Eliana Berger and Hannah Chaouli might never have met each other if it weren’t for the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, or WISE. Now their lives are intertwined, as Berger, who helped found the group, passes her role as co-director of WISE to Chaouli.
Like so many innovations throughout the course of history, the idea for the group was hatched over a good meal. It began when Betsy Ludwig, who is the executive director of women’s entrepreneurship in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, started looking for ways to ensure that more women took advantage of entrepreneurial opportunities at the university.
Ludwig reached out to a different entrepreneurship club at Northeastern.
“I said, ‘We have to elevate the conversation about women and entrepreneurship’ and they said, ‘We have just the student for you,’” Ludwig says. “And I met Eliana and we had lunch, and she immediately said, ‘Can I start a student club on this topic?’ and WISE was born at that moment.” Ludwig became its faculty advisor.
Berger, who was, at the time, in her first semester at Northeastern studying business and psychology, knew that she wanted to help increase diversity in entrepreneurship—at school, in Boston, and beyond. She wanted to create a place for women to learn about entrepreneurship, even if they didn’t want to pursue it as a career, and created the group with fellow student Mia Nguyen.
“The big piece of it is to create a more diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem at Northeastern and make sure we can encourage anyone, regardless of background, to come and explore entrepreneurship and innovation in any way that interests them,” Berger says.
The group runs several different programs throughout the year—WeLearn, WeBuild, and WeSupport—and hosts an annual summit.
After founding the group, Berger served as co-director for the next two years, until the fall 2020 semester, when she will pass the torch to Chaouli, who will serve with fellow co-director Anna Rychlik.
Chaouli, who is studying business with a concentration in entrepreneurship and marketing, and a minor in sustainable business practices, got involved with WISE after seeing a flyer for the information session in the spring of 2019.
In high school, she had been involved in various organizations that discussed women’s empowerment and Chaouli was looking for a similar space in college. The Northeastern group was just the thing she was looking for.
“My first thought was, ‘WISE is me in a club! It’s entrepreneurship, it’s women, it’s the exact environment I’m looking for,’” Chaouli says. “Once I went to the first info session, I was instantly drawn into the community and I was so impressed with how they built such an empowering presence in such a short amount of time.”
Ludwig nominated both Berger and Chaouli for $25,000 scholarships from the Harold S. Geneen Charitable Trust—funding they both won.
The scholarship is offered to rising junior and senior D’Amore-McKim students, and awarded based on academic performance, leadership qualities, and interest in corporate responsibility.
For Ludwig, seeing Berger and Chaouli recognized in this way just emphasizes that Women’s Interdisciplinary Society for Entrepreneurship is on the right track.
“That really means that we’re onto something with what WISE is doing and the way we’re organizing it is giving these women such amazing leadership opportunities,” Ludwig says. “And I felt like that gave me so much hope it made me feel really proud that we’re doing the right things. It shows me that what we’re creating is attracting really highly talented women and finding the skills within them and honing those.”
To Berger and Chaouli, the growth of their group in just a few years shows that they are on the right path.
“All of us student leaders have put ourselves out there to strive for a more inclusive D’Amore-McKim together,” Chaouli says. “Going into this year, I’m certain that there will be more impact and initiative than ever seen before for women and non-binary students on campus—not just in opportunities, but through a cultural shift in the entrepreneurial community.”