Supporting the Next Generation of Female Entrepreneurs in a Rural Missouri High School
At this very moment, women across the United States are sitting on million-dollar ideas, like a product that fills a niche or a service that solves a unique challenge. And increasingly, women are turning those ideas into entrepreneurship opportunities. Women accounted for 49% of business startups in 2021, a 28% jump from two years earlier.
Despite that significant growth, research shows that women are more likely to struggle to fund their projects. All-female startup teams received just 1.9% of the $238 billion in venture capital funds given to new businesses in 2022, a half-percentage point drop from 2021. The presence of one or more men on the team improved their chances –mixed-gender teams secured about 17% of VC funds last year.
As a high school entrepreneurship teacher and a woman with a background in business, I often consider how this impacts all of my students, but particularly girls and young women. In 2021, Farmington High School became the first in Missouri to offer Uncharted Learning’s INCubatoredu entrepreneurship course, which gives teams of students the chance to create and launch their own businesses. My first INCubatoredu class included an all-female team; HonorRollEDU, a tutoring service created by Campbell Blum, Tessa Hand, Kate Howard and Brenna Mathes. HonorRollEdu was designed to bridge the education gap in local rural communities during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic bringing together education, entrepreneurial spirit, and community engagement.
Fewer female-helmed businesses means fewer examples of success for these bright, energetic young women, and fewer chances for them to learn from people with similar backgrounds and experiences. As the late astronaut Sally Ride once said, “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday.”
Thankfully, our local Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce helped us locate mentors, line up classroom speakers and find other professional contacts for our student entrepreneurs — including several local businesswomen. This was an important development for all of our INCubatoredu teams, since it created or expanded their networks of professionals who can help guide their careers over time.
But it was especially important for members of HonorRollEDU to hear from women who have pitched their startup ideas to investors, an important part of the INCubatoredu experience. To mark Women’s History Month, I recently spoke with HonorRollEDU team members about their experiences:
Pierce: How did INCubatoredu compare to your other classes?
Mathes: The program demands responsibility and time management if you want to succeed and get something out of the course. It authentically mimics the workforce, and the cruciality of spending one’s time wisely. Group members often needed to meet outside of class as well, either in person or by simply chatting online, to stay in the loop and get tasks completed. Suddenly, your work isn’t necessarily being graded by a teacher anymore; it’s evaluated by professionals in your community. It’s at that point you realize it’s important to do more than the bare minimum.
Pierce: What did it mean to work with successful women in business, and what did you learn working them?
Howard: It was eye opening. Not only are they successful entrepreneurs, businesswomen and mentors, but they’re pushing down barriers so male-dominated fields will become more inclusive for future generations. These women have made such a vital step in the right direction toward inclusion. I also learned that running a business is hard. I have much more appreciation for women who are in business.
Pierce: You not only had female mentors, but you also engaged with local industry professionals, men and women alike. What did you learn from them?
Hand: It was amazing having someone to go to who already knew how to solve some of the problems we were facing. Our main mentor, Kevin Bloom, has created several startups in the technology space. His experience made him a great resource when we were building our website. Without Mr. Bloom, I wouldn’t have had any idea where to even begin in the website design process. Having his guidance made the process much smoother and he was able to look over our work and stop us when we were going in the wrong direction, saving us lots of time.
Pierce: Beyond learning how to start a business, what else did you take away from the course?
Mathes: I learned that flexibility and understanding are essential. No idea is a bad idea, especially in a business setting. Diversity is everything, because you never know what a professional might ask you about your business. INCubatoredu also prepared me for all different classwork and teamwork approaches in college. Kate (Howard) and I attend Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, and we can attest to how well INCubatoredu solidified our group-work, time management and public speaking skills.
Christy Pierce is the entrepreneurship education instructor at Farmington High School in Farmington, Missouri, about 70 miles south of St. Louis.