Inclusive Ventures: how Flora DiCara is promoting diversity for future Harvard entrepreneurs

April 25, 2019

Picture an entrepreneurial Harvard student. You might imagine a hoodie-wearing computer science major coding away in his dorm room a la Zuckerberg. While this may be the archetypical college entrepreneur, there are plenty of students challenging this stereotype and giving a new face to entrepreneurship. One of them is Flora DiCara, who participated in the 2017 Italia Innovation Program after her freshman year at Harvard. Now, as a junior she is taking all the insights from her experiences to refresh the entrepreneurial community on campus through her work with Harvard Ventures (HV).

Instead of studying computer science or engineering, DiCara chose social studies with a concentration in behavioral economics. She toyed with the idea to pursue the traditional techie subjects when she arrived on campus. However, she realized that while she was interested in solving problems, the ones she liked best didn’t necessarily manifest themselves in physical machinery or computer codes. She says, “There are a lot of larger social issues that I frankly find more interesting and find that entrepreneurship and other forms of social movements can solve.”

By not pursuing a technical major, she has been able to develop her own take on entrepreneurship. She says, “The concentration that I do have in social studies, I am still doing what I consider to be the same cognitive functions that I would be doing in other concentrations, but in a slightly different realm. So, I think my ability to approach problems, whether it be in entrepreneurship or another topic, has really been enhanced by the work I’ve done analyzing works of social theory and analyzing complicated pieces of work.”

This past semester, Flora took on the leadership of Harvard College Ventures (HV), the largest student-run organization throughout the whole university that is dedicated to entrepreneurship and venture capital. After getting accepted into HV freshman year, Flora went on to become a board member and then as a junior was chosen to become co-president.

HV organizes different activities to foster Harvard’s entrepreneurship community. Most recently it co-hosted The China Innovation & Entrepreneurship International Competition in Boston, one of the largest pitch competitions in the world. It also organizes the Startup Ventures Fellowship, an opportunity for Harvard students to work directly with burgeoning startups and venture capital groups with mentorship from leading business entrepreneurs. Additionally, the organization puts on panels, fireside chats, and dinners for students to get introduced to people in the startup and venture capital world.

An entrepreneur through and through, Flora’s new role as co-president is not just an opportunity to lead, but also to innovate by introducing new ideas. Describing her new role, she says, “I think being somewhat new in a position can give you the opportunity to look at things with a fresh set of eyes. What I’m really trying to do is foster what we already have and continue to highlight what we’ve done well, but this is a good opportunity to press the reset button and reevaluate the things that we’ve been doing.”

The first thing she is working on is creating a culture of inclusion to strengthen the organization's diversity, whether it’s race, gender, or socioeconomic. Diversity has always been a compelling driving force for Flora and one reason that she joined the Italia Innovation Program. She says, “Being a part of the Italia Innovation program, it wasn’t just being in Italy but the cross-cultural immersion experience that I had. For me the two main things were being more comfortable working with people across different cultures and backgrounds, as well as different stages of life because I found that to be a unique opportunity.” After experiencing its power, she has been actively building it up in her own community.

In Flora’s opinion, diversity is not about reaching a quota to make your website look good, but it’s an essential part of creating better solutions. She says, “The reality is that I think the best entrepreneurs are solving real problems. For me, if you are not letting everyone have a seat at the table, you are overlooking a lot of opportunities to solve these challenges that exist. For me, one of the things I’ve been trying hard to do with Ventures is to make people feel included. Not in a way that sort of makes them feel good for existing, but because their ideas and experiences matter. I think they are really crucial to creating solutions because, in order to have a solution that is really powerful, you have to be solving a legitimate problem. I think that by leaning into the idea that everyone has their own unique experience, we can rephrase the conversation.”

To engage and empower a wider variety of students, Flora and her other co-presidents are first redoing the acceptance process, what Harvard students call “comping.” She explains that it’s easy to get the students who have a demonstrated interest in entrepreneurship and that the challenge is to attract students who haven’t been exposed to it yet. By reframing the nature of the assignments and creating more opportunities to have informal conversations with prospective members, Flora hopes HV can be accessible to more students, even those who are daunted by the idea of running their own company. This is something the organization will test out during the fall when students start the new academic year.

HV is also making sure that the events are delivering value to a greater number of students. For example, it will host an intro to venture capital panel that can be accessible to both the students who have never heard of it and those who know 100% they want to go into VC post-graduation. Describing how they have framed the content, Flora says, “We’re having venture capitalists who went into the field straight out of college and those who pursued it right after graduate school, as well as those who had some sort of career change to give people an understanding about what a day in the life is like in different positions and give them a better idea of what to expect. That’s one example of us trying to take a subject that is talked about a lot and making it accessible to people at various levels.”

Reflecting on her work with HV, Flora says, “I always find it really satisfying to be able to make a plan and execute it. Often times in the classroom there is a lot of discussion about what you are going to do or what could be possible, however I find it really exciting to make a plan and just go for it. So, I think for me what has been most rewarding through the whole college process and with HV, with the support of the wonderful board members who have guided me along is understanding what we as a group are capable of. So, that’s something that is really exciting. We don’t even have degrees yet so I think in a lot of ways it’s easy to undervalue our credibility.” However, just as Flora demonstrates, students can create value outside of the classroom, whether that’s on campus or beyond.