When Devin MacMahon was still a high school student in East Hampstead, N.H., she started her own business. Not babysitting or lawn mowing. A full-blown, non-profit, global initiative that raises funds to support science education in Ethiopia.
“To date, my venture Your Eyes Wide Open has directed $5,000 to sponsor 20 Ethiopian school children,” MacMahon said.
Meanwhile, less than an hour’s drive away in Manchester, another high schooler named Kate Aiken was busily starting her own nonprofit organization, Project Play, which, Aiken said, “has sponsored more than 200 children to participate in organized sports and redistributed almost 6,000 pieces of sports equipment in New Hampshire.”
Little did the two know their paths would merge at Paul College, where they would meet, become fast friends, and grab second place in New Hampshire’s premier business competition, the 2016 Holloway Prize: Innovation to Market Competition.
All in their first year.
At a time when The Kaufman Index reports that “women are still less prone than men to taking the entrepreneurial plunge”—by a 63 to 37 percent margin in the U.S.— how does Paul College measure up as a proving ground for tomorrow’s female entrepreneurs? If the Holloway Competition offered
any clue, the answer seems to be “very well indeed!”
This year, three of the six finalist teams were comprised of solely women, and all but one included both women and men.
MacMahon ’19 and Aiken ’19 competed in the product innovation track after hatching the idea to develop an innovative design for a sanitary napkin that integrates a raised absorbent strip—the LilyPad.
Current menstrual pads, explained Aiken, differ only in thickness and absorbency and overnight pads add length. The flat surface does not adapt to the curve of a woman's body, allowing leakage. LilyPad's raised strip fits this curve, absorbing better and preventing leakage.
The two students came up with the idea for their venture after taking part in Associate Dean Neil Niman’s unique First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE).
“The program’s purpose is to introduce students to experiential learning, a hallmark of the Paul College curriculum,” said Associate Dean Neil Niman. “We also want to inspire students like Devin and Kate to pursue entrepreneurism as early as possible.”
From their new “corporate headquarters” in the Gables Apartments they
share this fall, McMahon and Aiken are working on launching a beta platform for the LilyPad Company. They admit that taking their innovation to market will take lots of work, and some luck. But passion and focus are in huge supply.
“My biggest goal right now,” said McMahon, “is to make LilyPad a reality and, balancing that with my schoolwork, graduate with more amazing UNH experiences. I’m ready to take on the real world!”
Third place in the Holloway Competition went to BeetleBoards, the brainchild of another all-women’s team, Lyndsay Levin ’16 of Kingston, Mass., and Erica Warish ’16 of Raynham, Mass. They said they “combined their love of the outdoors and environmentalism to creatively use otherwise-condemned western “beetle-kill” trees in the construction of custom-made snowboards.”
The winning entry, NH DreamTech (see related story), included an equal mix of women and men, a fact not lost on faculty mentor Jeff Sohl, who said women need “more role models,” as well as more successful female-owned businesses “to cash out and fund new women’s ventures.”