Smaiyra Million: Paving the Way for Women Leaders, Entrepreneurs

Smaiyra Million speaks to an audience.

Smaiyra Million P’21 has spent her career helping aspiring women entrepreneurs and working to advance the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She spent 30 years as a successful operator of luxury hotels, spas, and health clubs before joining Babson College in 2017.

Million started as an investor-in-residence at Babson, in part to connect with women who are just starting their entrepreneurial journeys and help them get the guidance and support necessary to succeed. She stayed on with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (now known as the Frank & Eileen™ Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership) as senior director of strategic initiatives for three years, before becoming the director of the Butler Institute for Free Enterprise through Entrepreneurship. In 2021, she also became the executive director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, where she continues to create opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

During Women’s History Month, Million spoke about the Blank Center, women in leadership, and how women can better prepare themselves for success.

The Q&A

How old were you when you realized you were a leader, and what prompted that realization?

“High school. I found myself more comfortable than my peers speaking up in class, running for office, and being on stage. I welcomed the authority and accountability of leadership and understood quickly that both sides of the coin mattered if I was to be successful.”

What advice would you give young women who are still deciding what they want to be when they grow up?

“Open yourself up to opportunities. Many of us grow up knowing only about the types of careers we encounter through family members. If you can, become part of groups where you can meet people from all walks of life. Be curious, ask lots of questions. Look for ways to get a glimpse into people’s careers, shadow, intern, summer jobs, whatever you can do to better understand opportunities.”

You have led the Blank Center for nearly two years. What aspects of the job have been the most satisfying for you?

“Working with an extremely talented team of professionals committed to excellence—seven amazing women! We all want to deliver the best possible experiences to our students and alumni. We push and support each other, and it is very rewarding.”

What has been more challenging than you expected?

“Getting our students to attend the many amazing programs we deliver. Due to the abundance of rich and diverse programming at Babson, sometimes it is hard to get the attention of a wider audience. We have a dedicated core of students who regularly attend our events, but we hope to continue to find ways to broaden our reach to include every student at Babson.”

Have you noticed any changes in women entrepreneurs since you started working at Babson?

“Women entrepreneurs at Babson have impressed me since I first engaged as an investor-in-residence with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) eight years ago. Today, as I recently just participated in a round of interviews for our CWEL scholars, I find they are arriving at Babson even more accomplished than ever. They understand the concept of inclusive leadership, have started for-profit and nonprofit endeavors with social missions and technology that would be the envy of entrepreneurs 10 years out of school.”

Is there an interaction, event, or accomplishment during your work with women entrepreneurs at Babson that you will remember 20 years from now?

“Yes, the years of working with the women in the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab®, year after year, being so impressed to watch them display the tenacity of bringing their dreams to life. Also, my years with the Women for Africa program, those amazing entrepreneurs from Kenya, succeeding despite all the odds against them. And, most currently, the women (and men) that are here from Sardinia. They are doing everything in a second language and far from home, their desire and willingness to learn and be mentored is inspirational.”

Two More for Smaiyra

What does Babson mean to you?

“Possibilities and experimentation. A place where I have met some of the most inspiring people I know.”

Right now, what are you …

  • Reading? “Just finished The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama and currently reading Warrior: Audrey Hepburn by Robert Matzen.”
  • Watching? “Can’t wait for ‘Ted Lasso’ to drop!”
  • Listening to? “The Dip, Lettuce, Sammy Rae & The Friends, Pink Martini, and always Frank Sinatra.”
  • Doing in your free time? “Taking photography classes—trying to feed my creative side, since I can’t be in the garden in the winter.”

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