Grace Baghdadi is a third-year student in New College, visiting from Yale University for this academic year. While she will be studying PPE here, at Yale she is double-majoring in Global Affairs and Economics. She trains with the Women’s Blues fencing team, rows for the New College Boat Club, and is a part of the Oxford Siren’s, Oxford’s competitive cheerleading team. At Yale, she is a D1 Varsity Athlete on the Yale Fencing Team, competes on the Model United Nations Team at Yale (MUNTY), and is on the Executive Board of the Yale Student-Athlete Advisory Council, the Yale Women’s Athletic Council, and MUNTY.
Grace founded Females for Finance along with her Yale classmate, Anisha Arcot, this past July after they went through the finance recruitment process themselves and realized the disadvantages women faced. Females for Finance (F^3) is a non-profit organization that empowers high-achieving high school girls with a foundation in financial literacy, investment, and an introduction to the finance industry. We aim to bridge the male-female wage and wealth gap by providing a free online program to high-achieving high school girls. Females for Finance launched its inaugural selective F^3 Online program this past fall with 100 girls participating.
Grace is an incoming Investment Banking Summer Analyst at Morgan Stanley in New York City.
What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
My parents are entrepreneurs and so from a young age, I have witnessed the entire process of starting a business, both the glamorous and less glamorous parts. Despite the hard work and sacrifices necessary to succeed, the highs make all the lows worth it, especially when aiming for social impact That’s why I decided to run with my idea and become an entrepreneur.
I intend to pursue a career in finance and am an incoming Investment Banking Summer Analyst at Morgan Stanley in New York City. As a woman in finance, I intend to leverage my own financial knowledge, skills, and network to empower high school women and provide them with the resources and confidence to become financially literate and successful in the traditionally male-dominated finance industry. Originally from France and the Philippines, I also have an international perspective and a global network.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is taking a dream into your own hands and creating something at the intersection of passion and meaningful impact. For my co-founder and I, entrepreneurship has been a medium to create an impact among young women and empower them to build the world we want to live in. It has allowed us to forge ahead in solving a real world problem and take the preliminary steps in implementing the change we want to see.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Studies show that women are far less likely to invest their assets, major in finance, occupy less than 15% of all executive finance positions, and thus face a substantial wage gap. After successfully navigating the finance recruitment process ourselves, Anisha and I realized that these inequities could be overcome if only girls gained exposure to finance from a young age and had the confidence and support in this male-dominated space. At the moment, there are no programs to combat these inequalities. Other financial literacy programs do not focus exclusively on high school girls (only college-age and beyond) and are often quite costly for participants. Thus, we realized that there was a real unmet need that Females for Finance would fill. We hope to bring meaningful, impactful, and, most importantly, free programming in financial literacy to high-achieving girls.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
To be a successful entrepreneur, you cannot fear failure or rejection. It is crucial to jump at every opportunity and try your best because “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Every failure is a learning experience and an opportunity for you to improve yourself and idea.
Entrepreneurs need to be adaptable. Times are changing so quickly these days so it is imperative that you do not remain too attached to your initial idea and embrace change.
Finally, an entrepreneur needs to be able to jump in and prioritize moving forward over perfection. It is crucial to not get stuck on small issues, and instead keeping focus on the big picture. We would not have been able to get Females for Finance up and running if we had dwelled on minor problems. For instance, we encountered some challenges with contacting schools that were closed during the summer, but we simply decided to contact other schools. Thus we learned that it is crucial to focus our attention on the major hurdles and keep moving forward.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Our favorite part of being entrepreneurs are the many opportunities that creating a new venture provides to unleash our creativity. We imagined a world we want to live in and committed to creating it with nothing but our passion and imagination as fuel. Our venture empowers us to empower others and pursue our mission in order to achieve our vision of a board room where half the seats are taken by women.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
We are inspired by Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms and co-founder of Madefor. He specifically founded Toms to provide shoes for children in need. His work has demonstrated that it is possible to create a highly successful for-profit business which is centered around a charitable cause and functions dually to provide an excellent product to customers while uplifting those who are in need of support.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
We would like to hear more about the challenges he faced in the early part of his venture. Every new venture goes through challenging periods where the entrepreneur is forced to overcome unexpected obstacles and make unforeseen changes. During such times did he question the one for one model? How did he stay committed to that goal and inspire his team to stay committed to the giving model?
Toms has since pivoted their one for one model and adjusted their model to reflect changes in the needs to organizations they partner with. We would like to ask Blake how he made the choice to change such a fundamental aspect of his business and how he was able to stay focused on their charitable goals.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
The most satisfying moment so far was when we launched our non-profit back in March. Within a couple of days, we received over 2000 website visits from 10 countries, as well as nearly 300 applications from 7 countries. It was also so gratifying to actual start our inaugural Fall 2020 F^3 Online Program and see our 100 participants be so motivated and excel in our course.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
As we have developed Females for Finance, we have learned that the best way to start is to dive in. We had the idea for Females for Finance in July and within 3 weeks, we developed our website and curriculum, and opened applications. Obviously, it was not perfect but we did our best and our startup developed very quickly from there. It was initially nerve-wracking to meet with a Yale venture advisor back in July when we were in earlier stages of developing our venture, but we are so glad that we did. Meeting him allowed us to improve our idea and move forward much more quickly.
How have you funded your ideas?
Yale TSAI Center for Innovation Technology Fall 2020 Accelerator Program.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
Yale TSAI Center for Innovation Technology Fall 2020 Accelerator Program.
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Oxford provides an amazing environment for entrepreneurs what with the world-class professors and experts in the field who we are fortunate to have as resources. Unfortunately, with the pandemic it has been harder to properly take advantage of these resources.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
I would send them to Enterprising Oxford!
Have you faced any challenges as a woman entrepreneur? If so, how have you overcome them?
What resources would you recommend for other women?
How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
Do you have any advice specifically for other women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Any last words of advice?
If you have an idea that you really believe in, just run with it! There’s only so much research you can do and you learn most by just diving in!