The $10,000 award was especially gratifying to Emily White because she had applied for it from a hospital bed. White, the founder and chief executive of #iVoted, host of a record-setting digital concert held around Election Day last year, suffered a ruptured appendix in January.
White received an inaugural Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative. The awards recognize 19 women who are graduates or current students at Northeastern. They are receiving a total of $100,000 in grants to help fuel 17 ventures.
White’s #iVoted Festival in November drew more than 450 artists—including Billie Eilish, Trey Anastasio, and Living Colour—in an effort to activate voters for Election Day. Voters registered for the shows by sharing a selfie at home with their blank ballot or from outside their polling place.
White’s original plan to create Election Night concerts in arenas had to be repurposed as webcasts because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn’t have funding,” says White, who earned her Northeastern degree in music industry. “So I assembled this team of over 200 volunteers that happens to be 92 percent women, non-binary, people of color, or LGBTQ+.”
Assisting White was #iVoted chief operating officer and fellow Northeastern graduate Melanie Shark, a member of Women Who Empower.
“For me, the biggest takeaway is that you can build anything if you have the right dedicated people,” says Shark, a double Husky with degrees in music industry and music industry leadership. “This was my first time in a start-up environment and it was eye-opening to see the impact you can have there compared to a large organization.
“I grew more quickly as a professional under Emily’s leadership than I ever had,” adds Shark, who now works in the United Kingdom as a program manager for licensing at Mandolin, a digital platform for live music. “What makes Emily so successful, and in turn #iVoted so successful, is her sheer determination and ability to keep her eye on the prize no matter how many people said it couldn’t be done. She is an athlete and a businessperson, and her athleticism bleeds over into her work ethic for sure.”
White oversaw the 2020 #iVoted event while continuing to run the business she co-founded, Collective Entertainment, a talent management firm that supports music, sports, content creation, and activism. After the November elections, she pivoted #iVoted to engage with voters for the special U.S. Senate elections in Georgia in January.
“I worked too hard in 2020 and it put me in the hospital,” White says. “There is no doubt in my mind that running my for-profit company and producing the largest digital webcasts in history was all too much.”
White was a three-time all-conference swimmer who in 2004 won the Jeanne Rowlands Award as the top woman athlete at Northeastern. Her 2020 book, How to Build a Sustainable Music Career and Collect All Revenue Streams, was an Amazon bestseller.
Three months of medical leave enabled White to “pause and reflect and figure out a little bit more balance in my life,” she says. “It has allowed me to look at certain projects and realize that I want to focus more on #iVoted.”
The Innovator Award will provide needed resources as White transitions #iVoted to focus on the 2022 midterm elections.
“I was running my company to essentially pay for #iVoted,” White says. “The funding component has deep impact. I’m spending my year focusing on fundraising for our #iVoted initiative: We’re already beginning our work for the 2022 elections.”
While presenting the Innovator Award to White, Betsy Ludwig, executive director of women’s entrepreneurship at Northeastern, noted that the 19 winners represented every college at Northeastern.
“This is really a vote of confidence in you as the innovator,” Ludwig said. “You should just keep on innovating and having a great impact everywhere.”
White was inspired by the competition.
“Northeastern was my dream school, it’s been so much for me,” White says. “The other winners and people that applied were just mind-blowing. It was a blast to watch the other presentations and to be considered amongst this group of women.”