Women in Entrepreneurship

According to Google for Entrepreneurs #40Forward, women-led tech companies achieve 35 percent higher return on investment and, when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent more revenue than male-owned tech companies. Yet women are still underrepresented in startup communities. Through our interactive panels, meet the women leading the charge in the Chicago startup community, from founders to women leading venture funds and angel investors. 

Morning Panel

Elaine Russell

CEO and Founder at Heirlume

Elaine RussellElaine has a background in e-commerce and retail/consumer industries. She began her career in the Retail Investment Banking Group at JPMorgan in NYC and went on to complete her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in 2009. She then moved to Silicon Valley where she was an early employee at Tiny Prints, charged with running Business Development before she transitioned into managing the wedding brand, Wedding Paper Divas. After Tiny Prints was acquired by Shutterfly in 2011, Elaine moved back to Chicago and accepted a role as VP of Product at Storeplacer, a new SaaS e-commerce platform.

Elaine created Heirlume to solve a daunting problem she noticed as her husband and friends struggled to buy their loved ones a gift. Through technology and innovative e-commerce, she strives to provide gift buyers with a convenient way to access and purchase guaranteed high-quality jewelry. Elaine is a wife and a mother to her daughter, Addison. Her jewelry style is classic with a touch of elegance.

Russell's LinkedIn profile

Karin Dommermuth O'Connor, CFA

Managing Director, Hyde Park Angels and President, Perimeter Advisors

Karin O'ConnorKarin D. O’Connor is Managing Director of Hyde Park Angles, a Chicago-based angel investment network. To date, she has invested in fourteen deals with HPA and served as the group’s representative on the board of portfolio company FeeFighters, which was acquired by Groupon, Inc. in 2012. She is also the founder of Perimeter Advisors, an advisory firm that assists owners of promising mid-market companies with planning and execution of value enhancement strategies

Since beginning her career at Continental Bank in the 1980’s, Ms. O’Connor has invested in and advised entrepreneurs in a variety of industries that includes financial services, business services, technology distribution, health care, and manufacturing. She has invested at all levels of the capital structure—from senior debt to mezzanine, venture leasing, and equity—and in companies ranging from early stage to mature.

Ms. O’Connor received her BA in Finance from the University of Illinois, where she graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She earned her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where she was an F.C. Austin Scholar and was elected to Beta Gamma Sigma. She served on the Kellogg Alumni Council and enjoys guest lecturing and judging student business plan presentations for the school’s Entrepreneurship Program. She has also received a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) charter.

O'Connor's LinkedIn profile

Jenn Yee

Chicago Director, Startup Institute

Jenn YeeJenn Yee is the Chicago director at Startup Institute, an eight-week, full-time immersive career accelerator that works with individuals to equip them with the skills needed to have an immediate impact on the startup or high-tech company they join.

She is active in the Chicago startup community, and founded www.MBA-social.com, a news and advice site for MBA students and alumni with over 30 writers from the nation’s top business schools.

Jenn is a 2012 Fellow of the inaugural Startup Leadership Program Chicago cohort. She received her BA from Williams College and her MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where she regularly wrote, “Yee Olde Advice Column,” for the monthly newspaper. She is based in Chicago.

Afternoon Panel

Genevieve Thiers

Founder of SitterCity

Genevieve Thiers

Genevieve Thiers is an entrepreneur in the Chicago area.  Her first company, Sittercity.com, is America's first company to take caregiving services online. Sittercity.com now has millions of users nationwide, and serves clients like the U.S. Department of Defense, Avon, Mastercard, Monster WW and many others. With new locations in the UK and Canada, it is an international success. 

Genevieve was recognized by President Bush at the White House as the Small Business Administration Young Entrepreneur Champion of the Year for 2006, her companies have won over 18 major awards, including the CEC Momentum Award, the WBDC Rising Start Award, a CNN Young Heroes feature, the UPS Out of the Box Award, the INC 500 list, and more.  Genevieve has been featured thousands of times in the press for her work, by the TODAY show, Ellen, the View, the CBS Early Show, CNN, Live & StyleThe Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Redbook, Parents, Parenting, Marie Clare, TIME, Better Homes and Gardens, Working Mother and more.  She has lectured or spoken at the CEO Conference, Microsoft, Harvard business school, Kellogg, Columbia, Babson, Boston College, U Chicago and for hundreds of other entrepreneurial groups around the country.  She is the author of the book Love at First Sit, and frequently writes for Crain’s Chicago, NBC.com, and the Huffington Post.

Genevieve has mentored hundreds of entrepreneurs throughout her career.  She is on the board of the CEC, which has created 1871, a co-working space in Chicago.  Genevieve teaches classes at 1871, is on the acceptance committee, and is a frequent mentor within the space. She is also an investor in TechStars and the Firestarter fund.  When not mentoring, she can be found singing opera in the Chicago area, or playing with her two-year-old twins.

Thier's LinkedIn profile

Sharon Schneider

Co-founder and CEO, Moxie Jean

Sharon SchneiderSharon Schneider is the co-founder and CEO of e-commerce innovator Moxie Jean, the “Upscale Resale” destination for high quality, like-new baby and kids’ clothes. Moxie Jean was voted by moms as the “Most Awesome” online consignment site through the Red Tricycle Awards in 2013 and was a 2012 portfolio company of renowned tech accelerator Excelerate Labs (now Tech Stars Chicago).

Sharon is also an instructor in entrepreneurship at The Starter League (formerly Code Academy) and a member of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Technology Diversity Council. Building off her roots in the philanthropic sector, she was a founding advisor to Impact Engine, the Chicago-based accelerator for social enterprises that make a profit while making a positive impact.

Sharon has an M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. (summa cum laude) from the University of Toledo. She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, a high school science teacher, and their three children, ages 10, 8 and 3.

Schneider's LinkedIn profile

Kristin Barrett

Vice President, Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center

Kristin BarrettAs a vice president at the CEC, Kristin helps to manage programming and operations at 1871. Prior to the CEC, Kristin ran operations for Excelerate Labs, a top-ranked technology startup accelerator, helping build educational programming and mentorship as well as ensuring the program ran smoothly. Kristin also worked with startups and early-stage investments through Hyde Park Angels.

Kristin started in entrepreneurship while working on new ventures and corporate strategy for Redbox. She identified potential new businesses, built business plans and supported fledgling businesses through their pilots. She has also worked in management consulting with A.T. Kearney, touching a variety of industries including pharmacy, logistics, and agricultural goods.

Kristin earned an MBA with Honors at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and her undergraduate degree in journalism and economics from Northwestern University. In her free time, Kristin is working on her fluency in Spanish and can often be found with her nose in a book. 

Barrett's LinkedIn profile