When arts and entertainment technology senior Lexye Meeks first wanted to start her own athletic apparel brand, she didn’t know where to start. A new UT course, however, has equipped her with the tools to make this vision a reality.
Women in Entrepreneurship is an unprecedented class taught by Jan Ryan, creative entrepreneurship and innovation director and professor, to help students overcome the hurdles women face in today’s competitive entrepreneurial society. The class will also be available in the fall.
“There are so many bright women at UT that want to explore entrepreneurship,” Ryan said. “But they’re hesitant to call themselves an entrepreneur, and they may not have the confidence that they need to do that.”
Ryan is an entrepreneur herself with 28 years of experience and three startups to her name. She said she is passionate about fostering the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
“There’s a lot less female entrepreneurs than male,” said Ryan. “But 67 percent of millennials say they want to have their own company one day.”
Ryan said the course was created to increase women’s confidence and empower them to pursue careers in business. Over the semester-long class, students can learn skills to form an entrepreneurial identity and develop strategies to overcome gender role stereotypes.
“When people envision an entrepreneur, they see some guy from tech who is on the stage pitching to investors and wearing a hoodie,” Ryan said. “It’s that stereotype, and they don’t realize that entrepreneurship is actually very accessible to women.”
Building self-confidence and business skills while using active thinking makes Women in Entrepreneurship an experiential course, Ryan said. Student groups create their own start-up business and learn about problems women might encounter in each step of the process.
Martha Czernuszenko, management information systems and business honors junior, is taking the class to fulfill a business degree requirement. Along with her project group, she has created a female-targeted jiu-jitsu rash guard company.
“We’re working on actually running this business using the strong suits of our group,” Czernuszenko said. “It has given me the idea to start a nonprofit teaching girls how to code after graduation.”
The interdisciplinary aspect of the course allows students to work with diverse peer groups, utilizing each other’s strengths to prepare them for the entrepreneurial business world.
With the hands-on experience and interaction between students and experienced professor, Meeks said she feels her confidence rising.
“The thought of building my own business is very intimidating,” Meeks said. “But the motivation and encouragement from the professor, students, (teaching assistant) and guest speakers has been so helpful.”
Czernuszenko said Ryan’s energy and support for her young entrepreneurs has left a large impression on her as well as other students.
“(Ryan) is a bada--,” Czernuszenko said. “She has so much experience but is so humble about it, and it teaches us a lot about what it’s like to be a woman entrepreneur.”
Meeks said Ryan was helpful and inspiring with her care for each student.
“(Ryan) has become a mentor to me as I am trying to build my brand,” Meeks said. “It’s obvious that she wants us to succeed and has worked hard to give us the tools to do so.”