Women Entrepreneurs: Jean Hammond, Co-Founder of LearnLaunch
Jean Hammond is now a startup superstar, but she started her entrepreneurial career running a cheese operation worth over a million and a half dollars at a food co-op. What may be even more surprising is that Hammond found that she had a propensity for business after she had already started her professional life as a biologist working on Alzheimer research in the lab. After realizing what she wanted to do, Hammond went back to school for her MBA at MIT and became an unstoppable entrepreneurial force.
Hammond is a prolific figure in the startup world. She has been on the board for over 25 startup companies and has invested in many more. Boston.com named her one of the top ten angel investors in the Boston area and ranks as the only woman on the list. She is the co-founder of LearnLaunch.
Before all this though, she went to Scotland after she earned her MBA and got a job at a modest computer networking company that had about 30 employees. The company went through rapid growth and went from 35 to 350 employees during the two and half years she was there. Hammond served on a majority of the committees for the company. “During that time I was the MBA from the States, so I was on every project,” Hammond said. “I just learned everything and had a lot of fun.”
Hammond gained a lot of confidence from the early experience, and about six years later, she co-founded her first startup, AXON Networks. “We had some rough moments where we were bootstrapping,” Hammond said, “we had to get a big company to sign a deal with us.”. But it turned out to be a highly successful undertaking. They raised a couple million dollars from a small venture capital and when it was four years old they sold the company to 3Com, which is now a part of Hewlett-Packard.
In ‘99 Hammond also helped start another company, Quarry Technologies. She was CEO and helped raise over 35 million dollars of venture money and once again grew the employee base. After Hammond left the company, a friend asked for her help with the little startup at the time, Zipcar. Hammond was the first investor in the company. “I didn’t even know I was an Angel Investor until I helped lead the round to help with the next phase of the company,” Hammond said, “ I didn’t know what that was.”
Building successful companies is what Hammond has become good at and it’s what she really enjoys. Today, she works at the startup and accelerator LearnLaunch at the Boston co-working edtech startup space, LearnLaunch Campus. Hammond said one of the ways LearnLaunch is used is to help entrepreneurs get more detailed knowledge about the industry, learn from each other, and have role models and connections.
Along with LearnLaunch, Hammond is active in the startup world as an investor and a board member for multiple education- and business-related organizations.
Yet, Hammond remembers back to when she worked for the co-op and would drive the cheese truck over to the Boston meat market. Memorizing the sports section in the newspaper was the only thing that gave her something to talk about with the other men. Things haven’t changed much. Not long ago in 2000, Hammond said being a woman CEO was difficult. “I don’t think it was explicit, but people would find these extra risk factors that they added on,” Hammond said.
For this reason, Hammond uses her investor power to support women entrepreneurs. About half of the businesses that Hammond invests in have women who help run the company or are the CEO. She is also the co-founder of the Boston branch of Golden Seeds, which is focused on investing in women-managed businesses.
Looking at the situation from an investor standpoint, Hammond says the problem may be in some women’s business plan. “Since we see fewer women coming in with these very aggressive plans, I’m not surprised. If women were putting out that other plan, they would be getting a better play with venture capital,” Hammond said. She says that women should be more optimistic with their plans and think bigger.
Other advice Hammond stresses to women entrepreneurs is to get a team. “Women, don’t be a sole founder by yourself,” she said. “Do what you do, but be sure to listen to other people.” Being in the business for about 27 years has given Hammond insight into how women are being treated and she says it has gotten better. “It is harder, but it can be done,” she said. Luckily, women entrepreneurs have people like Hammond on their side.
Michelle is a current graduate student at Emerson College and an intern at Boston's public radio station. She enjoys exploring the world of educational technology and writing about the ever-changing sector and its potential.