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Female Founders: Elise Jenkins of Ella’s House On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Remember your why. On days when things are tough, remember why you started in the first place. There are days when you won’t feel like doing what you’re doing, but considering your why will remind you why it’s all worth it.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elise Jenkins.

Established in 2022, Elise Jenkins founded Ella’s House in response to the struggles she faced when she chose to obtain her college degree and have her daughter at 21 years old. Jenkins wanted to create a safe place in Nashville for women to be empowered in their choice to continue their education and become a parent. Upholding their core values of providing holistic help to balance education, health, and family, Ella’s House is designed as a place of refuge that connects peers in similar circumstances, provides physical and mental health resources, and supports women as they pursue their degrees.

Offering a sanctuary for mothers and expecting mothers who are full-time students, the organization provides basic necessities such as housing, food, community, and childcare resources as well as support with tutoring, career advising, educational grant and scholarship assistance, parenting, and life skills. Ella’s House’s support creates a pathway to success for these women to earn a degree and achieve their goals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in Nashville and moved away during college to attend Auburn University. Originally, I had planned to go to school to be a psychologist but ended up switching majors to a degree in Human Development and Family Studies. I’ve always been interested in people and learning more about how experiences can shape one’s life. I found out I was pregnant shortly before starting my final semester of school. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by family and friends that supported me as well as my then-boyfriend (now husband). I also was interning at the time at a nonprofit in Nashville and living at home while I completed my internship. Having my parents so close gave me such a sense of unconditional love I know not many women in similar situations get to experience. I wanted to create a space for pregnant and parenting collegiate women that could offer not only a safe place to live but a community of like-minded friends who could empathize with their circumstances and support one another.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the most influential moments was a meeting I had at Ella’s House with a group of women who shared a similar story to mine. Ages 18–80, I was astounded at how alike our feelings and inner experiences were regardless of the specific circumstances or what happened after they found out they were pregnant in college. Seeing that so much has stayed the same since the 1960s is absolutely heartbreaking. I was so inspired by these women’s stories and felt so encouraged to continue pushing to make Ella’s House a well-known space for Nashville women.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In my first TV interview, I thought I was going to throw up in the parking lot beforehand. I was so nervous and sweaty and trying to do deep breathing in the bathroom before I went on air! Luckily, the reporter was lovely and gracious and I actually had a wonderful time speaking with her. I’m definitely glad that “first” is over though, it was so nerve-wracking!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mom has absolutely been my rock. From the day I showed her my positive pregnancy test to working as our Director of Operations at Ella’s House now, she has been supportive and encouraging through it all. I can’t imagine many people who are willing to jump all in at the idea of a brand new non-profit but she has been a driving force and wealth of knowledge since the very beginning of this journey.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

The combination of a lack of representation and societal pressure I think holds a lot of women back from founding companies. I see so many amazing women who have done it in various spaces but would love to see the numbers shift a bit more equally.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

As individuals, encouraging young girls you know to follow their dreams, try starting businesses young (think lemonade stands, etc.,) and encouraging traits like decisiveness, strength, and tenacity will go a long way in overcoming obstacles. Societally, highlighting women founders in your own life and using their products or services as well as sharing their business creates representation to the larger masses!

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

So your ideas can come to life! Seeing something you’ve dreamed up become reality is so special.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

It is too hard. Yes, it is a lot of hard work but also is doable. Or, on the flip side, the myth that this is so easy. Creating your own schedule is great but it also means I’m working a lot of times when I should be asleep or doing other things.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

If you have an idea and the persistence to really go for it I absolutely think anyone can become a founder. There are tons of resources online for any business-type things you don’t know already and people are often more than willing to help out if you ask nicely! I think it more comes down to work ethic and drive than business-related knowledge!

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You can do it! You can be scared but do it anyways — it will be so worth it in the end.
  2. Use your connections. Ask for help when you need it. Find people who know more than you do and are willing to share their wisdom.
  3. Gather a team you love. These people, especially at the start, should “get” the business and your work style.
  4. Back up your computer regularly. My computer crashed last month which would have been devastating had I not recently backed up all my info and documents. Keep things secure and back up your data so this is never an issue.
  5. Remember your why. On days when things are tough, remember why you started in the first place. There are days when you won’t feel like doing what you’re doing, but considering your why will remind you why it’s all worth it.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I think any woman that comes into Ella’s House, whether to live or for a single meal, leaves feeling loved, supported, and respected. If that’s the case for just one woman — I am more than proud of the work we are doing.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to see Ella’s Houses nationwide! Outside of that, I think encouraging people to give their time to things they believe in could create such a culture shift. Saint Francis of Assisi said that “for it is in giving that we receive.” Focusing more on others and less on ourselves would cause a world of good.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

This is not a very exciting answer but my dream people to have meals with are the women at Ella’s House. They are all so unique and strong. I love hearing their stories and seeing how much they’ve overcome to get where they are!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Elise Jenkins of Ella’s House On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.