2022 Innovator Award Winner

Young Alumnae Undergraduate | Honors

Eliana Berger, DMSB’21

Founder and President, Envision

Venture Capital Isn’t Dispersed Equally. Eliana Berger is Working to Change That.

by Molly Callahan   |   November 2, 2022

Seeing firsthand the lack of opportunity for underrepresented business founders, Eliana Berger wanted to make big changes in the VC space, and that’s how her work with Envision began. Envision is a nonprofit virtual venture accelerator for young founders from underrepresented groups like BIPOC and women, which democratizes access to funding, networks, and opportunities by providing hands-on support, a welcoming community, and a broad network of mentors and investors.

Venture capital companies invested a staggering $300 billion in startups in 2020—an amount that’s more than the entire economies of all but 40 countries in the world. You might logically assume that women, who make up half the population in the world, received half of the funding. You’d be wrong: Women-led startups received a paltry 2.3 percent of VC funding in 2020.

“It’s a stunning disparity,” says Eliana Berger, who graduated from Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in 2021. “Even more so when you consider that less than one percent of funding goes to Black or Latinx founders.”

So, she’s doing something about it. Envision, her inclusive startup incubator, provides resources, opportunities, and mentorship to underrepresented founders—namely, women and people of color. Berger was recognized with a 2022 Innovator Award, a competition hosted by Northeastern University’s Women Who Empower that drew more than 100 applicants this year.

Berger has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. In high school, she created a nonprofit organization that distributed care kits to children in cancer treatment at hospitals.

“Starting something of my own really changed my life,” she says. “I learned so many skills in such a short amount of time, and always sought out a community. I have a big passion for entrepreneurship.”

At Northeastern, Berger joined the entrepreneur club and became its vice president by her sophomore year. She noticed quickly, however, that it as mostly men who attended the club’s events, and mostly male founders who came to speak at those events.

“I started wondering what we could do to increase women in the field,” Berger says.

“What is comes down to is that if we provide a little bit of money and a supportive community, it helps spur entrepreneurship.”

—Eliana Berger, Founder and President of Envision

“What is comes down to is that if we provide a little bit of money and a supportive community, it helps spur entrepreneurship.”

—Eliana Berger, Founder and President of Envision

See a problem, solve it. Berger branched off from the entrepreneur club and started the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship (WISE) at Northeastern in 2018. Four years later, WISE is a thriving organization with more than 20 student-leaders and four main programs: WeLearn, a professional development series; WeBuild, a design incubator; WeSupport, a mentorship network; and WeLaunch, a venture accelerator.

“I learned a lot about how beneficial it is to have a supportive, safe community that understands you,” Berger says. “WeBuild in particular was really helpful to people.”

Indeed, many of this year’s Innovator Award winners utilized some or all of the services offered through WISE.

The organization’s current co-directors, Valerie Robert and Stacey Pablo, say in a statement, “WISE’s overall role is to provide community and support to women who are new to entrepreneurship or already entrepreneurs from an interdisciplinary lens. One does not have to have a business background to be an entrepreneur and we strive to create an inclusive and entrepreneurial community.”

When Berger was transitioning out of her leadership role within WISE, she took a step back and realized that there weren’t many organizations like it—at other universities, or anywhere. That’s when she started Envision, a community driven accelerator for young, underrepresented founders.

Envision provides mentorship and non-dilutive grants to new entrepreneurs, which means that founders don’t have to give up a stake in their companies in order to receive funding. It’s been wildly successful so far: More than 50 companies and 100 founders have gone through the Envision program. Those companies have raised more than $30 million in outside venture capital, Berger says.

“What it comes down to is that if we provide a little bit of money and a supportive community, it helps spur entrepreneurship,” Berger says. “I feel incredibly honored to be part of this. Community is such an important pillar of my life in almost everything I do.”