Girl School

What makes a young woman want to own a business? A little education will help.

Since the Internet era unfolded, you've heard a lot about 19-, 20- or 21-year-old males plunging into the excitement of piloting start-ups. But did you ever wonder why you weren't reading about the female equivalents of Marc Andreessen and Jerry Yang? Aren't young women interested in entrepreneurship?

Absolutely yes, says Joline Godfrey, CEO of Independent Means Inc., a company that operates summer camps introducing girls ages 13 to 19 to business ownership and investing. "Girls are flocking to this stuff; once they get access to the information, we see they're hungry for it," says Godfrey, who started in 1996 with a single location. This year, she expects to run 12 camps in North America plus several in Australia.

Before we give the reins over to the youngsters, let's celebrate a veteran.
Mail order pioneer Lillian Vernon celebrates her company's 50th anniversary this year. We asked this trailblazing business owner what she believes was the turning point.

"The most significant change began in the early 1970s, when women entered the work force full time. After gaining valuable work experience, many decided to start their own businesses in [later decades]." Vernon says efforts have been aided by banks and the SBA growing more willing to lend to women, and the advent of the Internet and e-commerce. "These factors have had an enormous impact on our society and changed American culture forever."

Independent Means isn't the only game in town. You can find a whole laundry list of organizations offering entrepreneurial training to girls, including women's colleges like Seton Hill College and Carlow College in Pennsylvania, Columbia College in South Carolina and Midway College in Kentucky. There's also Mother and Daughter Entrepreneurs-In Teams, sponsored by the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation, for 13- and 14-year-old girls and their moms. The federal government has even gotten into the act: The Office of Women's Business Ownership has a Web site-www.discoverbusiness.com-to introduce girls to entrepreneurship. (For a listing of other entrepreneurship programs for girls, visit www.entrepreneur.com/colleges.)

But what's interesting about all these programs is that the majority target pre-college girls, and while, in general, there aren't a lot of people under 22 starting companies, those who do tend to be males.

Amy Liu, a 2001 graduate of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, is one exception. At 20, she and three friends launched a company called OrangeSorbet.com. "It's a local [online] marketplace that started as a way to allow students to buy and sell used textbooks," says Liu, now 21.

Liu credits her studies as a business major with awakening her zest for entrepreneurship. "During my junior year, some students from Versity.com, who started their company as Michigan undergrads, came to my class to discuss their Web site, which offers free lecture notes online, and how they got $11 million in venture capital," Liu recalls. "After that, I realized [entrepreneurship] was something I wanted to do, and I jumped right in and did it."

But few women follow Liu's path. "You don't see young women leaving school to start companies as often as men. Young women often feel they need to master things before they undertake them, while young men just do it," says Allyn Morrow, associate professor and director of the MBA program at Chatham College in Pittsburgh.

That doesn't mean female college students aren't interested in entrepreneurship. Business program directors at colleges nationwide show women are actively studying and preparing for business ownership. And Ken Morse, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, applauds the decision not to rush into business while still in school.

Morse sees the next generation of women entrepreneurs coming into their own in the next decade. "We're building a strong base, and that doesn't happen overnight," he says. "We're filling the pipeline, and we're doing it the old-fashioned way-with hard work, patience and a long attention span."

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Girl School.

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