NestED Speaker Jessica Livingston ’89 Shares Advice For Girls In The Startup Industry

Female students gathered in The Nest on Wednesday evening to engage in a Skype session with Jessica Livingston ’89, the co-founder of Y Combinator, a company that works to help startups launch new projects, gain more users and raise more money. Since its launch in 2005, Y Combinator has funded over 1,000 early startup companies including Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit.

During the event, Livingston shared her personal experience getting involved in startups and empowered more girls to study in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Just expose yourself… if you want to start a startup, it is super advantageous to know how to build the product yourself… We have a lot of female founders that we fund and a lot of them are not technical… They have so much trouble finding a technical co-founder… so they’re really at a disadvantage,” said Livingston during her presentation.

According to Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English and Co-Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, the purpose of the all-female Girls’ Night Out event was to encourage more girls to occupy spaces related to STEM fields, such as The Nest.

“Equity and inclusion [are two] big parts of our strategic plan. So we became aware that [The Nest] was once such space… [Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information and Library Services] in fact thought about this event as an opportunity to bring girls together to occupy that space… so he really wanted to make sure that girls would know very deliberately that this is a place that they should go to, participate in the activities there and feel welcome,” said Vidal during an interview with The Phillipian.

“I think [the event] really was a time and place for girls only to really talk about these issues of [gender inequality in STEM fields]…” but I think it was really a good space, where we can [learn from Livingston’s experience] and later talk about issues that pertain to us and how we can promote change,” said Rosa Morona ’16, an attendee of the event.

After graduating from Andover, Livingston attended Bucknell University and majored in English. At Bucknell, Livingston recalled specifically avoiding to take STEM courses due to the crippling grades she had received from her math and science classes at Andover.
“I sort of hid from my problems back then… I hid from these things rather than [trying] to solve my problems and… [working] a little bit harder,” said Livingston.

Livingston, after having worked in an investment bank and then in public relations, was introduced to the startup industry. Her passion for startup grew when, in 2003, she met her husband, Paul Graham, a programmer who built a startup company and sold it to Yahoo.
According to Livingston, options for funding and information about startups at the time were limited, so she and her husband decided to start their firm, Y Combinator.

“We thought there was [a] real missing piece, the funding world was just broken… So we thought, [that] there’s a lot of people that should be starting startups that aren’t. They are going to get a job at Google because there’s no really other options than that. So [my husband] said, ‘Okay, let’s just launch something [of our own]’, ” said Livingston.

Livingston hopes her presentation encouraged more girls to consider pursuing startup industries and STEM fields.

“I hope that [students] will consider starting a startup one day as an option for their own careers. There is so much innovation happening in the tech world and to be part of that is a wonderful and rewarding thing. It’s also an amazing feeling to pursue an idea and build your own company around it,” said Livingston in an interview with The Phillipian.

The event was an extension of the Brace Fellow Presentation by Sadie Holmes ’16, “Women in STEM: Why So Few?” In her presentation, Holmes discussed the impact of gender roles and minimal involvement of girls in STEM fields.

“We merged the [event with Holmes’s presentation with] the desire to continue that conversation. We heard after [Holmes’s] presentation from a lot of different people that people wanted opportunities to take the topics that Sadie presented and to try to be deliberate in acting about them and to try to make our community more gender-inclusive… So the two ideas sort of merged together into this event,” said Vidal.

Jocelyn Shen ’18, an event attendee, said, “I think [this event] was just really interesting hearing about startups because I hear people talk about them all the time, but no one ever takes a second to actually sit down, have a discussion, understand why they are important and [how] they can make a big impact.”