women bring unique skills to the table. We knew that even before Lean In. If you’re not getting the leadership opportunities you want at work, get them by volunteering. And then bring them back to your company.

Your success may depend on it.