What it Means to be Featured as an Inspiring Entrepreneur

Leen Kawas
3 min readFeb 2, 2023

I had the pleasure of recently being featured in an article highlighting “6 Inspirational Women Leaders Who Launched Successful Nasdaq IPOs.” I am proud to be an inspiration as not only a female who has taken a company public but also as a working mother who has found a way to balance the different parts of life.

Yet while it was an honor to be mentioned as part of an amazing list of female entrepreneurs, it also disturbs me to look at the statistics surrounding women-led businesses. Too many women are put in positions where this experience is less than possible, either by circumstance or the job market, leading to figures that are quite dismaying.

During my time at Athira, I not only co-invented the company’s leading drug candidate and the platform behind the company’s core technology but also led the organization forward as its president and CEO. It was an incredible time of creativity and passion for me, as I was able to oversee not only the product but also the corporate development of the company. I raised $400 million and took the company through its public offering, becoming the first woman to lead a company to IPO in Washington state in over 20 years.

While this was an honor for me, it is also disappointing that so few women entrepreneurs and leaders have been empowered and able to take the reins at companies through a common outcome for many companies, mostly men lead. As of February 2021, only 22 females had led their companies to IPO. What’s more, there are major gaps in where venture capital is being allocated. Studies have shown that women-founded businesses received less than three percent of venture capital, and only 0.64 percent of venture dollars are going to minority female entrepreneurs identifying as black or Latinx.

Females also contend with a so-called motherhood penalty, which sees them earning 49 percent of what men typically receive in dollars. I firmly believe that women entrepreneurs should not have to choose between a career and a family, instead finding ways through supportive organizational guidelines as well as their spouses to find a balance between both options. Women can regularly expect to lose 40 percent of their earnings in the first year of being a parent, a tax that simply should not be.

Through my work, I have been privileged to be an inspiration to other female entrepreneurs looking to find their way in a market that is not skewed in our favor. I also hope to bring more equity and equality to the conversation through my current venture as the Managing General Partner of Propel Bio Partners. Our firm is dedicated to accelerating and supporting the advancement of healthcare and life sciences initiatives while also breaking down barriers to success for people from all walks of life. My team drives investments to support startups looking for backing not just financially but also strategically in order to bring disruptive therapies and technologies to market more efficiently so that they can make a difference when they are needed most.

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