Jennifer Mathieu, Executive Director at the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI) at the University of Connecticut spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about UConn’s initiatives to support female entrepreneurs at every stage.
NAN PRICE: What type of programming is available through UConn for aspiring female entrepreneurs?
JENNIFER MATHIEU: We recently relaunched our xCITE: Women in Entrepreneurship Network to support women entrepreneurs no matter where they are in their entrepreneurial journey.
When women are starting a business, regardless of their stage in life, they find it very helpful to have a network of other women to support them. I saw this more and more over the last couple of years I’ve spent working with women entrepreneurs. Once they have a business idea, many said they would feel more supported and less alone if they could take to other people like them who were going through the same thing—particularly those who began as solopreneurs and don’t have someone else to talk through their ideas with. Being a solopreneur can be a lonely journey.
So, we launched/rebranded our xCITE program to be more of a hub for women in entrepreneurship where they can receive support and networking opportunities to engage with each other. We’re stronger when we realize we’re in this together.
We want xCITE to connect women across the state of Connecticut and UConn Alumni, wherever they are in the world. Whether you just started a business or you’re going to in the future, this is an opportunity to connect with people in the same space who are interested in starting their own company.
NAN: UConn is also piloting another program that is more geared toward young women innovators and entrepreneurs.
JENNIFER: In fall 2020, UConn’s Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation introduced the Rocket Fuel Pilot Program to support first-year women entrepreneurs. The intention is to connect young women with mentors and a network of people at the university to help them along in their entrepreneurship journey.
Whether they end up starting a business of their own, or they want to go off and work in an innovative role in a larger company, the aim is to ensure there’s a mentor network and a support system to help them advocate for themselves and take advantage of resources available through the university.
Through this program, young women are being paired with mentors and encouraging them to connect with build relationships. Many of these mentors have gone through the process of starting their own businesses or a career change, and they can help support younger women entrepreneurs. That’s one of the biggest opportunities the program offers.
NAN: Why is this type of programming particularly important for burgeoning female entrepreneurs?
JENNIFER: One of the things I see a lot, especially young women entrepreneurs, is this feeling that they want their idea to be perfect before they put it out into the world. Often, they’re so afraid of failure, they don’t want to share their idea unless they’re certain it won’t fail. This thinking ultimately holds them back and it can keep them from starting their entrepreneurial journey.
When you have a business idea, it helps to talk to mentors, colleagues, friends, other students, your roommate, whoever, to hash out your ideas and figure out what to do next. If you hit a hurdle or roadblock, you have people there to encourage you and to support you to move on. But if you keep your idea to yourself, you won’t have the opportunity to talk with your network and support system.
NAN: It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness that entrepreneurship is accessible for any major.
JENNIFER: Right. Some people don’t necessarily associate themselves as an entrepreneur, until they come to terms with the fact that they are one. If you’re aspiring to be an entrepreneur, you may not know the terminology. I think we put students into buckets, and entrepreneur is such a business-like term. If you’re in the School of Nursing or School of Fine Arts and you’re starting a side business, or you’ve created an Etsy shop, you may not say, “I’m an entrepreneur.” You may say, “I’m an artist”.
It’s important to help young women realize that, whatever their major is, wherever they feel like they fit in, they are an entrepreneur—or an innovator, changemaker, creator, whatever term they want to use. Hopefully, in our entrepreneurship programs we’re able to break down those barriers.
NAN: How can women become involved?
JENNIFER: Stay tuned for opportunities. We launched new programming and we’re trying to find ways to bring people together over specific topics and encourage them to work, connect, and build relationships together.
The goal isn’t to create every single program women entrepreneurs should attend. Our objective is to create a platform where we can share things happening across the state with this network.
Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI)
Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation