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Woman in Charge

Gabrielle Forbes is joining a conference call for a check in with one of her Venture Café connections, Jen Rajchel, the Science Center's Senior Director of Experience and Digital Transformation. While the conversations usually consist of updates and Gabrielle filling Jen in on what’s new in her academic and professional life, today she has exciting news to share: she has been tapped for a Founder’s Associate role at a local startup. The founder is Jessie Garcia, and the startup is Tozuda.

Gabrielle Forbes (left) and Jessie Garcia of Tozuda

The position couldn’t have come at a better time, as Gabrielle had been hard at work looking for a co-op as part of Drexel’s entrepreneurship track.

“I’m basically going to be a ‘mini her,’” she explains. “And I would’ve never met her if it wasn’t pretty much for Venture Café. I’m only a sophomore in college and this is a position that people who have graduated, or went on to grad school get, it makes me feel grateful that she saw that in me because it’s definitely a great opportunity.”

Forbes signed up for Proof Positive last fall, a free series designed for first-time founders with idea for a business but without the business experience. The ten-week series is hosted at Venture Café Philadelphia and brings together the best local advisors and experts to equip participants with the knowledge needed to launch a company. We’re talking aspiring entrepreneurs at the very beginning stages of the process, many of whom have little more than an idea or concept. The program is also unique in that each cohort is led by a different “Founder-in-Residence” to shepherd the group and provide an additional layer of mentorship. Previous Founders-in-Residence have included Thom Webster of the Black Squirrel Collective, Tanya Morris of Mom Your Business, Jessie Garcia, currently John Possumato Esq., founder of DriveItAway, Inc., and up next: professional development expert and no stranger to mentoring through the Science Center, Jimmy White IV.

“I saw her [Jessie] as a mentor even before she offered me the job because I would just ask her opinion on things and catch up with her each week conveying my progress,” Forbes recalls the earliest days of the mentor/mentee relationship that would form between the two women. “I went to Venture Café my first Thursday, I was part of a round table and introduced myself to a whole lot of people. It was nerve-racking but I started going back every week and found out what Proof Positive was. I kept talking to people, kept asking questions. The people who were there every week started getting to know me, giving me advice. I just felt really comfortable there and I got the chance to voice my idea and it will be in production next week!”

And I would’ve never met her if it wasn’t pretty much for Venture Café. I’m only a sophomore in college and this is a position that people who have graduated, or went on to grad school get, it makes me feel grateful that she saw that in me because it’s definitely a great opportunity.

Gabrielle Forbes

Data suggests that Garcia and Forbes are not alone in their pursuits, with entrepreneurship trending more than ever globally. According to Google’s Year in Search review, more people around the world searched “how to start a business” rather than “how to get a job” in 2021.

Now a Sophomore in college at Drexel University, Forbes is planning to launch a mental health wellness platform called Before You Break. Inspired by her and her friends’ own experiences of working part time jobs while also studying full time and feeling the pressure and burnout from employee shortages and high customer volume, the app and eventual physical space is meant to provide relaxation, wellness measures and a place to escape, for those who are not in need of psychiatric help but merely a break or a timeout. And while companies may be currently reticent to cover such services, she is hoping to change that conversation, helping employers understand just how important investments in their employees’ mental health are to the success of an organization.

Forbes also acknowledges that while her experiences inspired the concept, it was a need to help others in more dire situations than hers that motivated her to transition from idea to execution. She feels fortunate to have come from a stable, steady home environment but for many who are supporting families themselves, don’t have a support system or whose jobs are full time careers rather than part-time work, Before You Break is an even bigger lifeline.

Gabrielle Forbes (left) and Jen Rajchel (right)

Gabrielle got so much out of her first Proof Positive experience, she plans to participate for a second time as part of the next cohort so that she can finetune her pitch and eventually take part in the pitch competition that capstones the program. Eventually, she sees herself going even further through the Science Center’s suite of commercialization support for startups.

“Even though I had an idea, coming to Venture Café and Proof Positive made me realize that I was at the very beginning stages. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and I wanted to hone in on one aspect of my company, because I think of a million ideas at the same time. Proof Positive taught me to slow down and focus on something so that I have a solid foundation before, hopefully, I move on to Launch Lane.”

Launch Lane is something Jessie Garcia knows a thing or two about, having gone through the accelerator in 2020.

Every time I come to Venture Café, I learn something new, and I meet somebody new.

Gabrielle Forbes

But for now, Gabrielle is transitioning from Venture Café participant to Venture Café session designer. On February 17th her session “For the Love of Entrepreneurship” debuted at Venture Café. In time for Valentine’s Day, the event had a speed-dating format which brought together members of the innovation ecosystem to share ideas and advice, or ask questions, in short five-minute conversations intended to be casual and light.

In fact, it was Gabrielle’s own sense of comfort with the inherent Venture Café structure that prompted her to make the jump to creating and hosting her own session: “There’s no pressure. Coming to Venture Cafe I was intimidated at first because a lot of people are serial entrepreneurs, and they are older than me. Don’t be afraid to come, you might find your passion or even if you don’t necessarily want to start your own business you might find people to work for or maybe you can just talk to about certain issues, and they can pursue the change for you. Every time I come to Venture Café, I learn something new, and I meet somebody new.”

For the Love of Entrepreneurship would go on to be a success, so much so that it will now become a quarterly staple of Venture Cafe's programming, and as for her other business ventures, we have few doubts as she steps into her future. As the video cuts out following our conversation, we catch a fuller glimpse of her purple sweatshirt reading, “Woman in Charge;” like a harbinger of things to come and things already set in motion.

The Spring 2022 cohort of Proof Positive, featuring Founder-in-Residence, Jimmy White IV kicks off on March 31st, applications are now being accepted.

Proof Positive is supported by the U.S. Economic Development Administration SPRINT Challenge Grant.