10 Questions with Sasha Pines

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10 Questions with Sasha Pines

Josh Hamburger

Meet Sasha Pines, a junior hailing from San Diego, California who wants to change the climate of women pursuing business at Vanderbilt. The Hustler sat down with the aspiring entrepreneur to talk about her mentoring tips, what motivates her, and her hope for all girls at Vandy.

The Hustler: Why did you create the Women in Business Club? What need on campus were you trying to fulfill?

Sasha Pines: I had the pleasure of serving on the Vanderbilt Innovation and Entrepreneurial Society board (VINES), and I ran their kickoff event my first semester serving on the board. We had a really big turnout of about 150 people. To my dismay, the vast majority of attendees were men. That shocked me. My first thought was, “Where’s the flower power?” Was this a question of gender? Is it Vanderbilt? Is it our location? What’s going on here?

So I talked to a lot of people and discovered that Vanderbilt was one of three top fifteen universities without an undergraduate “Women in Business” organization. And immediately I wanted to change that. So I reached out the Owen Business School. I met a woman named Imogen Roberts, who was the president of the Women in Business Association at Owen. We talked about possibly implementing a mentorship program. And so now we’ve established a partnership with them. So that’s where the idea originated. And I wasn’t the only one! Clee Malfitano, Joanna Cheng, Kathleen Bond, Mary Win Anderson and Sloane Chmara hopped on board to co-found Vanderbilt Women in Business.

TH: Why are you so passionate about mentorship?

SP: I did the Accelerator program going into my sophomore year. We pitched to one of our clients, and a consultant for that client was at that pitch, his name is Zachary Johnson. He’s the CEO of Syndio, a people analytics software provider. After pitching, he came up to me, and said, ‘Look, you were really impressive, I want to be your mentor.’ And I thought to myself, ‘What the heck is a mentor?’ For the past year now, he and I have built a relationship, and he has been instrumental in my growth as an entrepreneur. He’s provided great career and personal advice, and even helped me make more connections myself. Starting with him, I’ve gained the confidence to meet other mentors in my life that again have been instrumental.

As a student, if you reach out to someone who you think is really cool in the community, and you say, ‘Hey, I’m a student, and I think you’re really cool. Would you get coffee with me?’ 99% of the time, they will say yes. Especially in Nashville. But I don’t think students take advantage of this enough.

TH: What does the actual mentoring program look like here?

SP: We are a brand-new organization, so essentially we are like a start-up. Everything is trial and error. We’ve learned a lot in just the past few months alone. Right now we’re still organizing the structure for it, but it will essentially be a really natural process where we don’t just throw you in the room and say okay, “go network!” But we also don’t match you up with someone because it’s more of a natural process to meet that one person.

We are working to find an in-between of having it be organized, but not too structured. Essentially as a student, you will come in and meet a really cool businesswoman that you will know about ahead of time, and we’ll make it really fun and natural to network with these women. It’s important to note that students actually have to apply to the program. That’s the only thing about our organization that is exclusive. Through the application process, we’re able to match you with women that we think you would fit with best. And it’s not as simple as oh, you’re interested in finance, so we’re bringing in a VP from a bank. It’s more complex than that. Imogen actually told me a story of one of her mentors who works in non-profit, while she Imogen is in consulting. It’s more about personality matches than it is about similar industry interests.

TH: Do you have one specific woman in your life who you admire?

SP: I’m a Persian Jew. In my culture, women are meant to keep the home and be amazing mothers. But in my generation, that’s changed. All my female role models growing up have been home keepers who are amazing mothers and role models in that sense, but I never had that balance of being both a mother and a business woman, besides my piano teacher. I’ve known her since I was four years old, and we would have lessons every Wednesday. She’s a doctor, very educated, and just overall a very incredible woman that is always there for me and to provide advice for me. She was my first role model in that sense.

TH: What has been your favorite part about Vanderbilt?

