As a U.S. National Champion gymnast and hall-of-famer, co-founder of a successful company, and recipient of Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2018, Lisa Wang is still just beginning. Wang energetically greets us at The Assemblage with the vitality one would expect from such an acclaimed athlete, yet she is equally humble and warm.
Training as a rhythmic gymnast from the age of nine to nineteen, in what she describes as “the most formative years” of her life, Wang is no stranger to hard work. Her years as a competitive gymnast taught her valuable lessons of resiliency that have directly translated to her tenacious professional work ethic. Retiring from gymnastics after narrowly missing an Olympic opportunity, Lisa went on to study literature at Yale. Her professional career began on Wall Street, but she soon felt a lack of inspiration and creativity in her job.
She says, “I had very little creative ownership or ability to make an impact in my work on Wall Street, and I was just a cog in a greater machine. So, I actually quit and ended up working at a mobile design development agency, and from there I built my first startup.”
Wang describes experiencing daily setbacks and obstacles as a female entrepreneur in a heavily white male-dominated landscape. One specific turning point for her was when an investor mistook her as an assistant. “The investor basically walked straight over to my 35-year-old white male COO, shook his hand, and brushed me off as the assistant,” she shares. These frequent setbacks are the norm of everyday life for professional women. Being automatically assumed as inferior and facing gender stigmas in male-dominated industries often leave female entrepreneurs at a disadvantage from the start.
For Wang, these seemingly small experiences are actually some of the most pressing as they highlight disparities in power relationships that hinder women every day. Lisa realized that women entrepreneurs are simply not viewed in the same manner of professionalism that their male counterparts are. For this reason, Lisa went on to co-found SheWorx as a way to provide female entrepreneurs with access to capital funding and other resources they need to build successful companies.
SheWorx’s mission is to continue the fight for gender equality in entrepreneurship by enabling women to have access to resources and capital funding that they may have difficulty obtaining otherwise. SheWorx hosts global roundtables and summits to democratize access to top investors for female entrepreneurs.
We spoke to Lisa about SheWorx and her hopes for changing the narrative surrounding female entrepreneurship. What is some of her best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “To dig deep and ask yourself, ‘why is it that I want to do this and what sort of impact do I want to make’,” she advised. “Because if it’s purely for making a lot of money or getting headlines in the news, or just being able to call yourself a CEO, that sort of entrepreneur doesn’t last.”
Could give us a snapshot about how gymnastics led you to where you are today in your career?
Gymnastics is about physically falling down and learning how to get back up again and the emotional resilience that you develop to keep going. I think that one of the things that sticks out to me most is the ability for a gymnast to have that long long-term goal. I dreamed about going to the Olympics for a decade of my life, and at a certain point, that joy that you feel in the very beginning is not necessarily the same thing you feel every single day as you’re slogging through training. But something keeps you going, and the certain commitment and loyalty and desire for the goal is what really sets apart athletes. I think that is what I learned through gymnastics, being able to have a long-term goal despite all of the ups and downs and emotional turmoil that came with it. At the end of the day, you stick to that vision despite any sorts of challenges that occur on the journey.
Was there a particular moment that inspired you to establish SheWorx, or did the idea evolve over time?
My turning point came when I was fundraising and realizing just how difficult it was, especially as a female founder navigating the 94 percent male-dominated venture capital landscape. Often, it’s not about the big, egregious stories we hear in the news, it’s about the small paper cuts that happen to women every single day. From being overlooked, undervalued, or assumed as inferior — women are torn down, and we don’t even realize that it’s happening. So, I was at this point where I was having these experiences and I didn’t know who to turn to. The inspiration for SheWorx came as a result of these personal experiences and the desire to fulfill a need that I had and also realizing how great of a similar need there is amongst many other women.
How do you hope to change the narrative of women entrepreneurship?
My greater mission is to fundamentally change the narrative of what girls and women think is possible for themselves. At the end of the day, media has so much power concerning the types of narratives we believe about ourselves and the kinds of stories we believe about others. I started thinking, “What are the narratives that girls and women have been fed our entire lives that shape the way we think about ourselves and how we interact with others?” There are two dominant narratives that women have been given: number one, damsel in distress, and number two, mean girls. These tales play over and over again in all of these stories that we consume. I think it’s imperative to create new narratives that we all can believe in.
Do you have any daily rituals that keep you grounded?
Being an entrepreneur, it’s hard to have a set routine. Still, it’s important to have some sort of ritual to keep yourself grounded. Even when you are in front of a computer all day, it’s important to allocate time in your day for wellbeing and spirituality. So for me, I try to have moments throughout the day where I pause and give gratitude for the things that I’ve done — the things that I’ve accomplished this week, or that morning, or that day. Then, at the end of each week, I try to spend about an hour reflecting on the small wins or big wins that I’ve had that week.
Do you have a specific role model or a mentor?
I feel fortunate to be a part of some communities and spaces where there’s a lot of complimentary experiences, skill sets, and a desire to help each other. There’s just a desire to collaborate. And I think sometimes peer mentorship for entrepreneurs is even more valuable because you’re all hustling at the same pace and you have a certain empathy for each other.
This article is part of our content series in partnership with The Assemblage — New York City coworking, coliving, social spaces and natural habitats to those exploring the evolution of humanity through positive impact. For a complimentary day pass to work from the NoMad or John Street location, book a tour here using the code ‘ass3mbleEM’