Women-Led Wednesdays: Leadership Lessons and Venture Turning Points
As we continue our interview series on women founders in the Harvard Innovation Labs ecosystem and across Harvard’s 13 schools, we take a look at the winding, sometimes unpredictable paths of entrepreneurship. With all of the challenges of a global pandemic, how have these founders pushed forward? What enabled their ventures to grow? What didn’t they expect to happen that opened up new doors and opportunities? What makes each founder’s leadership story unique?
The founders you meet below represent a wide variety of industries, areas of expertise, and different lived experiences. For more on gender equity in entrepreneurship, check out Glass Half Broken: Shattering the Barriers that Still Hold Women Back at Work by Colleen Ammerman and HBS Professor Boris Groysberg as well as the Protagonist of Color Collection from The Harvard Business School Gender Initiative, in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing as well as faculty and staff at HBS.
Read more Women-Led Wednesday interviews here.
Alicia Tulsee: Moxie Scrubs
Alicia Tulsee (Harvard Division of Continuing Education, Class of 2015) is Founder and CEO of Moxie Scrubs, a medical apparel company that is the first direct-to-consumer brand for nurses. The Moxie team prides itself in maintaining an authentic connection to their customer, from involving nurses in how they approach designing products and in every aspect of their brand to making sure that values like empathy and care (hallmarks of the nursing profession) come through in their company culture. In effect, Tulsee says, most people are surprised to learn that Moxie is still a startup in a 12 billion dollar medical apparel industry.
Among Moxie’s successes since their official launch in February 2021, they recently gained the confidence of the American Nurses Association. “This partnership gives us access to over two million nurses across the U.S., almost half of the nursing population,” Tulsee says. “It’s a huge validation… We want to support the people who come through for us in times of great need: our nurses.” After participating in the Harvard Innovation Labs Launch Lab X GEO program for alumni entrepreneurs in 2020–2021, Tulsee is excited to be closing Moxie’s pre-seed round at the end of July 2021 with $1.2M funding and three offers to be acquired already.
Megan Murday: Metric
Megan Murday (Harvard Business School, Class of 2021) is Founder and CEO of Metric, a fintech company that helps private market investors measure their portfolio’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance. Metric supports portfolio companies by recommending ESG KPIs, streamlining data collection, and presenting performance analysis and benchmarks. For investors, Metric provides fund and company ESG analysis that can be used for portfolio management and limited partner disclosures.
Why do metrics like these matter? “Oftentimes investors and operators see ESG measurement as a compliance activity,” Murday says. “However, ESG data is also business performance data that is used to run a company more effectively… If a company is using twice as much water per unit as the industry benchmark, it’s bad for the environment but also twice as costly.” Thinking about ESG early on is a way that companies can create more value and minimize risks as they scale. A participant in the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program in 2021, Metric is now preparing for a seed fundraising round in September 2021.
Aeshna Prasad & Ambika Malhotra: Sahayak
Ambika Malhotra (Graduate School of Design, Class of 2020) and Aeshna Prasad (Graduate School of Design, Class of 2021) are co-founders of Sahayak, a startup with a mission to connect local industries, skilling agencies, and unskilled labor in rural regions of India. As urban designers, Ambika and Aeshna aim to improve the synergies that need to exist among these groups. Sahayak has two core goals: a) Ensure that unskilled labor in rural India obtains employment closer to home and b) Prevent mass migration to megacities.
To address the labor mismatch and employability rates, Ambika and Aeshna plan to implement location-based strategies through data collection and analytics at granular levels. They are building relationships with key stakeholders, especially at the grassroots level, and using technology to help enable outcome-based decision-making, supported by standardized data and clear metrics. “We aim to make sure that an unskilled daily wage laborer from a small Indian village has access to the right job within a certain radius from his home, can send his children to school, and help his family grow financially…” they say. “We aim to make sure that the time investment from this person and the monetary investment from the government lead to a fruitful outcome for all.”
Still in the early stages of venture development, Sahayak was the winter 2020 recipient of the Mittal Institute Seed for Change competition as well as a 2021 Spark Grants recipient. Participants in the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program since Fall 2020, Ambika is currently working out of Delhi and Aeshna is back on campus in Cambridge. They believe Sayahak has the ability to positively impact over 100 million potential migrants.
Read the full interview with Aeshna Prasad & Ambika Malhotra here.
Lisa Zhu: Helthy
Lisa Zhu (Harvard Graduate School of Design and Harvard John A. Paulson School Of Engineering And Applied Sciences, Class of 2021) is Founder and CEO of Helthy, a grocery shopping app for individuals with diabetes. Zhu, whose mother has Type 2 diabetes, was inspired to start her venture by a desire to make it easy for family members to choose the right foods to eat. It all started during Lisa’s IDEP (Independent Design Engineering Project) as part of Harvard’s Master’s in Design Engineering program (MDE) where she got to explore root problems in the diabetes space.
After participating in the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program this past year, Helthy is focused on product development and building new partnerships. Their product is now compatible with Whole Foods, Walmart, Instacart, Krogers, and H-E-B, Zhu says. This means they are able to provide simple visual cues that overlay on grocery store product pages for users to know which products fit within their healthy eating guidelines.
Rana Irmak Aksoy: Timble
Rana Irmak Aksoy (Harvard Graduate School of Design, Class of 2022) is Co-Founder alongside Ajit Manuel of Timble, a startup which aims to enable slow fashion practices such as repairing, recycling, upcycling, resale, and made-to-order clothing. The app and website bring together fashion designers, textile manufacturers, thrift shops, and tailors where they can match for fabric sourcing and production needs. It also creates a way for brands to reach customers with specialized shopping filters.
A participant in the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program in 2021, Timble’s larger goal is to create transparency and accountability as companies work to become more sustainable (or position themselves this way in the market). “Buyers want to know if clothes are sustainably and ethically sourced, whether there was labor exploitation, whether the brands are owned by women or BIPOC communities, and so on,” Rana says. “We wanted to combine an e-commerce app with a networking platform where users from different parts of the fashion supply chain could connect and form a transparent and circular fashion network.”
Nikita Roy: The NRI Nation
Nikita Roy (Harvard Extension School, Class of 2023) is Founder of The NRI Nation, a media organization that aims to be the news network of the Indian diaspora (NRI stands for Non-Resident Indian). The NRI Nation’s goal is to bring the stories of this subculture to the mainstream. Nikita reminds people that the Indian diaspora is a subculture of scattered communities across the world. “Unfortunately, mainstream policymakers often sideline us as nothing more than a cash cow or loyal workforce,” Nikita says. “Left to fend for ourselves, we, as a community have been successful in surviving all odds.”
Participants in the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program since Spring 2021, The NRI Nation is focused on amplifying the voices of the NRI business community. Given that the pandemic has had significant impacts on trade between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), Nikita and her colleagues recently commissioned a new study to understand how the GCC business community views the opportunities in the Indian market and vice versa. “As the region works on improving its bilateral trade relations, this study is vital to understanding how the GCC and Indian business community view each other’s market opportunities,” she says. The NRI Nation has also partnered with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to be their knowledge partner for the 5th India-GCC Industrial Conference in November.