ATHENA summit kicks off Women’s History Month at USC

Marshall School of Business and the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies hosted the event on Thursday in collaboration with Annenberg.

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The ATHENA Women’s Entrepreneurship Summit took place Thursday, kicking off Women’s History Month. The theme, “The Power of Women Leaders,” was brought to life at USC Town and Gown Hall.

ATHENA’s mission is to increase the number of women investors at USC and increase the number of women in the investment ecosystem.

ATHENA provides women entrepreneurs and investors with highly regarded mentors and funding sources. This allows the women to develop their skills and networks, while preparing them to seek funding.

“The fact that women are coming together to celebrate women entrepreneurs and the ecosystem surrounding them is significant,” Annenberg Dean Willow Bay said. “It’s always frankly been a joy for me on behalf of Annenberg to partner with the Marshall School and the Greif Center for Entrepreneurship.”

The opening panel was moderated by Bay and included a number of panelists, eager to share their experiences in the workplace. Some notable names included Candace Nelson, founder of Pizzana and Sprinkles Cupcakes, Lauren Santo Domingo, Chief Brand Officer at Moda Operandi and Ellen Chen of Mendocino Farms.

“I would really hope that it encourages other women, especially women of minority groups, that they can do anything that they set their mind to and that they have more than the capabilities to be up on that stage with all the other women on there,” said sophomore Vianca Ruiz, who attended the event.

One of those women was Sophie Lin.

Lin leads a double life: She’s part CEO, part engineer. But her idea to blend the two landed her first place in ATHENA’s Female Pitch Competition, a competition that preceded the summit. It gave female USC student startup founders a chance to present their ideas with all in attendance.

Lin is CEO of OSEM, a 3D-printing device with a very special power.

“[The device] is intended to revolutionize how scientists develop nano drugs for personalized medicine, cancer and mRNA vaccines,” Lin said.

Lin developed her product during the COVID-19 pandemic after noticing a gap in the market.

“I saw that we’re still using ill-defined tools for COVID-19 vaccine production, which are micro-sized channels that are prone to clogging. And there are so many challenges that scientists have to face in order to realize their goals,” Lin said. “Because of that, I developed this 3D-printed tool that is going to have helped scientists overcome these challenges so that we can have better medicine sooner.”

Lin’s work is a testament to the importance of funding women entrepreneurs. This Women’s History Month marks over 50 years since the implementation of Title IX, a federal law that ensures both male and female students are treated equally and fairly.

For sophomore Charlotte Marsoun, the workplace ecosystem has come a long way.

“It’s not the easiest to be in an industry like this as a woman, but you won’t be the only woman at the table anymore,” Marsoun said. “I think that is pretty special.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly wrote the Grace Center instead of the Greif Center, and that Annenberg Dean Willow Bay moderated the event. Bay moderated the opening panel along with Lauran Santo Domingo, the founder of Moda Operandi, and Tony Florence of NEA.