As Jamie Vinick ’20 began her final semester at Syracuse University in 2020, the Martin J. Whitman School of Management finance and marketing double major imagined that she’d soon be pursuing a career in real estate development. But unexpected events took her in a life-changing new direction. First, COVID-19 morphed into a pandemic, necessitating the transition to remote learning and upending Commencement plans for her class. Then The Women’s Network (TWN), a young women’s leadership and networking organization she had founded at Syracuse University as a sophomore, started expanding to other colleges.
“TWN launched chapters at five additional universities across the country in February, and we had to quickly transition to this new reality via Zoom,” Vinick remembers. “It had its challenges, but the bonds of our TWN community became even stronger. We were able to continue achieving our goals remotely, by prioritizing the membership experience and the quality of our programming.”
Vinick understood that TWN’s mission and the need for community became even more vital as people realized the value of establishing authentic connections. “Instead of scaling back our operations, we doubled down and invested in building our leadership teams, expanding our nationwide campus presence, developing new content, and hosting new programmatic experiences,” she says. “We seized this opportunity and focused on providing the most meaningful networking experiences we could, despite the unique obstacles, setbacks and challenges that were thrown our way.”
Those challenges were quickly overcome. Last summer, the network announced that it was adding chapters at 16 schools. Then in November, another 20 chapters were launched. “That felt nearly impossible to pull off at the time, but our plans have grown even more ambitious. This month, we are thrilled to announce that TWN is launching chapters at 100 additional universities and colleges,” Vinick says. “By this fall, we anticipate that TWN will have more than 50,000 members nationwide. It blows my mind.”
Working From Home
A particularly amazing aspect of this startup story is that it was all accomplished by two recent Whitman graduates working remotely—Vinick in the Washington, D.C., metro area and Catherine Chung ’20 in Massachusetts. Chung had joined the organization full time in summer 2020. “Like most Class of 2020 college students, we moved back home during the pandemic,” Vinick says. “Having your company based in your childhood bedroom has made for a pretty comical story, but we have plans to make a permanent move to New York City this summer. It has been an almost 24/7 grind since we graduated last year, and whenever things seemed to slow down, we had an enormous new project or initiative we had to roll out.”
We seized this opportunity and focused on providing the most meaningful networking experiences we could.—Jamie Vinick
Vinick fully recognizes the perils of starting a business right out of college. “We’re really pushing boundaries as to what is possible,” she says. “I want to show younger women that you can take risks. Men are praised for risk-taking all their lives, and we should be encouraging young women to do the same. I think your 20s are ideal for taking risks. I want to practice what I preach and encourage other women to pursue their passions and feel empowered taking leadership roles in their field of interest, regardless of their age.”
The process of recruiting new schools to TWN is accomplished in a number of ways. “We really utilize the power of social media,” Vinick explains. “We announce that we are launching at this long list of schools, and because our network has tremendous national outreach capabilities, it spreads by word of mouth on campus. Then we have an internal team that virtually goes on the ground, recruits and trains people, and establishes a chapter under our national guidelines. Each chapter has a board that manages their chapter operations and reports to the national organization. It’s just incredible to watch how the process unfolds at every location and the leaders that emerge on campus.”
Experiential Programming and Career Opportunities
TWN membership is open to collegiate and recently graduated women in all majors. “There is a need for a space where non-male identifying people feel comfortable speaking about gender-related topics,” Vinick says. “There are so many things that affect us as women that are not taught or discussed. How do we advocate for ourselves? How do we negotiate our salaries? How do we combat this feeling that we don’t deserve a seat at the table, and how do we own our seat at the table? Our goal is to capture high-achieving, ambitious young women at the most transformative time of their lives and have a positive impact on them. If we can do that, we can change the world. They will feel more confident, prepared and knowledgeable, and that translates into accelerated personal success.”
Each TWN chapter has autonomy under very specific guidelines and is given guidance to put on curated, experiential programming and events that provide meaningful experiences for their members. Offerings include speaker meetings, alumni events, LinkedIn workshops, resume workshops, community-based discussion events and more. “I’m really proud that TWN is facilitating the authentic development of relationships and building the knowledge necessary for women to be able to network effectively. These are relationships our members will retain for years to come,” Vinick notes.
Our goal is to capture high-achieving, ambitious young women at the most transformative time of their lives and have a positive impact on them. If we can do that, we can change the world.—Jamie Vinick
TWN also produces a podcast called “Redefining Ambition.” Its episodes reveal the personal and professional journeys of ambitious female leaders and expose women to different career paths. “So far, the guest speakers have been incredible,” Vinick says. “The former COO at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, former CEO of the Huffington Post, the EVP of Content Strategy at HBO, a NASCAR Driver, General Counsel at Glossier, former CEO of the Malala Fund, and the founder of G(irls)20 have all spoken,” Vinick says. “I have this vision of developing a powerhouse network at the grassroots level.”
TWN instills in young professional women that we are not in competition with one another, but there to support each other as we all experience our own successes. Attending networking events and learning from women who have excelled in their industries prepares Syracuse women for professional work with the hope that someday they will be female success stories sharing their secrets with the collegiate women of tomorrow. Through TWN, I have found women to look up to, women to lean on, and women I know will be cheering on my professional success long after we’ve left the Syracuse campus.—Alyssa Feldmann ’21Public Relations, Newhouse School of Public Communications
When the pandemic hit, Vinick was flooded with emails and calls from women in the network who had lost their jobs or internships. She immediately messaged 50 companies to inquire about job opportunities, and successfully placed nearly 30 women in summer internships. Subsequently, other companies have reached out to TWN to inquire about job placement services.
Building a Financial Profile
The organization’s financial structure is evolving. Membership in TWN is free for undergraduates, and Vinick would like to keep it that way. “We have been very cost effective in growing the network, but we are gearing up to approach investors for seed funding,” she says. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I am partnering with my grandfather—my greatest mentor—in this venture. TWN is now in the process of hiring two additional full-time staff.”
Eventually, Vinick believes that advertisers and recruiters will be drawn to the organization. “TWN is a prize demographic for so many brands and advertisers,” she says. “They want to reach this group, because we have the highest purchasing power. We are consumers who are loyal, media savvy and influential. We also offer corporate recruiters a coveted incoming work pool—intelligent, ambitious, college educated women from every corner of the country who are seeking employment. When the pandemic hit, five campuses were all I could handle and still keep up with my schoolwork. But then TWN took off, and it’s been on a meteoric growth trajectory ever since.”
Training for Success
Vinick says her Syracuse University education prepared her well for the role she’s taken on. “Whitman breeds entrepreneurs, and I met some really amazing entrepreneurs on campus. The Whitman School prepares its students well, and our senior capstone projects are very entrepreneurship-oriented.” She found mentors at Whitman who continue to provide support a year after graduating. “Professors Ken Walsleben and Fatma Sonmez-Leopold have been such champions of me and of TWN,” she says. Ken was my capstone entrepreneurship professor, and Fatma inspired me to study finance. She made the material exciting, because she was passionate about it. She was so authentic and such a role model. They are part of the reason I’m so happy I went to Syracuse.”
“When you are deeply inspired by your surroundings, as I was at Syracuse, you notice that women are inspired by other women. And when you see high-achieving women, you are empowered yourself,” Vinick says. “That is at the heart of The Women’s Network, and one of the reasons I will always be a diehard Syracuse promoter. I make sure everybody in TWN knows it all started at Syracuse University!”