MBAs Making a Difference


Sands Fellow Elise Maxwell, founder of Ova Woman, and John Stavig.

Sands Fellow Elise Maxwell, founder of Ova Woman, and Jim Mishek, an adviser to the Holmes Center.

MBA Elise Maxwell agrees. She used her fellowship to launch Ova Woman, a women’s health advocacy group that works with companies and service providers to design better intimate health products and services for women. With the fellowship, Maxwell says, came the connection to a vital resource: a community of unofficial advisors.

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re alone a lot, there’s a lot of isolation, so having a whole group of people who are willing to advocate for you and help you navigate things is incredible,” she says.

The assistance Maxwell got through Carlson and the Sands Fellowship helped her overcome a serious disadvantage: the still-potent social stigma surrounding conversations about women’s health products.

“In researching new products, I found the not only don’t women know about them, but we have so much cultural taboo and stigma around women’s intimate health that it makes it very challenging,” Maxwell, 30, says. “It’s hard to gain awareness as a startup anyway, but to do it when we are also dealing with cultural and social taboos is even harder.”


It wasn’t about the money, Maxwell says, because $5,000 isn’t much when expenses crop up as quickly as they do in the world of entrepreneurship.

“It’s not a lot of money, but here’s the thing about most MBA programs: They’re not designed to inspire entrepreneurs. Most of them are designed to inspire managers of corporations and private companies, and so you can have someone who doesn’t want to work at a Target or a General Mills and it can be challenging, especially as everyone else is getting these offers for a ton of money.

“So what there Sands Fellowship does for MBAs is that it makes you feel like you’re a part of something and you’re given a lot of resources and support from Carlson to pursue your idea. The institution of Carlson is saying, ‘This is great and we’re going to support you and here is this fellowship because we think this is important. We think students pursuing ideas that have social impact is really important.’ And that means a lot from an MBA program.”


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