Tech Trends: At TiE New Jersey event, women entrepreneurs get boost

Earlier this year, TiE New Jersey held an event to honor Women’s History Month. Almost 100 men and women came to hear an inspiring panel of women entrepreneurs. The audience was about evenly split between men and women.

Kathleen Coviello, chief economic transformation officer at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, also spoke. (Read her story here.) was encouraged by the enthusiastic support that the TiE New Jersey Women Special Interest Group received from the crowd. The TiE New Jersey president, Suresh U. Kumar, was the head supporter, issuing three challenges to TiE members:

  • For men to become truly equal partners by eliminating the more subtle forms of bias against women that deny them opportunities for growth and development;
  • For members of the community to cross organizational lines to support female founders with innovative ideas — which he termed the “Zero to One” startups;
  • For members of TiE New Jersey to join the fight against the recent restrictions against women’s rights to choose and to access health care in some states in the U.S., via the ballot box.

The panel discussion was moderated by Nivedita Candade, founder and principal at Manda, based in Princeton, a company providing mergers & acquisitions advisory services to clients. The panelists included Madhu Stemmermann, co-founder and CEO of SunRay Scientific in Eatontown, a leading-edge electronic materials company enabling flexible wearable electronics and semiconductors; Donna Conroy, co-founder and CEO of SciMar ONE in Allentown, a startup with a platform powered by artificial intelligence and generative AI that removes inefficiencies to accelerate strategic drug development; Ritu Kaul, chief marketing officer at Calance, from Anaheim, California, a technology solutions firm; and Veneeta Singal, executive director and banker at JPMorgan Private Bank in Princeton.

Fear of failure

The first issue the panelists addressed was fear of failure, with Candade asking them, “What advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs who may be facing fear, self-doubt, or fear of failure?

Stemmermann said that it’s not unusual to hear those inner voices, but the key is to ignore them. If you ignore them enough, you’ll accumulate enough confidence to “know that you are in fact capable of doing those things.” She added that she still has those voices today, but, when she hears them, she ignores them.

Conroy added: “Part of the reason why we may have more self-doubt than men is our load. … I think our plates are a lot fuller. So, you’re afraid that something can fall off your plate, and the whole tray come crashing down. There’s a little bit of doubt that goes along with that.”

“Part of the reason why we may have more self-doubt than men is our load. … I think our plates are a lot fuller. So, you’re afraid that something can fall off your plate, and the whole tray come crashing down. There’s a little bit of doubt that goes along with that.”

Women seem to have the need for perfection ingrained in them as they grow up, Singal told the group:

“And I think those notions make us believe we must be perfect the first time. And, when we are trying something new, of course, we will not know everything. And it’s OK to fail. And I want to say failure is actually not the opposite of success. It is a part of success. You cannot be successful unless you fail.”

Kaul, who has extensive experience in marketing, told the audience members — both male and female — to believe in themselves: “Each and every one of you men and women are fabulous in what you do. (Get out) in the community and network and connect with each other and help each other. And, if you cannot help, do not be an obstacle.”

The panelists also addressed questions about transitioning from one role to another, and how necessary the support of men in the industry is to women entrepreneurs.

Stemmermann said, “SunRay Scientific wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for our male champions or sponsors,” pointing to Mario Casabona, founder and managing director of Casabona Ventures in Kinnelon, who was in the audience and is on SunRay’s board. She specifically mentioned Steve Socolof, managing partner at Tech Council Ventures in Summit, who invested in the company and introduced SunRay to other investors.

“Today, many of the decision-makers are male, so we would be absolutely foolish to not work with our male counterparts and male champions,” she said.

Earlier in the event, the attendees had heard from Shailja Dixit, founder and CEO of Curio Digital Therapeutics in Princeton and co-chair of the TiE New Jersey Women SIG. Dixit said that “empowered women empower women,” and emphasized how few female entrepreneurs exist, noting the challenges the ones who do exist face in accessing funding. She highlighted the role that TiE New Jersey has played in helping her find her “personal board” that she can lean into, and how important it is for entrepreneurs to have their own personal support systems.

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