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Business (Role) Model

She’s inspiring entrepreneurs of any age or gender

“Am I too little to start a business?”

The simple question from a 9-year-old niece a decade ago led to a realization for Emily McHugh ’90: “There’s a lot of thinking around entrepreneurship that’s very male- -and age-centric,” she says. “But the truth is, you’re never too young or old, and gender doesn’t matter.”

Drawing from her own experience as co-founder of the accessories company Casauri, McHugh began writing The Little Girl’s Guide to Entrepreneurship: What I Know Now That I Sure Wish I Knew Then. Among her applicable-to-anyone lessons: Scaling back is OK if it helps you survive; pride shouldn’t prevent you from asking for help; and risk-taking can be immensely rewarding.

“You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial,” says McHugh, who with her sister, Helena, launched Casauri in 1999. “It’s really more of a mindset—taking a certain amount of initiative and being willing to take a chance.”

At Swarthmore, McHugh didn’t expect to head down a business track; the trilingual French, Spanish, and linguistics major simply hoped for a career that would put her language skills to use. But a job at a French bank in New York City led to an MBA at Columbia, where Casauri’s business plan was born. The line’s colorful totes and laptop cases—co-designed by McHugh and Helena, a Fashion Institute of Technology grad—have been featured in Vogue and USA Today and sold at the MoMA Design Store in New York and Tokyo.

Looking back, an entrepreneurial spirit has always been with McHugh—as a little girl growing up on a farm in Jamaica, as a tween launching a part-time cleaning business in New Jersey, and as a 20-something violinist busking in the subways of New York. But she credits Swarthmore for laying the foundation for her success.

“In any career direction,” she says, “whether it’s entrepreneurship, medicine, science, you name it, the liberal arts set you up for forward momentum.”