Janina Benz

Leaving behind high-end careers in banking and setting up a platform for female entrepreneurs. How did this happen?

Starting an own business is tough. Once in a while everyone needs some advice, access to resources or a network to share and test ideas. While researching on this exact topic, I stumbled over a startup called Project Eve. The idea to create a social network for female entrepreneurs and small business owners immediately caught my interest and I decided to contact its founders.

Kim  and Meridith started Project Eve in 2011. The fast-growing network is driven by the idea to develop relationships between female entrepreneurs as well as a to demonstrate their expertise and to market their ideas.

Meridith Dennes, Co-Founder & CEO, spent almost 15 years working in investment banking, originating and structuring strategic funding solutions for corporations and banks. Second Co-Founder and COO, Kim Oksenberg, spent close to nine years researching and investing in hedge funds for the Bank of New York Mellon.

 

Meridith & Kim (founders of Project Eve)

Meridith & Kim (founders of Project Eve)

Janina Benz: Hello Meridith and Kim, thank you very much for this interview. Leaving behind high-end careers in banking and setting up a platform for female entrepreneurs, probably was not a short-term decision. How did this happen?

Meridith: When I graduated from business school 15 years ago, I went to work on Wall Street and became an investment banker. For the first 10 years of my career, I worked my butt off and climbed the ranks. Then it happened. I met my husband, got married and had children. All of a sudden, my priorities changed. The more work demanded my time, the less time I wanted to spend at work. That’s when I felt the treadmill start. Every time I left the office early – I felt stress. Every time I had a pediatrician appointment – I felt stress. Preschool interviews – stress. Then came the biggest stress of all. In late 2008, when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband’s bank declared bankruptcy.

I met Kim in Business School and her story is having a similar pattern. Having spent her pre-MBA years in institutional equity sales, Kim stayed true to the course and became a career financier.

She worked hard to push her career. She gave birth to her first child in the fall of 2008 just as the markets were collapsing. Picture Kim. She returns to work after maternity leave – markets melting down, firm imploding and additionally she was helping to take care for her mother-in-law who was losing a battle with breast cancer.

Kim: Well, after nine month of trying to work part-time I decided to stay home and rethink my professional options. I really wanted to do something, but the idea of going back into full-time finance and “proving myself” with managing a 60-80 hour work week while juggling 2 young children is more than I was willing to handle. Although we both searched, we didn’t seem to find any part-time opportunities that fit with either of our backgrounds on either coast.

JB: This topic is still a taboo subject in our society. Even in 2012 there are no flexible options beside the ultimatum “career versus family”. Is it the curse of the educated women?

M & K: Yes, definitely! Either you are able to work full time 60-80 hours a week with two young children – which is probably not sustainable long-term – or you decide to be a full-time mommy, which is also not such a great alternative, when you have put so much effort in your education and career.

Then it occurred to us – maybe we are not the only ones who are looking for increased flexibility and work-life-balance? We start researching why so many achieved and educated women are choosing to leave the traditional (i.e. Fortune 500) workplace. Why are so many of these women turning to entrepreneurship woman? What are some of the biggest obstacles that female entrepreneurs face?

We recognized that many difficulties were universal to the entrepreneur experience some problems were more acute for the female entrepreneur. Together, we came to believe that the time-stretched female entrepreneur would like an online resource to network and build relationships with other like-minded entrepreneurs; a place to ask questions, learn and help each other. When we couldn’t find that resource available, we set out to build it ourselves.

JB: What have been your most memorable moments in the past 12 months since the start of Project Eve?

M & K: I think one of our favorite moments was our first forum post. One of our early members posted a question on our forum discussion entitled: “Talk to me about creating a website.” She was a writer who really wanted to have her own website but kept getting “stuck.” Within 2 days, 35 members of the community offered tips, tricks, and free advice on how to create a website based on their own experience. From that post we created our community forum “Help an Eve Out” – Project Eve’s trusted forum for our members to ask a question, start a discussion, share an idea and provide constructive feedback.

JB: Which are your next big steps in the following months?

M & K: We plan on rolling out several tools to further help female entrepreneurs. A business directory and Eve’s marketplace are currently in development. We are looking for growing and developing an even more robust community.

JB: Thank you very much for your honest and personal answers Meridith and Kim! All the best for your future success with Project Eve. We are looking forward to stay in touch with you!

You can find further information about Project Eve here:
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