Fourth Annual Women Who Launch Symposium Inspires the Next Generation of Female Business Leaders To Foster a More Gender-Equal Entrepreneurial Community
This January, the fourth annual Women Who Launch Symposium at the Ross School of Business featured a diverse group of women entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and business leaders who are thriving in their industry and creating an enriching community in the process.
Each year, Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA members of Women Who Launch organize the WWL Symposium to bring together hundreds of women with the goal of inspiring the next generation of female business leaders to break into the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The theme of this year’s WWL Symposium was "Visionary: Women, Community, Business," and engaged women interested in entrepreneurship and investing through an impressive lineup of speakers, panelists, workshops, and networking opportunities. By showcasing women as leaders at Michigan Ross and beyond, the symposium has become one of the most popular events for women at Ross.
When choosing the theme and speakers for the conference, symposium co-chair Amelia Brinkerhoff, MBA/MS ’22, said they focused on issues they felt were important to address, while also highlighting women and organizations who are leading on each topic and working to drive change within the industry.
“We approached organizations and individuals who could speak with nuance and elucidate common themes, challenges, and solutions,” Brinkerhoff said. “We dove deeply into learning about and connecting with organizations that help create a more equitable and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem. And I felt very fortunate to be able to turn to people in our community to learn more about topics like fem-tech, negotiations best practices, and climate-focused investing.”
Fellow co-chair Laura Dyer, MBA/MS ’23, said that in order to feature a balanced mix of speakers, they leveraged their University of Michigan and Michigan Ross networks as well as women leaders in their respective fields outside of the university.
“As we brainstormed the sub themes of “Visionary: Women, Community, and Business,” our speakers and topics came together better than we could have imagined,” she said.
The keynote speaker was Kathryn Finney, CEO and founder of Genius Guild and general partner of the Greenhouse Fund, a $20 million venture fund that invests in Black founders, who has been called one of the most influential women in tech. Other speakers included Allison Myers, co-founder and general partner of Buoyant Ventures; Sarah Kearney, founder and executive director of Prime Coalition; Brooke Bartholomay Quinn, chief customer officer at Carrot Fertility; and Niani Tolbert, founder of the #HIREBLACK initiative.
Dyer said the climate solutions panel particularly resonated with her career interests.
“Last summer, I was an associate for a climate tech venture capital fund and will be returning to them again this summer,” she said. “As you can probably guess, the Investing in Climate Solutions panel was near to my heart. I also find it inspiring to hear from other industries and functions within this ecosystem to learn how everyone can work together to drive change.”
Kathryn Mioduszewski, MBA ’23, who attended the WWL Symposium, said that her favorite event was the moderated panel on women's health issues, Building a Good Business: Envisioning Equitable Health Innovation. “It was deeply impactful, personally and professionally, to hear how industry leaders are addressing women's issues which have traditionally been overlooked or unaddressed,” she said.
Another aspect of the symposium that Brinkerhoff enjoyed was the career perspective and advice the panelists shared with attendees.
“As a dual-degree Erb student, I’ve focused most on learning about how we can use our financial systems to catalyze sustainability and climate solutions. I found it extremely helpful seeing the unique career perspective each panelist gave and learning how careers can shift through chapters,” said Brinkerhoff. “I’m also happy that we were able to run a negotiation workshop with Niani Tolbert, and emphasize the importance of negotiation skill sets while discussing pay equity issues.”
Inspiring future women entrepreneurs and fostering community
The symposium co-chairs as well as the attendees said that the conference is very valuable to Michigan Ross students because it inspires them on how they can overcome barriers to become entrepreneurs and covers pressing topics.
“It is such a great opportunity to learn about a topic or societal challenge that we all need to take more responsibility in addressing,” said Brinkerhoff. “Whether it’s learning how to advocate for a more diverse venture capital ecosystem or understanding the urgency around investing in climate solutions, we all need to get fired up and feel accountable in putting our degrees to good use.”
As an attendee, Mioduszewski also experienced this strong sense of community that the WWL Symposium fosters for all members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In fact, Women Who Launch was one of the reasons Brinkerhoff said she decided to pursue her MBA at Michigan Ross.
“While I was applying to MBA programs, I actually connected with two women who had led Women Who Launch during their MBAs, and I knew that I wanted to surround myself with people who were similarly passionate about creating a gender equal and impactful entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she said. “This has made it particularly rewarding to work on the symposium this year.”
In addition, Dyer said WWL helped her realize that her desired career path was possible.
“Last year when I attended the symposium, I was interested in venture capital, but was intimidated to try to break in,” said Dyer. “After the symposium, I felt so invigorated and inspired to dive in and pursue this career. And, I am so thankful I did.”
All about Women Who Launch at Michigan Ross
Women Who Launch is a student organization at Michigan Ross that empowers women to engage with entrepreneurship in order to help foster a more gender-equal entrepreneurial ecosystem on the U-M campus and beyond. The organization has more than 400 members, including students from the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA, Weekend MBA, Executive MBA, and Online MBA programs.
Each year, WWL hosts events throughout the year — many featuring female entrepreneurs and venture capitalists — such as educational treks, networking opportunities, and social events for students pursuing similar career paths.