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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life March 7, 2019

Draper Competition Boosts Entrepreneurship

Draper Competition. Photo by Jon Crispin.

Seven years ago, Melissa Parker Draper ’77 and her husband, venture capitalist Tim Draper, founded a program at Smith aimed at leveling the playing field for aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Since then, the annual Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs has drawn more than 500 participants, supported the start of 47 business and nonprofit ventures, and awarded $350,000 in cash and scholarships to college women entrepreneurs.

This year’s competition, hosted by Smith’s Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, will be held Friday, April 5, from 2 to 6:30 p.m. in the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility. Some 75 teams are expected to participate—a 20 percent increase over last year.

The growth of the competition has helped shine a spotlight on undergraduate women entrepreneurs nationwide.

Melissa and Tim Draper watch student presentations

Melissa Parker Draper ’77 and Tim Draper

In addition, says Smith faculty member Susannah Howe—who coordinates faculty mentors for Smith teams entering the Draper Competition—the annual event has helped expand entrepreneurial experiences on campus, including speakers, immersion courses and a strong mentor network.

“By participating in these types of activities, students gain an entrepreneurial mindset,” says Howe, senior lecturer in engineering and director of Smith’s Design Clinic. “Traits like curiosity, creativity, resourcefulness, tolerance for risk, collaboration and communication will serve students well regardless of what they pursue after graduation.”

This year’s Draper competition offers more support and opportunities for participants than ever before.

Among the new contest features:

  • Additional prize money, with the top prize now at $25,000. This year’s competition will award more than $100,000 in cash and scholarships.
  • More competitors, with 75 participating teams representing 52 schools from 24 states.
  • More opportunities to compete through five new tracks: Product, Service, Web/Mobile Apps, Social Impact, and General.

The competition will once again feature local “North by Northampton” events, including:

  • A Food Innovators Challenge on Tuesday, March 19, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Davis Ballroom, where four Smith chefs will face off to produce a winning dish to be served at the Draper Competition. Admission to the challenge is $5, and tickets are available in the Campus Center.
  • A mobile Taste of the Valley with local food truck vendors, including Log Rollin’, Sun Kim Bop and Holyoke Hummus.
  • A “Battle of the Bands” contest for local musicians on Friday, April 5, at 8 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.

The heart of the Draper competition remains helping students hone the skills needed to advance a business venture from idea to reality.

“The concepts are as unique as the students themselves—from an adopt-an-olive-tree-in-Italy olive oil company, to an app that facilitates buying the right size women’s jeans,” notes Smith art professor Barbara Kellum, a veteran Draper faculty mentor.

As an art historian interested in advertising, Kellum says she especially looks forward to the visual displays at the Festival of Women Entrepreneurs trade show that precedes the final pitch round and judging.  She also appreciates the pre-Draper Shark Tank and Smith Prize in Entrepreneurship gatherings, “as they allow faculty mentors and others to brainstorm and offer suggestions to the entire range of Smith competitive teams.”

Detailed information about past Draper winners and this year’s contest is available online.