SheStarts: Leveling the Playing Field for Women in Law, Business and Startups
Nancy Cremins is litigation partner and startup attorney at Gesmer Updegrove LLP in Boston. Nancy co-founded SheStarts, an organization that supports women founders and entrepreneurs in Boston through networking, coaching and events. Nancy has also been a member of the board of the Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts since 2005, and served as President of the WBA from 2011 to 2012. To top it all off, Nancy is a proud member of the inaugural Boston class of the Pipeline Fellowship, a program for women angel investors that diversifies the investor pool.
Nancy took some time to talk with us about building SheStarts, to share with us the motivation behind her myriad of accomplishments, and to give advice to other women hoping to ignite change.
1. How long have you been thinking about founding SheStarts and what was the final catalyst?
SheStarts evolved over a period of time resulting from a number of conversations with a number of women entrepreneurs, investors, and others in the startup ecosystem who identified and wanted to do something about the gender bias women entrepreneurs face. Eventually, after a couple of pointed conversations early in 2014, my cofounder Liz O’Donnell and I coordinated a gathering of women to network, to talk about their businesses and their needs, and to talk about what we could do to make Boston a better place for women entrepreneurs – just like that SheStarts was born.
2. How is SheStarts a game changer, not just for women angel investors, but for the startup community at large?
One of the consistent themes I continue to hear from women entrepreneurs is that starting their businesses feels very isolating. We hope that SheStarts will be a game changer by providing women entrepreneurs with a community that they can plug into to feel less alone, to gain essential knowledge that they need to start and grow successful businesses, and to learn from and to help each other moving forward. The big picture is that we want to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs who struggle with equal access to capital and to give them the tools needed for success.
3. What’s your vision for SheStarts a year from now? 5 years from now?
I don’t have a specific agenda for SheStarts. Liz and I want to continue to grow organically, to provide the network and support that the women entrepreneurs who come to SheStarts want and need, and to expand what we offer based on feedback from those women. Will we grow outside of Boston? It is definitely possible and there is absolutely a need, but we want to be able to deliver on our goals and mission of supporting women entrepreneurs wherever we may be. Moving into new locations means taking the time to learn about the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face in the location where they are. It is not a one-sized fits all solution.
4. You’ve been President of the Women’s Bar Association in MA, you’re Vice Chair of the Prosperity Catalyst board, you’re a member of the inaugural class of the Boston Pipeline Fellows, and you founded SheStarts. In all these roles and responsibilities, what is it that drives you? What is the future you hope to create through all these initiatives?
The thing that drives me is moving the world closer to achieving gender equity in all the small ways that I can. The WBA works towards achieving equality in the legal profession and in a just society. Prosperity Catalyst launches and incubates women-led businesses in distressed countries, creating opportunities for women to become empowered entrepreneurs. SheStarts exists to provide networking, coaching, and information to help local women entrepreneurs found and grow their businesses. The common thread that runs through each of these organizations is that their respective missions are rooted in working towards gender equity, each in their own ways. Eliminating gender bias and providing equal opportunity for all is essential for a more peaceful and more prosperous world and I want to do what I can to move the needle on that.
5. What is your advice to women who want to start similar initiatives in their firms, their industries, their communities or their home states?
My advice is pretty straightforward: Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. You don’t need a grand vision, a big budget, or even a real plan. Figure out what it is that you want to improve, determine the fastest way you can work towards that goal, and just start doing something about it.
6. How has being a litigator and trained mediator helped you lead initiatives for women entrepreneurs and investors?
Being a litigator and a trained mediator makes me a good problem solver. That really is the viewpoint and perhaps the best skill that I bring to the table. Also, spending years as a litigator provides excellent negotiation skills, communication skills, and causes you to grow a bit of a thick skin. Each of those “talents” are helpful to teach to women entrepreneurs and investors when speaking up for themselves and negotiating on their own behalf.
7. Who inspired you when you were just embarking on your career, and who inspires you every day now?
My parents dedicated themselves to ensuring that I would get the most from my education. They certainly helped to inspire my professional trajectory. I have worked with a number of incredible attorneys, both men and women, who taught me about the kind of lawyer that I wanted to be. Today, I’m inspired by the great community of women entrepreneurs that I meet and work with who are brave enough and believe in themselves enough to take the plunge into entrepreneurship because it is a bold step. I am inspired by being able to help them in some small way to succeed in achieving their dreams.