Women mentoring women is not new. But recently, a few women entrepreneurs have started using their companies to launch formal programs funding and mentoring the next generation of business-builders.  

This fall, Tory Burch and Rent the Runway announced initiatives that will provide mentorship and funding to a handful of women entrepreneurs, and education and support for a larger number. They join more-established initiatives from companies such as Eileen Fisher and Dermalogica, each of which has its own spin on the best ways to support women and entrepreneurship.

The deadlines to apply for the first 'class' of selected entrepreneurs in the newer programs is coming up fast: Rent the Runway's Project Entrepreneur needs applications by January 8; the application deadline for the Tory Burch Fellows program is January 12. "We want this program to be way bigger than Rent the Runway," says Jenny Fleiss, that company's co-founder and president. "It's about solving big problems from any industry."

Here's what each of the programs are looking for, what they offer, and the basics on how you can be considered:

Project Entrepreneur

Your startup must:

  • Be founded and run by at least one woman
  • Use technology as part of the business model
  • Be at prototype or beta stage
  • Have received less than $100,000 in institutional funding

How it works:

  • 200 finalists will come to New York for a two-day workshop
  • Three winners of a pitch competition receive $10,000 each and residency in a five-week accelerator hosted by Rent the Runway

Tory Burch Fellows 

Your startup must:

  • Be majority-owned and managed by a woman
  • Have been in operation for less than five years
  • Generate revenues, but less than $500,000 annually
  • 20 percent of the evaluation of your company is based on social responsibility

How it works:

  • 10 fellows will attend a 3-day workshop at Tory Burch
  • Each fellow will get a $10,000 grant for business education and will be part of a business guidance program lasting one year
  • The winner of a pitch competition will get $100,000 ($50,000 of which is structured as a recoverable loan)

This one puts more money on the line, and it's also been around longer. Now in its 11th year, Eileen Fisher's program is looking for companies that are up and running but could use some help scaling. Generally, the application process opens up in April of each year.

Your startup must:

  • Be majority women-owned and women-led
  • Be beyond the startup phase, but revenues can't exceed $1 million in the year before you apply
  • Companies are judged on their positive social and environmental impact, leadership practices, and proposed use of the funding, among other things.

How it works:

  • up to 10 companies will have the opportunity to network with other winners (including those from past years) for three days, and will be awarded a total of $100,000.

Meanwhile, Dermalogica's FITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship) is looking for entrepreneurs who aren't in business yet. You can't apply for its Future Entrepreneurs program -- they have to find you -- but it's still a great example of a female entrepreneur who really believes in entrepreneurship as a transformative path for others.

In September 2014, FITE announced Future Entrepreneurs, which aims to help women who might have few choices actually become entrepreneurs. "I know that the fastest way to entrepreneurship is through vocational training," said Dermalogica founder Jane Wurwand, when I spoke with her about the program this summer. "That's the piece I feel is a hotbed of entrepreneurship waiting to explode."

FITE is using partners in four countries -- New York, Cambodia, South Africa and India -- to find 10 women in each locale who have the potential to become business owners but who may be homeless, former victims of sex trafficking, or born into a low caste. FITE pays for their training as skin therapists and then helps them find jobs; it also provides financial education to make sure they understand banking and credit. During the training, FITE provides the women with a stipend for transportation and childcare as well as a laptop, courtesy of Dell.

After they've had an opportunity to build their own clientele, Wurwand hopes these women will becomes business owners, and is committed to helping them do so. "Our goal is to get them funded and into their own business," she says. The first group of women in the first city--New York--are just now starting to look for jobs, and continuing to take classes in marketing and retail. Says Natalie Byrne, Fite's director of global impact: "Our dream is for them to be able to employ other women facing similar challenges."

 

Published on: Dec 18, 2015