The 2018 PE Intensive, taking place April 13 & 14, brings together the the top 200 female founders from the PE Venture Competition for hands-on workshops and mentorship in New York City. Among the 200 are 10 finalists who have been given the additional opportunity to participate in the pitch competition on Saturday, April 14 for a chance to receive a $10,000 grant and a spot in a five-week accelerator program hosted at Rent the Runway’s headquarters.
In the week leading up to #PEIntensive18, we’re featuring the 10 pre-selected finalists (two additional wildcard companies to be chosen during the Intensive will also present at the live pitch competition) and introducing them and their companies to our PE Community. Visit our 2018 PE Intensive website to meet the entire #PEClassOf2018, join our mailing list for Intensive updates, and follow Intensive highlights and behind-the-scenes with hashtag #PEIntensive18.
Stephanie Conduff is Co-Founder and CEO of Leche Lounge, which provides companies with Leche Lactation suites—portable units that can be placed temporarily or permanently on site for pumping and nursing mothers. Stephanie has more than ten years experience living and working in indigenous communities in North America and internationally in South Africa, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. Stephanie graduated from the University of Oklahoma (OU) College of Law, and she is admitted to practice in Oklahoma, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the Chickasaw Nation, Osage Nation, and Cherokee Nation and a few federal district courts. We caught up with Stephanie to learn more about the inspiration for Leche Lounge, learn more about what motivates her to build her business, and what she’s most looking forward to at #PEIntensive18.
What inspired you to start your business?
Who inspired me is the best question. My daughter, Emerson Pearl, changed everything for me. I had the ‘dream job’ in an incredible law firm and traveled for my tribal clients. I would pump breastmilk for [Emerson], put it on dry ice and ship it back—I just couldn’t get into prepping her bottles in bathrooms.
I read an article and learned breastfeeding accommodation lawsuits rose 800 percent in the past decade. I could either litigate or innovate. Innovation would create manufacturing jobs in my tribal community in the Cherokee Nation, [so] I went for it.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge is access to capital because I’m a woman living in Oklahoma. I’ve had potential investors ask me what my husband thinks of this idea, or tell me to wear heels next time. This hasn’t ever happened to my male VC mentors. No one asks if their wife approves or tells them to smile after a pitch. It is a geographical challenge to raise capital in Oklahoma—we need to be on the coasts to have a chance.
What’s been the greatest reward?
After reading a book called Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, I set out to sell our Native American-owned, Woman-owned products to the U.S. Government, and we were successful in providing the Leche Lounge to our servicewomen in the Air Force. We have solid past performance and are now confident we can scale with the right partner. Knowing that we are creating intentional space for our women in the military is the greatest reward because they are willing to honor each of us by answering a call to duty for our Nation. They are the real MVPs.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
The most time-intensive part of our sell is educating men in decision-making positions on why we are critical to their facilities and operations. We are working to both inform people of the law and risks of noncompliance, and also [tell them] how easy it is to provide a solution with Leche Lounge. I know we are making change in this space because each time I have the conversation with an employer then we improve the quality of life for the employee and the health of their family. This is powerful. We are part of a movement that starts at birth and empowers mothers to decide how their children are nourished.
The ignorance of employers should not keep women from making a decision on breastfeeding; through having those bold conversations [with employers], we are making inroads. Many people think we are a product for women, but this is not true. We are a solution for businesses that want to retain employees, lower their litigation risks and control construction costs with a fixed price solution.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I think of the incredible feminists in my life—Wilma Mankiller, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and my tenacious 4 year-old daughter (ok, so I only know two of those three personally. But don’t we all feel like we know the Notorious RBG?)
I’m certain that I can get to the end of that day if I stay focused. And when the sun comes back up, I’ll have another opportunity to hustle. I have to succeed or fail fast, and I’m visualizing the success and what it will do for the next generation of mothers and children and families. I know I’m not alone—I have my ancestors with me on this journey.
Leche Lounge has solid past performance and proven revenue. The world’s largest casino called us back for another Leche Lounge. We have a major state university. We have the Air Force. We now need some seed capital, a salesperson and graphic designer. I’m motivated that the woman at #PEIntensive18 know how to get us in a position to scale. I just have to keep getting up and giving it hell.
What about #PEIntensive18 are you looking forward to most?
I can’t wait to look around and see the future of business and boards in the room at #PEIntensive18 and we’re ALL women. The stats on leadership positions for women on boards and in CEO positions is dismal, but #PEIntensive18 is changing the script. I want my daughter to be in a position where equality in business is the norm. I want her to ask me what was different when I created Leche Lounge and be in shock at how much things have changed. I will be proud to tell her of the investment UBS and the Rent the Runway Foundation made to create the sacred space empowering a powerful trend.