Babson Magazine

Winter 2019

Small Talk with Kara Miller and Michelle Abbs

The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) at Babson launched the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab®—aptly called WIN—to empower female entrepreneurs through a dedicated and expansive community and an experiential home to innovate and scale their businesses. The venture accelerator, now in its seventh year, offers five months of business curriculum, one-on-one coaching, access to experts across industries, and more. And it works: Since attending the WIN Lab, 80 percent of startups are still running, and those founders have raised more than $13 million while creating 242 new jobs. The last cohort of students in Boston and Miami saw a 244 percent increase in revenue growth, 184 percent increase in customer growth, and 65 percent increase in investment growth just in the five months they were in the program. WIN Lab’s two directors, Kara Miller in Boston and Michelle Abbs in Miami, share the ingredients of their secret sauce.

Photo: Pat Piasecki

Kara Miller and Michelle Abbs
Photo: Pat Piasecki

Kara Miller

Why is WIN so important?
WIN creates a pipeline of high-growth women entrepreneurs by providing resources that will allow them to grow faster. Currently, less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars go to women entrepreneurs, and when we launched the program, women held only 13 percent of the seats in top accelerator programs. The WIN Lab in Boston is made up of Babson undergrads, graduate students, and alumnae. About one-third of the cohort are women from the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston.

What are you looking for in these companies?
We’re looking for women entrepreneurs who are thinking big and want to grow large, scalable ventures. One example is Mighty Well, a team of three Babson alumni who started the company in their dorm room when they were undergraduates. Mighty Well creates PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) covers and other devices for people undergoing medical treatment. Co-founders Emily Levy ’16 and Maria del Mar Gomez ’16 won the Draper Competition, an undergraduate competition for women entrepreneurs, in 2016. Quite a few women have raised funds—more than $13 million between the Boston and Miami labs—and have appeared on shows like “Shark Tank.”

Why do you love this job? Why is it a good fit for you?
I love working with entrepreneurs who are passionate, innovative, and dedicated to what they do. And I find it so incredibly inspiring and rewarding to be part of their entrepreneurial journey and help them identify the resources they need to scale and grow and reach their dreams. From the start of the program, we work with all the “WINners” to identify the goals they’re looking to reach by the end of the program. We help them achieve those goals through the WIN curriculum, network, and coaches who provide expertise. Watching people’s visions come to life is amazing. My job gives me the opportunity to be part of that journey as the entrepreneurs tackle challenges, overcome obstacles, continue to meet milestones, and make strides along the way.

Michelle Abbs

Why is there a WIN Lab in Miami?
The WIN Lab started here four years ago. We were the first Babson presence in Miami programmatically and came because Miami is the College’s fourth-largest alumni area in the world. Some members in our first cohort were Babson alumnae, but the majority of the participants were community members, so WIN was their first exposure to Babson. I think it’s a very unique program offering, different from the ecosystems in Boston or San Francisco where our names might be more well-known.

What makes this job so interesting for you, and what would you like people to know about what you do?
People ask why we need a program for women entrepreneurs. Here’s the reality: Women face unique challenges in entrepreneurship that men will never experience, period. Whether it’s gaining access to capital, managing expansion while underfunded, or being left out of networks, these hurdles are very real, and I see the impact of this kind of gender bias every day. I’m fueled by the idea that we can make a significant difference in the lives of the entrepreneurs who join the WIN Lab and its surrounding networks. We have a long way to go to change the headlines appearing today, but I am inspired to work hard for the fierce, relentless women who are determined to defy the odds instead of being discouraged by the statistics.

Why do you think you’re such a good fit for this job? Why do you love it?
I’m an educator at heart, and seeing the lightbulb moments from our entrepreneurs really lights me up inside. When participants come into the program, they feel like they don’t know how to do something—or they can’t do something as well as they would like to do it. Then, by the end of the program, they’re completely transformed. That gives me so much energy and inspiration. – Kara Baskin