For years there had been talk at USC Marshall and its Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies of putting together a large event for women entrepreneurs. But, not unlike a startup venture, it took the exhaustive efforts of several women to make it happen.
In 2017, Suzy Ryoo ’09, VP of Technology and Innovation at entertainment consultancy Atom Factory and partner at early stage venture capital fund Cross Culture Ventures, started speaking with her network about organizing what she viewed as a necessary and impactful gathering at USC around women’s entrepreneurship.
“There’s an intense dialogue and cultural shift happening around equality in the workplace across Silicon Valley, Hollywood and the world,” said Ryoo, who is also a member of the Greif Center Advisory Council. “The time is now to discuss these issues openly and with a commitment toward change.”
The response was enthusiastic, and the network sprang into action. Back at USC, Jeymi Choi, who oversees programming for the Marshall school’s Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation program, was busy doing the legwork to convene such an event.
“Sometimes it takes that one person to get the ball rolling and say, ‘We’re doing this!’” said David Belasco, executive director of the Greif Center.
The result surpassed everyone’s expectations. The First ATHENA Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit, held on Nov. 2, 2017 at the USC campus, drew more than 400 founders, investors, executives, thought-leaders and students.
“We knew we had a spectacular day lined up,” said Choi. “But what made it special were the people who came together to find a community of support. We know that meaningful connections were made and that this is just the beginning of greater things to come.”
USC Marshall was building a reputation for nurturing women business leaders and entrepreneurs long before the ATHENA Summit. With scholarships, programming, speaker series and applied mentoring, the school has made gender equity a priority.
“We are very proud of what’s happening with our initiatives for women here at Marshall,” said Dean James G. Ellis at the opening of the second annual International Women’s Day speaker’s panel in March, which was sponsored by the full-time MBA program.
Marshall’s MBA programs (including its fulltime, part-time, executive and online MBAs), in addition to its many specialized master’s degree programs, aggressively court the best female candidates through multiple channels. For example, the school maintains strong connections with the Forte Foundation, which supports women seeking business education.