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Confessions of a Teenage Entrepreneur

Seventeen faces stared at me as I stood at the front of the table. I was minutes away from presenting my science education startup to a group of entrepreneurs and investors, and I was absolutely terrified.
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Seventeen faces stared at me as I stood at the front of the table. I was minutes away from presenting my science education startup to a group of entrepreneurs and investors, and I was absolutely terrified. Over the last six months, I had devoted every free moment to building a company from the ground up. Facing that group of men with infinitely more experience than I had, I worried they wouldn't take me seriously.

I never thought I would become an entrepreneur. I first encountered real entrepreneurship when I was eighteen, competing at a national science research competition. I found myself surrounded by amazing peers, brilliant scientists, and inspiring CEOs who all spoke of the excitement that starting a company would bring. My humanities-focused high school didn't offer courses in economics or computer science, much less entrepreneurship. All of that changed over the next year, as I read everything I could, tracked down mentors, and listened to much-needed advice. Together with my co-founder and friend from science research competitions, I launched a science education company just before my nineteenth birthday.

I was happily progressing with my own company when I read about the Ellen Pao gender discrimination lawsuit in Silicon Valley. Ellen Pao, a former partner at a preeminent venture capital investment group, accused her ex-employer of discriminating against her because she was a woman. Pao lost her lawsuit in March 2015, but the case revealed the harsh reality of subtle sexism women face in Silicon Valley.

Venture capital firms are responsible for significant investments in growing companies, and the partners within these firms decide which companies to support. A 2014 study conducted by Babson College found that venture firms with female partners "are twice as likely to invest in companies with a woman on the management team." Yet that same study found that the number of female venture capital partners had dropped to just six percent. Without female investors, we'll see fewer female entrepreneurs who can establish and lead the most exciting companies of the future.

In addition, young girls who read about the forwarding of sexist emails, the harassment in the workplace, and the disrespect for professional women, may turn away from their entrepreneurial future. Without mentors to encourage them, they could easily choose to avoid the world of entrepreneurship for a more defined path.

We need more women on both sides of the table as entrepreneurs and investors. Above all, their presence will send a message to young girls that the entrepreneurship start-up space is becoming a fairer, more inclusive environment for all working professionals, whether female or male.

I grew up in environments that encouraged me to think past my comfort zone. At my all-girls high school, I captained a robotics team where I began by teaching the team how to use a drill. When our robot collapsed at our first competition, we had the courage to rebuild it and take it back onto the competition field. And when it promptly caught fire, we rebuilt it again. I learned that I had the potential to face challenges head-on, becoming a stronger person because of it. But when I presented my business, I wasn't sure this was a challenge I could win.

Luckily, I was incredibly fortunate to address a welcoming group of entrepreneurs and investors who were there to support young rising entrepreneurs. I found wise mentors who were more than willing to share their experiences and advice. Yet, I don't think my experience is the norm, and I don't expect it to remain that way as I continue pursuing entrepreneurship, seeking investments, and building companies.

Today, the most well-known founders and investors are all male. But tomorrow, we have the chance to change our perception of what defines entrepreneurship by bringing more female entrepreneurs and investors to the table, instead of dismissing them because of their gender. Silicon Valley has long been a community of fast-moving rule breakers. By giving women the opportunity to join that group, Silicon Valley will see more ideas, perspectives, and ventures than ever before.