Profile of a WINner: Joanne Louis
With the 2013-2014 academic year just about over, I wanted to be sure to highlight a few more WINners: women who were part of the first cohort of the Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, a year-long residency program for students at Babson College that accelerates their entrepreneurial path from ideation to launch. A senior and Finance and International Affairs major at Babson, Joanne Louis is the President of the Student Government Association, a Peer Writing Center Consultant, Co-Director of Babson’s first student-driven fashion show, Steering Committee (2014) member and an avid dancer and fashionista, hailing from Brooklyn, New York.
Tell me about your business idea.
My business is an online boutique that supports sustainable fashion in two ways: it houses different sustainable fashion lines that people can rent and it allows people to purchase sustainable fashion items from independent, sustainable brands. In the future, I plan on providing some of my own designs as well. Currently, we are in the proto-type phase, we are still working on distribution and different logistical options and are hoping to launch by end of summer, 2014!
When was your light bulb moment?
I’ve always known that I wanted to work in fashion, and my business idea stemmed from a frustration; I saw a trend within the sustainable fashion industry but knew that many of the clothes being deemed “sustainable” were really expensive. I saw a disconnect as it was hard for people (18-25 years old) to be sustainably fashionable because it was so expensive. At the same time, I took an Environmental Technology Science class at Babson which also triggered for my interest in passion and sustainability. So, I played with different ideas and finally came up with the idea to open an online boutique that promoted sustainability but was affordable to the masses.
What drew you to the WIN Lab?
At Babson, everyone is starting their own businesses or thinking about them and many of my peers are part of accelerator programs. I knew that I wanted to start a business after graduating, as I wanted to take full advantage of school as well as extra-curricular activities whilst at Babson. However, when I heard about WIN, I thought “I have to do this.” There’s something about being in school and having these resources at hand, people who understand you on an academic and social level, and doing it now. I love the idea of women empowering each other, and at WIN, that is part of our secret sauce. I love coming to the Center on Fridays to have my peers ask questions, give suggestions and their honest opinions about my business, with no mal intent, but genuine care for my business. In this competitive world, you do not see that every day! WIN is a great support program that has made it easier to focus on my academics and extra-curricular activities while launch a business venture at the same time.
What’s the greatest thing that you’ve gotten out of WIN/ how has it helped you the most?
WIN has helped me to re-define entrepreneurship and the notion that it is okay to ask for help. While this is a simple concept, it is something that many of us struggle with. I’ve always thought of myself as an independent entrepreneur but WIN has helped me to realize the importance of a co-founder and understanding the significance of creating a team. Because of the support and tools I’ve learned from WIN, I’m now doing what I really want to do, instead of waiting. WIN was a great first step for me and has helped me to realize my ideas, focus them and make them happen.
What do you think the future of women entrepreneurship looks like?
Very promising! Women are breaking barriers and we are seeing more and more women role models to give us motivation. I am confident that there will be more acceptance of women entrepreneurship. Further, the rise of female leaders in one area will inspire women in other areas. It’s happening now, not only in entrepreneurial spaces but also in social areas. Changes are happening rapidly and the future is very bright.
Who’s your “shero”?
My mother. She helped shape me into who I am today. She has been a strong, independent woman since I can remember; my parents separated when I was two. She raised four kids essentially by herself. My mother always showed me that being independent is okay and that you can be great and can do whatever you want by pushing yourself and always working on yourself. I can attribute my strong mind and willpower to my mother.
What has you jumping out of bed in the morning?
I am really excited about my ability to create change. The fact that I can do something and touch the lives of others, be different, and change the way people think about something has me jumping out of bed in the morning. We are constantly finding ways to do things differently, whether it’s through Student Government Association (SGA) and finding ways to do things that Babson hasn’t done before, to connecting people and trying to break barriers between students and faculty. Being the force behind and grasping and embracing the change gives me the fuel in everything I do. As I’ve learned from WIN, the hardest thing about new ventures is creating culture change. We will have to generate a behavior change that helps people see sustainability and gets them to want to buy these products. Creating this value will be a challenge but it excites me and I know it has tremendous potential.
What’s your biggest need / What’s one thing that could help take your business to the next level?
Currently, I am looking for a co-founder who is operationally savvy, with experience in retail logistics and technicalities. I am also looking for funding.
Advice for other aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Just do it. Just do it when it comes to you. I knew I always wanted to do fashion; I did it here by starting the first student-driven fashion show at Babson. I saw the need for it and just did it. Before WIN, I was hesitant to start, but my advice is that you can never start too early, don’t sit on things for too long, as it is better to find problems with your business sooner rather than later. Gather your resources as you continue to grow. Success is not a linear process, you will face hurdles but you just have to do it.
About the WIN Lab:
Created by Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, the WIN Lab provides entrepreneurs with the road map, expertise, inspiration, and community needed to successfully launch ventures. The WIN Lab team is in the business of launching companies. To do this, they choose candidates who are ready to pursue their entrepreneurial destinies.