Noor Sugrue of Vintro: “Making it easier for women to access finance”

I look at the traits women take for granted — but actually put them in the ideal position to found businesses; problem solving or multi-tasking; the ability to work through issues step by step to doing 10 things at once — these are essential skills for any start up. Along with these skills, women often display the empathy needed […]

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I look at the traits women take for granted — but actually put them in the ideal position to found businesses; problem solving or multi-tasking; the ability to work through issues step by step to doing 10 things at once — these are essential skills for any start up. Along with these skills, women often display the empathy needed in stressful situations and more generally, softer skills which are crucial when you’re building a team.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Noor Sugrue.

Noor Sugrue is a young entrepreneur with a purpose driven vision to connect fledgling businesses with the advisors, mentors and investors who can help them succeed. ‘Great ideas come from anyone.’ she says, ‘and from anywhere, but all too often success comes to those who have an established network of contacts.’ Noor believed this needed to change. Vintro is a digital platform which give access to connections, opportunity and investment to everyone. She combines her entrepreneurial journey with her studies in Economics and Art History at the University of Chicago.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. So, I saw first-hand what it took for my parents to conceive, launch and grow businesses, from endless travel to huge chunks of time spent trying to connect with the right people to get feedback, pitch ideas, and build partnerships. When I had just turned 18, one day I was watching Shark Tank and started thinking about just how much it takes to get a business idea in front of the right people. So many different dynamics have to align just to get yourself heard.

That was the start of my Vintro journey.

Right now, I’m combining Vintro with my studies in Economics and Art History at the University of Chicago. It’s definitely a challenge to be in full time education and driving a business forward. But, I have an awesome team around me and I am really lucky to have some extraordinary advisors to the business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most inspirational part of my journey so far has been the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of business leaders, either when they join the Vintro platform or because they are supporting us in some way. I’ve talked to industry luminaries including Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the internet, John W Thompson, Chairman of Microsoft, and Rick Haythornthwaite, former chairman of MasterCard. It’s been a real honor. Their support of Vintro is extraordinary. At the same time, the support I’ve had from entrepreneurs themselves has been awesome. One of our first customers, Hamzah Malik from the UK, continues to be a friend and mentor in many ways.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Like many other start-ups, launching in the midst of a pandemic created many challenges. We were all learning how to use Zoom, how to manage meetings and interviews remotely. I’ll never forget my first big interview I was recording with a very senior global figure. I’d set up all the equipment in my apartment — lights, camera, sound. I’d booked a time an hour before the interview to rehearse my questions with the producer, but when I got on the call, my subject was already in the Zoom waiting room. I had forgotten to check the international time zone, he was in London, I was in Chicago. So, I had to go straight into interview-mode — cold — with no rehearsal. You only get one shot and I had to make it work. Lesson learned, check and double check times — I’m obsessive about it now.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I can honestly say that I would not be doing this without my Mom. In our house, she’s the lynch pin who holds everything together for all of us. She’s the biggest supporter of my dream and my mission.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Female Lead by Edwina Dunn

I found it so inspirational to read stories about women from so many different walks of life. It’s a great book to dip in to. It makes you think beyond your own experience and contemplate how anyone, from anywhere in the world can ultimately make an impact on society.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

She believed she could, so she did! Simple one. But my mother gave me a poster with this quote when I was young. My parents have always encouraged me and my siblings to get on and do the things we’re passionate about. I still have the poster and it’s more relevant to me now than ever before as I’m focusing on my studies and my work and sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I aspire to help make the world a better place and to have a positive impact. I can potentially help millions of people around the globe access the resources that will make a difference to their lives. Our mission is to connect people with ideas with the people with resources to bring them to life. Human connections which would otherwise never have been possible.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

It’s crazy to think that in the 21st century, women are still on a back foot when it comes to founding a business. I’m lucky, my friends and I seem to be confident in our abilities and we have the support structure around us to aim high and have a shot at achieving our dreams. It’s just not the same for everyone. I’ve recently been involved with an organization called Female Strong. Its research shows that while young girls start out believing they can do the same jobs as boys, as they get older this belief is eroded. I think it comes down to stereotypes; having good female role models both at home and school and building confidence among young women that they have the skills set to achieve great things.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

When I first started Vintro, my mission was clear — to democratize access to connections and resources. At that early stage, it was about creating a level playing field for everyone, whatever their gender, wherever in the world they came from.

What’s now clear to me is that there are challenges which are very specific to different groups of people. I’m particularly keen to help redress the balance for female founders. Of course, I’m learning all the time, participating in seminars, groups and networks discussing these challenges and how businesses can make a difference.

At Vintro I’m challenging us to bring as many female business leaders, entrepreneurs and VCs who can help the next generation of female founders — businesswomen like Cindy Ekhert; Barbara Corcoran; Kinvara Balfour; Helen David, Tanja Sternbauer. As high visibility role models they can help break down the perceived or unconscious barriers for women.

We also have strong women on our advisory board including Rosemary Leith Berners Lee, Co-founder of the WWW Foundation and Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin Unite. Their passion and belief in Vintro’s purpose is invaluable.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I suppose I would say ‘why not?’. Why is it that the majority of women don’t see founding a business as a realistic option at the start of their careers. It appears to me that women tend to come to entrepreneurship later in their careers when they have hit a roadblock or faced with redundancy.

It’s only as I talk to more women that I see that I’m the anomaly — I hadn’t started down a particular career path when I founded Vintro.

I look at the traits women take for granted — but actually put them in the ideal position to found businesses; problem solving or multi-tasking; the ability to work through issues step by step to doing 10 things at once — these are essential skills for any start up. Along with these skills, women often display the empathy needed in stressful situations and more generally, softer skills which are crucial when you’re building a team.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

For me it’s about starting young, giving girls the courage and the confidence to think differently about their careers and what they can achieve, so that they start out thinking about being a founder, rather only doing it when they think they have no other option — following redundancy or career break.

1. Including entrepreneurship in the curriculum. I remember the career sessions at school and starting a business was never a topic or a theme. It’s not until you get to university and the business school that it begins to be talked about in any true sense. Arming female students with the information at an early stage could shape their choices as they move forward to university. Would I have chosen to read Economics and Art History if I’d known I was going to start a business?

2. Promoting female voices and celebrating successful female founders. There’s a lot already being done by some amazing network groups such as Allbright which really champions the female entrepreneur.

3. Making it easier for women to access finance. More female partners in VCs will ultimately lead to more female founders. VCs are very network-led, so if partners are all male, it’s likely that the ventures they invest in will be male-led.

4. Encouraging female entrepreneurs to become mentors: Sharing their success with new female founders or would-be founders can be so inspirational.

5. Supporting female-led businesses: Buying products and service from female founders. Look at brands such as Caulipower created by Gail Becker or Schmidts’ Naturals from Jaime Schmidt and you’ll see some world beating products.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I want to be true to our mission at Vintro. So, it would be a movement to encourage people to help out the next person. #Onegooddeed. We all have the capacity to help someone make that next step whether it’s helping them to write a resume or making an introduction. I always advise my peers that if they get a meeting with someone influential, always try to get that next connection. Don’t come away with nothing. It works. If we all paid it forward, we could make a real difference in the world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Apollonia Poilâne the CEO of the Poilâne bakery. At 18 years old her parents were killed. She famously took over the business and made it a huge success and at the same time went on to study at Harvard. If there is anyone who can teach us about why there should be more female founders and their ability to lead businesses, it must be her.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Website : myvintro.com

Linkedin : Vintro

Insta : @myvintro

Facebook : MyVintro

Twitter : @myvintro

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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