They Are Rebel Women
Three Lexington women and their online platform for female entrepreneurs are finalists in the Merrimack Valley Sandbox’s Winners Showdown Pitch Contest tonight at UMass Lowell.
Getting back in the game isn’t always easy for women who step away from accomplished careers to be come stay-at-home mothers. But three friends from Lexington are taking steps to help entrepreneurial women help themselves.
Their still-in-the-works startup, RebelWomen, is a Lexington-based company building an online platform for female entrepreneurs. And it’s also a finalist for a $10,000 prize from Merrimack Valley Sandbox, which the co-founders say would accelerate plans for web development and a regional release.
“The fundamental idea behind it was this was a need expressed by each one of us,” said Pauline Benninga, who co-founded RebelWomen with Lisa Spitz and Thara Pillai. “We want women to feel like, ‘I can do this, I can try,’ rather than saying ‘I’m not sure. I’m risk averse and have al of these other responsibilities so I’m not even going to give it a shot.”
The three, who have six children among them, all experienced success in their past careers—Benninga in software, Pillai in media and broadcastings and Spitz working in design—and found themselves at a pivotal point in their lives where they wanted to get back into the workforce. With all of their other responsibilities, including jobs, families and work with nonprofits, the women found they were looking for accessible guidance toward starting their own business.
“It’s not just us who are experiencing this issue,” said Benninga. “It’s a lot of women. It’s a lot of our friends, and it’s also not just moms. It can be women graduating college, because they’ve been trained to work in an organization and not as entrepreneurs.”
RebelWomen.com is a blog right now, but Benninga said they’re working on a platform the hope to launch early next year – if they get the Sandbox funding, a little later if they don’t – that will include live online workshops and a library of webinars geared toward helping women grow into successful entrepreneurs. Some of it will be live and scheduled, while other components would be available on demand.
“It’s to overcome some of the challenges that women are facing,” said Benninga. “Women don’t always have a lot of time if they have families to take care of and children, so they need to be able to function at pretty much any time of day.”
Beyond familial responsibilities, Benninga said some of the other challenges female entrepreneurs include being risk averse, corporate culture and a lack of mentors. By re-thinking the equation, Benninga, Pillai and Spitz are hoping to give women a different, even rebellious approach toward entrepreneurship – and that’s kind of how they came up with the name. Also, Pillai already owned the doman.
“We are taking a different approach, a very radical approach to the way women are taught and can get ahead in society,” said Benninga. “We like the concept that we are taking a different approach to how women compete in the corporate world.”
Before their company takes off across the country, they hope Rebel Women can take the Merrimack Valley Sandbox—and its panel of celebrity judges—by storm from 6 to 8:30 p.m. tonight at UMass Lowell’s Cumnock Hall.
But they could be up for some stiff competition. Other finalist ideas include shoes with a built-in mobile device charger and a green bicycle-sharing program.
According to an event press release, finalists will be judged by a panel that includes Nantucket Nectars co-founder Tom First, Desh Deshpande, cochair of President Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Bill O’Donnell, the chief architect for Kayak. Additionally, there will be fan-favorite voting, in which audience members will have the chance to text in votes for their favorite.
For more information about the event, visit: MVSandbox.org