Today we are putting the spotlight on an amazing organization empowering women entrepreneurs, Womentum. We got the chance to interview Prabha Dublish and Derek Tu, the founding members to learn more about their company and the powerful work that they do. Dive in for the chance to learn about the power of women entrepreneurship and the journey it takes to start a non-profit while still in university!
how would you sum up Womentum in a nutshell?
Womentum is a non-profit that is trying to provide women entrepreneurs who are living in poverty with financial and community support. Currently what we look like is non-profit online platform that allows anyone all over the world to invest in these women entrepreneurs. What really makes us different from a typical microloan platform is our model. Rather than having our women entrepreneurs pay back donors, it’s a pay-it-forward model. What that means is when the women are successful because of the donations from Womentum they essentially give a portion of the money they received to another women in their community trying to start a business. That’s what is really different about Womentum.
To date, we have funded four women entrepreneurs. Half from Uganda and half from India through two different non-profit partners. It has been a range of different entrepreneurs. One was a basket weaver and another was selling solar lamps in her community. It is really of cool to see the broad spectrum of these businesses that women are starting in their communities.
what drew you to the cause of empowering entrepreneurs, and women in particular?
Prabha: Womentum came from a project I did last summer. I travelled to India to meet women entrepreneurs in rural communities. I have always been interested in this idea that entrepreneurship can change the lives of people, but I wanted to get a better understanding of how that affects women, especially in the context of poor villages. Women are expected to stay home and take care of the children. I wanted to get a perspective on how these sorts of women can still utilize resources around them to start businesses that not only transform their lives, but are also impactful to the community around them. It kind of came out of a passion that all the members of the team have, which is women empowerment. Drawing from my experience and understanding that starting a business is one thing but continuing it with community support and getting money to continually grow your business. This is something that women, especially in this context don’t always get. So we wanted to solve that issue for those women.
what have been your biggest take-aways as you are finishing up the initial phase of running Womentum?
Derek: The first that I definitely underestimated was the amount of paperwork that you have to go through to file for a non-profit. When you start a for-profit business you incorporate and you are pretty much done there. But for a non-profit, it is a lot of different pieces. It got pretty confusing especially since we did it all ourselves without the help of a lawyer. It was a longer process than we expected it to be, but it was definitely a creative learning lesson. Now, I think we can advise any person who is starting a non-profit on the procedure and tips that they need to get through the process smoothly. I think the second point is you definitely need to bring people in who are also passionate about what social cause you are championing for. A non-profit can get pretty discouraging at times because it is hard enough to sell people a product or service so imagine trying to sell people on the idea or cause. So I would say it is really important to bring people on who really believe in what you are championing for.
Prabha: Another thing is that especially for us being in college, trying to find that balance of classes and extra-curriculars but still finding time to dedicate what running a non-profit entails is something that we learned a lot about. Really understanding what your priorities are and really doing what it takes to give this organization your all is what I think is really important. Because of our experience and the amount we learned I am glad I have done this in college. It is cool to see when other people hear about it, they are inspired by the impact that we make. It is a unique and cool opportunity to inspire other college students that this is something you are capable of.
as a woman entrepreneur yourself, what have you learned from working with women entrepreneurs around the world?
Prabha: The experience I had visiting women entrepreneurs in India last summer was incredibly eye opening. A lot of the women redefine what it means to be strong and what it takes to be an entrepreneur. These women would wake up early in the morning, cook food for their family and kids, bring their kids to school, do the errands, clean the house, their kids would come back from school, they would feed them and then after they went to bed they would work for most of the night trying to get their business running. That utmost dedication to what you are doing because you believe in it so much but also because you know this is what your family needs to survive, I think that is what is really incredible to see. It is really inspiring to see that in these sorts of contexts, if these women are able to overcome what they face in such an impactful manner and change the communities around them too is amazing. It is just a better indication that us who are given a lot more privileges should be trying to do the same and really leverage the opportunities we have to help our communities as well. I would say that I definitely thought that experience was super impactful and I found a way to follow one of my passions. I always wanted to do something related to women empowerment, but I didn’t know what that would look like until I had this particular experience. I really hope that moving forward in my career I continue to follow this same thread.
what has it been like developing your team for Womentum?
Derek: The team came together pretty serendipitously. This was an idea that Prabha and I were talking about in her dorm one night. She was telling me about her trip and what she saw. We were bouncing ideas off of each other and trying to come up with solutions to help these women out. It started from there. The next step was really understanding how we can maximize our impact and build something that would actually help these underprivileged women entrepreneurs. We built the nonprofit to the point where we needed someone to come on board and guide the development of the actual platform. That is when I looped in my childhood friend who is studying computer science at Northwestern. He has been into social impact as well. He did a lot of development work and hackathons hacks that focused on helping underprivileged groups, so it was just a natural fit to bring him on board Womentum. It just happened at the right place in the right time for the stars to align.
We also recently brought on someone to do the social media stuff, and he has been killing it. Another childhood friend of mine put us in touch with him. Social media marketing and donor acquisition were something we really needed on because we believe it to be an important donor acquisition channel. Everything has happened pretty smoothly.
Prabha: The different skills is what is really important to our team. Each one of us has such an unique skill set that we work really well.
you were recently accepted to the WIN Lab, an accelerator for women entrepreneurs, what are you excited about in this opportunity?
Prabha: I am very excited to be a part of the WIN lab for this upcoming year. It is not only a really great program in terms of the content and the general kind of skills and content that they teach to you when it comes to running a business. I am really excited to be surrounded by other women who are running business, to feed off of each other’s energy. We can work together to solve issues that are important to each of our businesses. Another great part is that they provide you with a mentor. Which is a really cool woman entrepreneur in boston who is kicking butt at what ever they are doing. I am really excited to partner with someone who can help guide Womentum and also guide me as I figure out what I want to do later on in life. It is a really great opportunity.
as Womentum continues to grow, what are your hopes and plans for the future?
Derek: I come from the start up world, so what we are really trying to do is run Womentum as a start up rather than a traditional non-profit. Not really getting caught up in the bureaucracy, rather trying to move fast and continue to iterate. I think our biggest objective is to figure out who our donors are. We are at a point right now that we have a product that women entrepreneurs in developing countries want to be featured on. Now we have to figure out how we match that with the right donors. Right now we have been trying to understand the demographics of the people we should go after looks like. From there just really refine the product and experience for the donors. Also what is key that we are going to do more of is finding opportunities to speak at events and conferences for women empowerment, leadership, and social impact.
I think also we are going to start looking into creating a board of advisors. We lacked through this process so far is some guidance because we are college students and we recognize that we haven’t been in this industry for 20 plus years. It would be good to get more experienced eyes to look at Womentum and tell us what we could do to improve it.
flash question round!
Your women entrepreneur hero?
Most used business resource?
Best way to relax after a long day of working on Womentum?
- Prabha- Spending time with friends
- Derek- Definitely am a sleep addict
Womentum is currently raising funds for Savithri, a women entrepreneur in rural South India. She dreams of becoming a solar entrepreneur to provide more money for her family along with spreading access to electricity in her community. Learn more about Savithri’s journey and how you can help at the Womentum website.
Connect with Womentum at the following links:
Email: [email protected]