It’s no secret that every business woman, whether corporate tracked or taking the entrepreneurial road less traveled, needs a mentor. But listening closely to the brilliant young female founders my perch as a Forbes reporter allows me to speak to every day, it seems the truth is that, for them, it takes much more than a single role model. In fact, it takes a village.
“I think every entrepreneur needs mentors and needs to surround themselves with brilliant people who have grounded values,” says Julia Hu, MIT grad and founder of LARK, a new alarm clock sleep monitor hybrid that uses vibration as a more soothing alternative to the blare of your morning wake-up call.
Her patented technology, that works with your iPhone, scored her a cool $10,000 from Marie Claire and Tumi’s in their first-ever “Women on Top”awards. Needless to say, she’s a busy girl. “And all of us struggle with the pressures of building a company while at the same time trying to find any time at all for self growth—let alone socialization or the ability to play the part of a formal mentor.”
Enter social media: Natalie MacNeil, font of entrepreneurial wisdom and ForbesWoman friend has long been putting together top ten lists of the “best” women in categories for her readers. “Don’t have a mentor,” she says, “It’s easier today than ever before to find one and I’ve connected with some amazing mentors through Twitter. Follow the entrepreneurs you most admire, engage with them, and ask questions if there’s something you could use their expertise on. It’s that simple and you’d be surprised how many people are willing to connect with you and support what you’re doing.”
But in putting together even an e-network of female role models, it helps to know what you’re looking for. When I spoke to Claire Chambers, founder and CEO of lingerie retailer Journelle, she stressed that she’s always looked for a sounding board of entrepreneurs who are at the same level of development as she is, beginning with a group of like-minded colleagues at her former employer (read: employees looking to jump ship for the startup world).
“One by one, we left the company and we formed a different group of people; that was important because the people who hadn’t left yet weren’t at the place that we were in terms of developing their businesses. So as the years have gone by, the people I’m collaborating with or getting advice form are usually in the same stage of growth as my company.”
But Huu says it’s best to aim higher—but not too high. “I think it’s been helpful and is incredibly important to find entrepreneurs who you can look up to who are not that far ahead of you,” she says. “It helps to like it’s actually humanly possible to reach the level of success that they have.” In other words, Kathryn Minshew, founder of The Daily Muse who’s currently in the throes of the Y-Combinator process might be a better pick than Arianna Huffington. When it comes to a helpful role model, Hsu says, being able to relate is incredibly important.
With all that in mind, I’ve combed the social stratosphere this Follow Friday to curate a list of what I think to be the 20 most impressive young female entrepreneurs who tweet. Their levels of success are varied—from incubator to millions of dollars in funding—but you’ll find a common theme to their social presences. All 20 are enthusiastic about the current rise in young, energetic and take-no-prisoners female founders. There’s something to be learned from each one of them, even if just online. Take a look, and be sure to follow. It’s no sit down meeting, but it’s a direct line into the minds of women who’ve fought the same battles.
Hearsay Social, Clara Shih @clarashih