Associate Professor Lakshmi Balachandra teaches entrepreneurship, and practices it in her research, too.
For years, Balachandra has studied the intersection of entrepreneurship and gender. She was a co-author of the Diana Report in 2014, which was the first thorough analysis of venture capital investments in women entrepreneurs since 1999. And, in 2019, she partnered with Bank of America to lead a study in gender bias that confronts women entrepreneurs who have raised more than $5 million in revenue.
Despite all her efforts, the challenges remain for women entrepreneurs. In 2020, startups established by women received just 2.3 percent of venture capital funds, a half percent drop from 2019.
So, thinking like an entrepreneur, Balachandra is trying something new in her career-long pursuit to close this funding gap. Starting later this year, she will serve as the inaugural Innovation Fellow at the newly created Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships at the National Science Foundation.
“I’ve spent all this time and effort, thinking about how we change the landscape of venture funding, particularly for women,” said Balachandra, who was also recently elected to her town’s select board as its first ever woman of color. “To change habits, you need to have laws and policies and ways to enforce it. … This is a chance to see what can happen at the federal government level.”
Working within the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships, a new division of the National Science Foundation that will “accelerate the translation of fundamental science and engineering discoveries into innovative new technologies and entrepreneurial solutions,” Balachandra’s responsibilities will include research into accessing entrepreneurs, and considerations into grouping funding entities.
A visit to the White House is on her radar, too.
“The real goal is to meet (Vice President) Kamala Harris, of course!” Balachandra said with a laugh. “I’m interested in getting to know some of the players that can make a difference. Can I have some influence and impact in thinking about how we fund entrepreneurship in the long term?”
Babson College develops entrepreneurial leaders who can create socioeconomic change. At the federal level, Balachandra will have endless opportunities to meet and persuade leaders in government to do that by improving equity for women entrepreneurs in venture capital.
“I’d like to build relationships that I think I’ll be able to, with my work, make an impact,” she said.
Decision makers also took notice of Balachandra’s years of research honing her craft. After 23 interviews during the process, she received six offers for fellowships.
As a woman of color, Balachandra knows she can bring unique perspectives to the Beltway.
“This is why diversity is important at the decision-making level. … I’m so excited to be at the table for these conversations,” she said.
“To change habits, you need to have laws and policies and ways to enforce it. This is a chance to see what can happen at the federal government level.”
Associate Professor Lakshmi Balachandra
Virtual or in-person work has yet to be decided. Perhaps when it is, her selection will finally sink in.
“It’s kind of amazing. I can’t believe I’m going to be in this position, I’m super excited,” Balachandra said. “We’re really seeing how much interest there is for entrepreneurship research in policy, and in thinking—or improving—how government works.”