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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Campus Life April 12, 2016

Fostering Women’s Enterprise: An Interview with Tim and Melissa Parker Draper ’77

Story updated: April 19, 2016
Melissa Draper '77 and her husband, Tim, giving first place award to Wellesley student Mojia Shen at last year's Draper Competition at Smith. Smithies hope to take the top prize this year.
Melissa Draper ’77 and her husband, Tim, giving first place award to Wellesley student Mojia Shen at last year's Draper Competition at Smith. Smithies hope to take the top prize this year.

Melissa Parker Draper ’77 and her husband, venture capitalist Tim Draper, helped launch the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs at Smith in 2013.

Update —Three Smith teams tied for third place in this year’s Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs. The winning Smith teams were Yashna Sureka ’17J and Darpan Bohara ’18; Julia Franchi Scarselli ’17; and Aimee Rong ’19 and Tasbiha Chowdhury ’19. Sureka and Bohara’s team also won a $5,000 Smith College Entrepreneurship Prize sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank, which was awarded April 9.

Emily Levy, a senior at Babson College, won first place in the 2016 Draper competition, and Woyneab Habte, a junior at Mount Holyoke College, took second place.

Details about the competition are available on the Smith’s Center for Women and Financial Independence website.

“Theirs was a visionary gift that allowed us to encourage and provide entrepreneurial opportunities for many interested Smith students,” says Mahnaz Mahdavi, faculty director of Smith’s Center for Women and Financial Independence (WFI), which sponsors the annual competition.

The growth of the event is evidence of its success, Mahdavi adds, noting that the Draper competition has grown from 12 Smith teams in 2013 to more than 50 teams this year from colleges and universities throughout New England, New York and New Jersey.

This year’s competition will take place Monday, April 18, from 3:30 to 7 p.m. in Smith’s Indoor Track and Tennis Facility. The top prize is $10,000 and up to three scholarships to the Draper University of Heroes in California. This year, Silicon Valley Bank has added to the prizes by providing $5,000 to sponsor a Smith team in the competition.

The Draper competition—aimed at promoting innovation and entrepreneurship among women—has become a springboard for business-oriented students as they propose innovative solutions to problems facing for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

The event also spotlights Smith students in particular, says Mona Sinha ’88, a trustee of the college and a longtime judge of the Draper contest. “Smith students are so smart,” Sinha says. “And the competition is the perfect way for us to showcase that.”

Since graduating from Smith, Melissa Parker Draper has focused her philanthropy on arts and education. Her husband is a founding member of the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

The Drapers, who will return to campus to judge this year’s competition, took time to reflect on the history of the contest they helped found at Smith. 

The Draper Interview

What led you to found a program on a college campus?

Tim Draper: “’My wife’ is the short answer. My life has been dedicated to the success of entrepreneurs, and I have discovered the impact entrepreneurship has had on many industries and people around the world. I also know that business plan competitions are the best way to draw out the best entrepreneurs from a region or institution. Melissa suggested that we put the two together and create a business plan competition at Smith.”

Melissa Parker Draper: “Given that I married someone who is constantly judging entrepreneurs, I thought this would be a fun way of introducing the idea of creating your own business before you were out in the business world. I wish there had been something like this when I was at Smith.”

Why did you feel Smith was a good fit for this competition?

MPD: “Because Smith women rule the world!”

TD: “As the son, brother and husband of Smithies, I know how competitive and entrepreneurial they can be. I also know that Smith has a lot of smart, creative and business-minded students. This seemed a great way to expose students to the opportunity of creating their own businesses.”

What were some of your initial goals for this program?

MPD: “The main goals were to empower students to allow themselves to create services or products that they felt were needed in the world and to introduce them to the wild world of entrepreneurship. We also wanted them to benefit from the advice provided by our excellent panel of judges.”

TD: “Our purpose was to get more women interested in starting businesses. Smith deserves to be on the map of places where women learn to be entrepreneurs. I also felt that these women would do well at my entrepreneurial school, Draper University in California, so scholarships have become part of the top prize.”

What’s been the impact of the Draper competition?

MPD: “I think the biggest impact is the fact that Forbes now ranks Smith as one of the most entrepreneurial colleges in the United States. The contest has raised Smith’s visibility as a college that is forward-thinking and embraces opportunities for its students to get real-world skills before they are launched into the business arena.”

TD: “The goals of empowering students before they graduate to understand what it is to start a business with just an idea—and to give them real knowledge of what it takes to see that idea through—definitely seem to be working. The spirit of entrepreneurship has come to Smith College, and it is becoming known as a place for female entrepreneurs.”

Without giving too much away, what do you look for when judging the competition?

TD: “Enthusiastic people who work hard, try new things and have a thorough understanding of their industry. I also look for technologies that can bring better outcomes to their customers.”

MPD: “I look for someone who is passionate about what they have created, someone who can tell me how the world will be a better place because of this invention or idea. Enthusiasm goes a long way, as does data to back up their idea.”

Information about this year’s Draper competition.