SP: My favorite part about Vanderbilt is definitely the community. As I said earlier, I’m a Persian Jew, so my life was considerably consumed with community and family, and that’s something I was really looking for in college. The professors here really care about the students. While all colleges seem to say that, I’ve seen that value especially hold true in the Managerial Studies department. Joseph Rando, a professor in that department, always goes out of his way for students. He’s very genuine, and he has been instrumental for the Women in Business program as well. He’s also the academic advisor for VINES. Gary Kimball, who runs the department, also cares deeply about his students. To have those genuine relationships with the professors creates a vibe that I love to be a part of.

TH: What advice can you give about careers that is female-focused? What has surprised you?

SP: I am positively surprised on how willing businesswomen are to help young businesswomen. I can give you an example. In the Venture Capital space, only 4% of Venture Capitalists are women, and less than 10% of Venture Capital funding go towards female-led businesses. It’s a very white male-dominated industry. I actually had the pleasure of interning at a Venture Capital firm called BBG Ventures. They invest in consumer-tech startups that have at least one female founder. It’s exciting to see groups like this exist to help women in fields that are dominated by men. What’s even more exciting is that this trend is growing. Something that’s encouraging about Women in Business is the positive response we get when reaching out to successful businesswomen in Nashville.

TH: If you could do Vanderbilt all over again, what would you do differently?

SP:Frankly, I would have maintained a better balance. My social life has been a low priority as a result of being over-involved and trying to accomplish too much. I think an amazing thing about  Vanderbilt is how great our social scene is on top of having stellar academics and being a top-twenty university. So don’t lose sight of that when you’re trying to accomplish all of these things! So if I had to do Vanderbilt all over again I’d try to not burn the candle on both ends.

TH: You are very goal-oriented. Is everything you do intentional?

SP: No, I wish it was. On top of being a full-time student, everyone is so overly involved in everything they do because our student population is filled with over-achievers. It’s hard for me to find that balance. There’s a piece of advice Cherrie Clark actually gave. She showed a graph of bees flying all over the place, and then she compared it to another graph of bees flying in sync over the beehive. The message is to focus your energy on an achieving a niche set of goals. And for me, that was entrepreneurship. Getting involved with VINES, or co-founding an organization called Vanderbilt Entrepreneurship Network (VEN) within the  Innovation Center. It’s basically taking all these things that you’re passionate about and being intentional about how your efforts will help you achieve a certain goal. Of course, you’re not expected to know what that goal is. At least have a hypothesis of where you’re trying to go, so that way your efforts are succinct and targeted.

TH: What’s the dream for women at Vanderbilt?

SP: My mother came from a family where she was expected to get married and raise a family. Moving from Iran as a teenager, she wasn’t given the opportunity to get an education. It’s hard because I see my mother with all her ambition and intelligence, and know that she didn’t have the opportunity to utilize it. I think the dream for Vanderbilt women is to have access to these resources that Vanderbilt provides and to take advantage of them. Women just a few years ago didn’t have these opportunities. My mother didn’t have that opportunity. Women now in many parts of the world do not have that opportunity. So the dream is that Vanderbilt women now utilize these resources to become successful, and once they are at the point in their lives that they can help others, they’ll continue the cycle of becoming a mentor to other young women, just as our women coming in are mentors to us.

TH: You mentioned that you were involved in creating the Vanderbilt Entrepreneur Network, which will be a part of the Innovation Center. Can you tell me more about this program?

SP: It’s really exciting to participate in the entrepreneurial trend taking part across Vanderbilt’s campus, both on the undergraduate and graduate levels. Undergrad has VINES, the Owen School has their entrepreneurial club, the Med school has an entrepreneurship club, the Engineering school, etc. So what’s happening is that there are all of these entrepreneurial efforts but they’re not working together. They could benefit from each other’s resources, so there was just that missing umbrella. So Professors John Bers, Professor Joseph Rando, Daniel Aronowitz and Chauncy Scales came up with an idea to start the Vanderbilt Entrepreneurship Network, which is basically an umbrella for all of these entrepreneurial networks. It’s come to fruition at a really exciting time because the Innovation Center is about to officially launch and VEN can help build the connection to students.

The Women and Business Organization will be having its Kick-off Event this Thursday from 6 – 8 p.m. in Sarratt Cinema.

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