‘They want you to be your best self.’ Women innovators celebrate Northeastern spirit

Women laughing together.
Massiel Eversley, class of 2006, founder and CEO of Nisus Life, a vegan postpartum and lactation protein powder company, joins other Women Who Empower Innovator Award winners at Founders Day reception. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The celebration of entrepreneurial women represents a momentous new chapter in Northeastern’s 125-year history, according to Innovator Awards winners who gathered at EXP for a reception on Founders Day.

“I was in the business school, so I definitely have a business mindset,” says Khailah Griffin, who graduated from Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in 2022.

But thinking of starting her own business “seemed very insane,” says Griffin, who created UnorthoDOCx, a virtual network of non-traditional pre-medical students that provides free resources for its members and now has 300 members and more than 2,000 followers on social media.

It was the encouragement she got through Northeastern that made all the difference, Griffin says.

“I didn’t have to walk too far to find support,” says Griffin, who spoke at the Oct. 3 reception about her experiences. 

“Everyone here is tremendous. They push you; they want you to be your best self. There are amazing, amazing women here. They have resources and they tell you, ‘Oh, this is what I went through. Here’s how I can help you.’ And then you help the next person,” Griffin says.

Her work earned her a 2021 Innovator Award from Northeastern’s Women Who Empower inclusion and entrepreneurship initiative.

Women Who Empower started nearly 10 years ago with the goal of providing leadership role models for students, says Betsy Ludwig, executive director of Women’s Entrepreneurship at Northeastern.

“You cannot be what you cannot see,” Ludwig says.

The program made entrepreneurship part of its role in uplifting women six years ago and started granting Innovator Awards three years ago.

So far, $820,000 in Innovator Awards funds have been given to 69 women, Ludwig says. “We’re hoping to grow this every year.”

Mentoring is an important part of the program, says Diane Nishigaya MacGillivray, senior vice president for university advancement and founder of Women Who Empower.

“A lot of times that mentoring is literally peer to peer: ‘Hang in there.’ ‘I went through this phase.’ ‘Trust your gut,’” MacGillivray says.

Also attending the event was Henry Nasella, former chairman of the board and first founder of the Women Who Empower program.

He saw that a pipeline for talented women was not fully developed and started asking why more women were not serving in leadership roles, MacGillivray says.

“He challenged me to think about developing something long term and sustainable that would help our students have a path to all these things,” she says.

“I think Northeastern is truly ahead of the game as far as supporting women business owners in a real way,” says Adebukola Ajao, who graduated from Northeastern in 2021 and won a 2023 Innovator Award for creating For All Things Digital, an online marketing resource that gives small businesses digital tools to help them better compete in the marketplace.

Being an entrepreneur can be isolating, especially for a Black businesswoman, she says.

Her connections to Northeastern’s entrepreneurial women have provided her with exposure, education and support, Ajao says. “I can see us growing globally.”

The approximately 20 Innovator Award winners were joined by six undergraduates belonging to WISE, the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship, a student-led group at Northeastern that helps women and non-binary students develop an innovative mindset through workshops, mentorship pairings and other activities.

The WISE attendees included Aditi Bansal, a fourth-year student studying business and communication with a marketing concentration.

Through WISE, “I have met amazing founders, investors and alumni that I never would have gotten the opportunity to meet otherwise,” she says.

Amelia Brooks, a third-year student at Northeastern and vice president of people operations for WISE in Boston, says the group is expanding to include the London campus.

“I’ve gotten so many opportunities through WISE, through Northeastern, to broaden my network and just experience what it means to be an entrepreneur, what it means to be a woman in business,” Brooks says.

For several Innovator Award winners, the Women Who Empower’s entrepreneurship initiatives allowed them to think of themselves as enterprising business owners for the first time in their lives.

“This is my first time being in this space of entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Dania Alnahdi, a 2022 graduate of Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences.

“If you had asked me a few years ago if I would be attending any of these events, I would honestly have said, ‘No.’ It was just not a world that I was exposed to,” says Alnahdi, who won a 2023 Innovator Award for co-founding Cora Care, an at-home diagnostics tool to detect disease in pets.

“To see all of these inspiring, accomplished women around me just motivates me to be my best and also be a support system for all these women,” Alnahdi says.

Cynthia McCormick Hibbert is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at c.hibbert@northeastern.edu or contact her on Twitter @HibbertCynthia.