Great news for those of us who are passionate about women in leadership and entrepreneurship: The trends are in our favor. That’s according to Cristal Glangchai PhD, author of Venture Girls: Raising Girls to be Tomorrow’s Leaders, and the creator of VentureLab, a San Antonio-based entrepreneurial education nonprofit dedicated to creating the next generation of innovators and changemakers.

Cristal spoke at the Trinity University Network of Entrepreneurs brunch recently on the San Antonio campus. She was the first director of Trinity’s Center for Entrepreneurship. The program has blossomed from 23 students when it began in 2010 to 230 today. Graduates and soon-to-be graduates have launched 44 companies so far, placing the university at the forefront of San Antonio’s exciting entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Scientist, professor, entrepreneur, mentor – Cristal’s career is beyond impressive. But what she’s most passionate about these days is empowering girls and women in entrepreneurship.

She began her keynote by reading a passage from her book….

A world of empowered young women:

“Imagine a girl who at five is an entrepreneurial wonder. She scores at the genius level for thinking outside the box, collaborates beautifully with her friends to solve problems and spends her time making new toys with whatever resources she has. She’s visionary, creative, innovative, resilient and, most important, unafraid to take risks to get what she wants. This kind of person is in desperate demand across the global economy and in our own society. The most extraordinary thing is, I’m actually describing nearly every five-year-old girl at this age.”

An entrepreneur herself, Cristal recognized a shortage of women CEOs:

When Cristal was raising funds for her first startup, a nanotechnology drug delivery company, she noticed the complete absence of female angel investors, VCs and CEOs. “There are more CEOs named John than all women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies,” Cristal notes. “I wanted to change that. When I found out about the Trinity opening, I thought it would be a great opportunity to teach young women the confidence they need to be a CEO and to start a company. Having female role models is extremely important. 98% of all entrepreneurs have family members who are entrepreneurs. So exposing people to that concept and to the idea that they can start a company, or they can be entrepreneurial within a company, is crucial.”

Her shift to younger students:

As she coached female students to see their value and boost their confidence, Cristal set her sights on even younger students – K-12. She created a camp and then a set of curriculum that, in 2013, became part of VentureLab. “We need to start teaching entrepreneurism at ages 4 or 5. Entrepreneurship is all about hands-on. It’s learning by doing. It’s teaching them at an early age to have that confidence and to try things that are outside of their comfort zone.

“If we can get these kids to not just study for tests but be thinking on their own, doing research and encouraging smart risk taking, then we’ll really prepare our pipeline of students coming into the university level.”

Even kids who eat Play-Doh?:

Especially kids who eat Play-Doh! “We had a group of five year olds who got in trouble for eating Play-Doh. They came up with the idea of making it out of food so that they wouldn’t get in trouble for eating it again. They did their market research with other five year olds. They found their favorite color is pink and favorite flavors are strawberry and chocolate chip cookie. They made the recipes, and they packaged the Play-Doh in cute containers and bows. They sold them for $5 each. And when they ran out, they sold the recipes. Each kid left with $50. That small taste of success showed them that they can do anything.”

Her own experience with “imposter syndrome”:

Could a woman as accomplished as Cristal ever doubt herself? Turns out – yes!

“I took one of my Trinity students to an entrepreneur conference and we had to select badges from three categories: novice, average and expert. I’d been teaching at Trinity for three years and had taught two or three years at the University of Texas. I didn’t think I was an expert, so I took an average badge. My student said, ‘What are you talking about? We’re experts!’ And he grabbed an expert badge. I was thinking to myself, ‘He’s been in my class for two years and thinks he’s an expert?’ But I went ahead and grabbed the expert badge, too. We went to the sessions and I thought, ‘Oh wow, we really are experts!’ After that, I stopped second-guessing myself.

“I think for women, not being an expert tends to be a problem. Take applying for a job like ‘expert coder Ninja.’ Men will jump in and say, ‘Hey, I can learn it.’ And women, a lot of times, will think, ‘Oh, I don’t have enough qualifications. I shouldn’t apply.'”

Skills needed for today – and in the future:

The World Economic Forum says we’re in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, with technology continuing to change at such a rapid rate.

“We’re teaching kids the hard skills. What they need are soft skills like lateral thinking, creativity, empathy, design thinking and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship crosses all fields. It’s a mindset and a skill set. It’s being optimistic, resilient and adaptable. How do you take an idea and turn it into something real and see if it’s really an opportunity? How do you talk about it with customers – and do your market research and customer development? How do you create your business model, how are you going to price it and provide value to your customers? Then, how do you stand up and pitch your ideas? These are skill sets you need, and it really spans all fields. If we can teach our kids this at a young age – our girls in particular – it will be helpful.”

About Trinity’s entrepreneurs:

When it comes to entrepreneurism – especially creative entrepreneurism – Trinity, Cristal says, is ahead of the curve. “Having the Entrepreneur Center not located in the business school is very important. That leads to the idea that entrepreneurship is for everyone, not just for the business school. It’s great if students start companies, but it’s really the mindset that matters. And getting faculty from different fields and disciplines involved – pulling those entrepreneur concepts into their classes – that puts Trinity at the cutting edge of entrepreneurship.”

And about women in leadership and entrepreneurship:

Cristal credits the #MeToo movement with boosting attention around the importance of diversity and inclusion. “I think 10 to 15 years from now, we will see more women in leadership positions in technology and politics. With the push going on to make our boards more diverse and that we have good diversity in academia – we’ll see things even out. I’m hoping it will be 50/50.”

What a great presentation, Cristal! Many thanks to you and to our awesome Trinity University!

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