An Interview with Ari Horie

Sara Pompeo

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Ari Horie is the founder and CEO of Women's Startup Lab (WSLab), an accelerator program based in Silicon Valley, California. WSLab was created in 2013 and was designed to bring a collaboration of female entrepreneurs together to support each other in succeeding.

Startup accelerators are fixed-term, cohort-based programs that include mentorship and educational components and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day.

Horie grew up in Japan, where she said everyone is "kind of monoculture." Her mother gave her a pink backpack even though everyone else had a red one. She was also an only child with single parents, another thing that made her stand out.

So, Horie's mother taught her to embrace the differences, which is what inspired her to start the accelerator program.

"When I was working on my own startup here in the Silicon Valley, I noticed that many of the women had ideas that weren't resonating to young male engineers... the equal system wasn't quite right... they didn't have an environment to really understand the impact," Horie said.

She explained how there were always male advisors; that women, including mothers and caregivers, deal with issues that just don't appeal to them.

"When I look at the whole equal system I thought wow, it's such a shame those women feel discouraged and quit, and we need to have a different model. We need to redefine the way we succeed. We need to redefine what success looks like," Horie said.

She started the lab to provide the resources and networking opportunities for women to thrive, so they can have more time for themselves to balance whatever they need to in their lives so they don't have to sacrifice everything for the company's success, to break free of the one-type-fits-all model.

"By us influencing the entrepreneur equal system, we ensure that women have a part of the conversation," Horie said.

WSLab offers several types of entrepreneur programs. They have a two week intensive residential program, a two month immersion program and a two day weekend program called JumpStart.

The two week program looks at a person's purpose and mission. They don't just talk about the company; they talk about three key sections: startup performance, the founder and collaborative power.

For startup performance, they make sure you have a good business and service to thrive, and talk about the growth of the company.

For the founder, they focus on what your mission is as a person, what your purpose is and how it should be aligned with your business goals.

"That actually determines how you fund your company and what kind of investors you want, how fast and how big you want to make your company. We are very much focusing on the founder versus all the other accelerators, they're investor, they're venture capitalist," Horie said.

She explained how other accelerators only focus on companies they think are going to make it, versus her program that focuses on every single one of the entrepreneurs and their success.

"So it doesn't have to be only high growth VC models, but lifelong high growth businesses, including nonprofit. So our success is really measured by how long the businesses stay, businesses led by female entrepreneurs, and also creating an equal system that has both men and women part of it," Horie said.

For collaborative power, they bring a community of advisors and influencers who actually go through the accelerator with you. They do the work with you and for you; it's about people coming together.

The JumpStart program is for individuals who have a passion and an idea and don't know how or where to start. It's for people who want to get their ideas off the ground.

WSLab will provide WITI with a repackaged accelerator program under the WITI brand. As revenue share partners, WSLab will provide WITI's members access to a 2 week corporate accelerator program designed to increase their innovative growth.

Through the Corporate Entrepreneurship Program, innovative leaders in the company go through the program side by side with the entrepreneurs.

Horie believes her accelerator program is more beneficial than others because they purposely keep the groups small and tight. This ensures that entrepreneurs have a close knit group of people they can call anytime to help them with the ups and downs of owning a business.

Another reason is that after people go through the program, which puts an emphasis on founder confidence, the founders become really clear on why they are doing the program and creating a business. They have the chance to align their life's purpose with the growth of the business.

"They are that much more clear on their vision and the decisions they have to make. And with that, the founder becomes much more focused and courageous on the business decisions," Horie said.

WSLab is interested in partnering with WITI because their missions align. Both companies realize that technology is a powerful tool for women to succeed. Both want to help empower women to be who they need and want to be. Both companies want to help each other succeed.

"Having the tools to think like entrepreneurs within a company gives that much more confidence and tools to succeed within the company," Horie said.

Horie's philosophy for her company revolves around a Japanese symbol called HITO. It's a character that has two strokes leaning on each other, but it can be interpreted as two people leaning on each other, meaning human.

"You could have the greatest product but if people don't know about it and if it's not being used by people and making a difference it doesn't go anywhere," Horie said.

She said success can be found by bringing people together; it's not about the company with technology, it's about people with technology.