When Cecile Thai (Weinberg '10), a former investment consultant, faced issues with her eye health, she made the decision to create her own company. She did so in spite of the risks associated with entrepreneurship, especially as a woman entering the male-dominated business world.
Increasingly, women like Thai, including many other Northwestern alumnae, have been working to make names for themselves as entrepreneurs. With their successful businesses now underway, several of these alumnae have credited many of their accomplishments to the skills, lessons and connections afforded to them by Northwestern.
After graduating from Northwestern with a B.A. in economics in 2010, Thai's doctor told her doctor that she had severe corneal hypoxia, a condition caused by issues with her monthly contact lenses that forced Thai to stop wearing contacts altogether and undergo vision correction surgery. In the aftermath, Thai did what any successful investment consultant would – she dropped everything to create Aveo Vision, her own contact lens company.
“I really wanted to make it so that nobody else had to go through what I went through,” Thai said. “Because it was so close to my heart and something I was so passionate about changing, it was a very easy decision to leave that job to pursue Aveo wholeheartedly.”
Another Northwestern alumna, Tammy Kraemer (Law '97), made a similar decision to pursue her own entrepreneurial passion. Kraemer left behind her position as general counsel of a software company in order to revive Blocki Perfume with her husband Tyler Kraemer, whose great-great-grandfather John Blocki had founded the original perfumery in 1865. Unlike Thai, however, Kraemer’s decision to leave her job was not so easy.
“I tried to do both for a while, but then I realized that you can’t do that,” Kraemer said. “If you’re going to try and make a go of a business, you have to give it your all. I know it was the right choice, but it also wasn’t easy.”
Kraemer also credited Northwestern with giving her the ability to make such an important life transition. Kraemer said the university not only introduced her to her husband and business partner, but also taught her what it’s like to feel like you don’t fit in – and then how to convince yourself that you’re wrong.
“I was one of those students in law school who really felt like a fish out of water,” Kraemer said. “I felt so out of place there, and I think once you go through an experience like that, and you tackle it by saying, ‘I deserve to be here too, and I’m going to work hard and get through this,’ it prepares you for doing it again.”
Other female Northwestern alumnae, like Allison Brown (Kellogg '18) for example, said that Northwestern aided their entrepreneurial experience in a different way. Brown, along with Cara Maresca (Kellogg '18) and Kristina Moore (Kellogg '18), founded Cariset, a leather bag company designed to maximize both utility and style. The co-founders said that Northwestern provided them with the resources and support needed to be successful. In fact, Cariset is a product of the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management VentureCat student startup competition, and the co-founders are still in touch with their former advisers at Northwestern.
“If we have questions, we can go to them and they’ll set us straight,” Brown said. “They’ve also been really generous with their connections. They’ve connected us to different people they thought could help us at different points along the way.”
Keyla Torres, the founder of Fragrant Jewels, a company that sells bath bombs and candles with rings hidden inside, also credits much of her success to the connections she has made at Northwestern. Torres and Thai, for example, became friends at Northwestern, and Torres said the two women often bounce ideas off of one another.
In addition to connections made at Northwestern, Torres also prioritizes connections with her staff and her customers. Through a Fragrant Jewels membership program known as Inner Circle, customers can interact with both the company and other customers.
“The customers have a private community where they develop friendship not only with us, but amongst themselves,” Torres said. “It’s bringing people together. I would have never expected it to go the route that it went, but I’m very proud.”
These female Northwestern alumnae are part of a larger trend of a rising number of female entrepreneurs nationwide. According to Inc., there has been an 114 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. in the past 20 years. Business Insider report showed investments in enterprises founded by men to be more than double those founded by women.
Nevertheless, Northwestern continues to work for an improvement, specifically through the new Propel Program, run through The Garage, that focuses on supporting female entrepreneurs by providing mentorship and financial assistance to female students interested in entrepreneurship. Moore said that connections like these are some of the most important means by which a woman can ensure success as an entrepreneur in the professional world.
“At Northwestern, you have a great community of other students, professors, advisers, and people who are willing to give you feedback, help you out and be selfless,” Moore said. “People want to pay it forward, so take advantage of that, be curious and ask lots of questions.”