Entrepreneurial women at CSU talk business ventures, gender bias

Erik Petrovich

A lot has changed since Cynthia Banks, a Colorado State University alumna, founded her business in 1990.

Despite most other companies like hers being owned by men, Banks founded GlobaLinks Learning Abroad, an organization aimed at linking students with educational opportunities abroad. GlobaLinks was recently bought by International Studies Abroad, and Banks has since moved on to be a part-time strategic advisor for the merged company.

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Banks talked about the higher entry expectations people had of her due to her sex.

“When I entered, I was working in higher education,” Banks said. “There was an expectation people had of me — that I needed to have a Ph.D., for example.”

Banks now sits on the board for the Institute for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business. The Institute for Entrepreneurship aims to advise and encourage students who would like to found their own business ventures, and runs the Venture Accelerator Program. According to the program’s website, the Venture Accelerator Program “provides hands-on entrepreneurship training, advising and mentoring for student-run ventures.”

Camille Jarman, a fashion and design major in her second year, plans to use the program to help her Brazilian bikini business get off the ground.

“I wanted something I could wear away from the beach that would act as lingerie as well,” Jarman said. “They (the Venture Accelerator Program) didn’t have any clothing-based businesses, so I figured I would give it a try, see if I could make it in.”

The entrepreneurship program took applications in the spring for enrollment in the fall program. Jarman will begin working with the Institute for Entrepreneurship this week after her attempts to begin her business by herself in Hawaii led to a higher demand for her product than she could deliver.

Banks believes that the gender gap has been reduced from when she started her business, and that it is much easier for women to start their businesses nowadays, especially in university settings.

“My observation is that there are more opportunities today for women,” Banks said. “There has been definite positive progress.”

But despite not having started her work with the Institute of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business yet, Jarman has already faced bias for her business idea.

“You are more trusted as a woman in fashion, which is a gender stereotype that goes the opposite way,” Jarman said. “But in business, especially when I am starting a bikini company, it’s hard to get people to take me seriously.”

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It is easier for women to start their own business in 2015 compared to 25 years ago, but the gender stereotypes are still around, even at CSU. The Venture Accelerator Program is one way that aspiring businesswomen can make their ideas reality, and it is not just limited to female applicants. The Institute for Entrepreneurship is located on the second floor of the Business College across the street from Rockwell Hall on Laurel. Banks believes that anyone can start their business if they have the right idea.

“I encourage everyone to get a mentor and tell them their idea,” Banks said. “The next big idea is just a thought away.”

Collegian Reporter Erik Petrovich can be reached at news@collegian.com and on Twitter @EAPetrovich.