This story was sponsored by and produced in collaboration with The Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. Each year, the Helen Diller Family Foundation recognizes 15 extraordinary Jewish teenagers from across the United States with an award of $36,000 each to honor their initiatives to help change the world. Nominate a young leader today or teens can apply directly by January 5, 2023.
Ariel Beck, the daughter of a successful female entrepreneur, grew up knowing the statistic that male entrepreneurs far outnumber female entrepreneurs. But it wasn’t until 2016, when her mother brought her and her sister to an Amazon Women’s Entrepreneurship Conference, that she realized the struggles women in business face.
Just 13 years old at the time, Ariel was flabbergasted when her mother and other conference speakers described the many hurdles they’d endured, from their male colleagues getting credit for their ideas to being snubbed by funders. Studies show that it’s much more difficult for female entrepreneurs, and especially women of color, to procure loans than it is for men.
“I always looked up to my mom but never understood how entrepreneurship affected her life,” said Ariel, now 19.
After the conference, she decided to learn more about the challenges facing these women. What she discovered shocked her: just 2.3% of all venture capital funding goes to female-founded companies.
Instantly, Ariel said, “I knew I wanted to dedicate myself to reversing these numbers. This was my call to action.” Inspired by the Amazon conference speakers, Ariel invited some of her middle school friends to meet a local female entrepreneur for inspiration.
When she started the ninth grade at Sidwell Friends High School in Washington, D.C., Ariel founded Girls Who Start, a club to empower girls in middle school and high school to develop the skills, confidence, experience and mindset necessary to become leaders, including business and social entrepreneurs. Unlike the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, it’s run by girls, for girls.
Over time, her ambitious after-school club blossomed into an international nonprofit women’s empowerment organization with 2,500 members in more than 50 chapters in the United States and around the world.
The organization offers members opportunities to connect with girls worldwide interested in entrepreneurship and leadership; hear from inspiring female entrepreneurs and leaders; create events at school to develop leadership skills, and learn how to reach out to leaders in the business community.
Girls Who Start also offers practical courses on how to procure an internship, how to write college-entrance essays and how to choose a college.
During the organization’s annual Environmental Sustainability Design Challenge Hackathon this winter, more than 20 teams representing girls and young women in middle school, high school, and college presented their solutions to environmental problems.
A group from Washington, D.C., won first prize for creating a mushroom-based recyclable product that replaces Styrofoam lunch plates. The second prize went to girls from the U.S. and India who created Hunger Bags, an app that minimizes food waste.
Sydney Lei, co-president and co-founder of the Hong Kong chapter of Girls Who Start, called her experience with the organization “amazing.”
Given the traditional values of older-generation residents of Hong Kong, it’s hard for young women to start their own businesses, she said. “By expanding this mindset of gender equality to my city – and to Greater Asia – I feel like I am changing a lot of lives and inspiring a lot of my peers to embrace themselves for what they love,” Syndey said. “Through holding speaker events and networking, our chapter has expanded quite a lot. I have met a lot of passionate individuals who aspire to do great things. I also got to meet people around the world who share a common belief.”
Now a student at Harvard, Ariel was recently recognized for her efforts and named one of the recipients of the 2022 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards. The $36,000 award is given annually by the Helen Diller Family Foundation to up to 15 extraordinary teenagers who exemplify the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. The recipients can choose to use the funds toward their education or further their project, or both.
Ariel said for her, “Tikkun Olam is about empowering and creating a safe space for women to share their ideas and connect with others. I channeled this energy into my nonprofit as a guide for myself and to help other young women.”