Trust in You: How to Overcome Doubt as a Woman Entrepreneur

From left: Amanda Golden, Rajya Atluri, Vanessa Ogle, Vaishnavi Lakshmanan, and Blanca Lesmes

The inaugural Kendra Scott WEL Institute Women’s Summit took place at The University of Texas at Austin in November 2020. The event highlighted courageous and creative female leaders looking to change the world. In a panel hosted by the Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center (HKEC), four women founders from various stages of the entrepreneurial journey gathered to share their successes, struggles, and stories.

Meet the panelists:

  • Vanessa Ogle: CEO of Enseo and McCombs Alumnus
  • Blanca Lesmes: Co-founder of BB Imaging Ultrasound Sonography & Consulting and McCombs Alumnus
  • Rajya Atluri: Co-founder of Swayy and McCombs Alumnus
  • Vaishnavi Lakshmanan: Founder of boxEDu and Public Health Major at The University of Texas at Austin

The panel was moderated by Amanda Golden, HKEC Assistant Director.

External and internal barriers, imposter syndrome, balancing business and life, defying social norms are all common hardships women face when starting a business. Where did your startup idea come from? What internal barriers did you face and overcome in building your ventures?

Vanessa: 20 years ago when I built a startup, business norms for women were different from now. However, the fear of failure was never present because I didn’t let myself accept it was a possibility. I know that imposter syndrome is REAL, so recognize who you are and relax! Look at me, I’ve built an incredible team around me and had a fabulous journey.

Blanca: I’ve been in business for 15 years now. I saw an opportunity in ultrasound space, thanks to my husband who was a sonographer at the time, and just went right in. I always knew I was going to have my own thing, so I always had this in mind. I had no background in healthcare and it was hard to have confidence in myself. I didn’t feel comfortable with my “president” or “CEO” title. Don’t let yourself be your own critic.

Rajya: I started my venture during sophomore year at UT. Swayy was a venture focused in sustainability in fashion. I was able to raise a little money, but COVID-19 hit my senior year. Nobody had a need for what we are doing because all events were being cancelled. I had to be resilient during COVID-19 as operations basically shut down. However, I transitioned from being a founder to working at a startup in California with a similar focus in sustainability. The whole transition taught me so much.

Vaishnavi: I’ve always been passionate about education. The educational gap always irked me growing up, especially being from a Title I school. Though it took me a while to seek mentorship, I persevered and learned to understand different opinions. There were lots of ups and downs, but I’m here now and it’s going great!

Mentors and role models are crucial. So, who were some of your mentors and role models? What impacts did having/not having a mentor have on your experiences and journey? What kind of advice did they give you?

Vanessa: I encourage people to find people who support you and have wisdom. Mine were personally my fathers’ business partners and employees. Their advice and wisdom from age helped me with the business and technicality aspect I was less familiar with. Also, the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) is such a transformative, unplugged, and vulnerable support system I love. Everyone there is honest with feedback and genuinely wants to see you succeed.

Blanca: I had children pretty young. My earliest mentor was my children's preschool teacher as she saw me do the “mom-work balance thing”. She was the first person who told her to be “unapologetically myself”. The teacher pushed me to pursue her MBA at McCombs. I used to shy away from traditional mentorship. As my business evolved, so did I. Currently, I have formal advisors and BOAs now. Don’t dismiss allies that can make your path easier!

Rajya: I took Jan Ryan’s Women in Entrepreneurship class in COFA.I had a lot of mentors who gave me advice, but she seemed interested in me as a person and learner. I really felt that difference. The course was a hands-on and transformative experience and my classmates and instructor were supportive and excited about me and not only about my ideas.

Vaishnavi: I was part of a mentorship program. It was the first time I had a mentor in my industry. I was told cold hearted facts which really pushed me into improvement and moving forward. It was an interesting experience. The push was so crucial for me at the time.

Barriers such as fear of failure and today’s climate force you to make pivots. How have you dealt with disappointment and failures as well as the COVID situation?

Vanessa: A culture of accountability and independence that was established pre-COVID helped my company survive. Even when there was so much uncertainty and cutbacks on staff, my employees had faith because they knew I was trying my hardest to bring my people back. My clients from hotels were tragically affected. I had to act quickly and make major changes to my business. Transparent communication was essential. Business is personal! You put so much into it that it is okay to be affected personally. Let this not be a weakness, but a strength that allows you to connect and communicate through empathy and passion.

Blanca: COVID was scary for me, especially as a mother, but it was a key learning moment and gave me the push to pursue greater leadership.

Rajya: My startup failure experience was an extremely hard time for me. Looking for a way to escape the feelings of sadness, I focused on creativity through social media and communication with people.

Vaishnavi: Nobody has an engrained path. There’s no traditional path. Networking helped me tremendously- talking to people with shared experience helped me overcome obstacles.

What are some business related resources you recommend to growing entrepreneurs?

Vanessa: Sometimes taking a class is the way to go.

  • Free resources such as YouTube are extremely crucial.
  • One class that helped me was the McCombs International Business Law class. Learning about the nitty gritty things related to exporting, importing, business costs and details helped me expand my business.

Blanca: Help harness and package your idea.

  • Finance class- make yourself do it because it will haunt you forever.
  • New Venture Creation course at UT
  • HKEC-Take advantage of the In-Office Mentors and Office Hours
  • Dr. Luis Martin’s Innovation and Creativity course

Rajya: Resources and learning are essential.

  • Women In Engineering(WIE) Program/ Longhorn Startup Lab with Joshua Baer were both extremely helpful to me.
  • Given how mentorships are consistent and productive, they are super helpful with accountability.
  • Learn and master excel- numbers based business operations are often a hurdle many women face. So it can be turned into your strength.

Vaishnavi: Don’t let your background stop you.

  • Explore mentorship, workshops, and networking opportunities and constantly think about your passion!

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At HKEC, we’re all about igniting world changing ideas and preparing UT Austin student founders with the tools for startup success. herbkellehercenter.com

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Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center

Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center

At HKEC, we’re all about igniting world changing ideas and preparing UT Austin student founders with the tools for startup success. herbkellehercenter.com

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