My dream dinner guest would be: Montserrat Caballé My favorite country is: Spain
Leveling the playing field for all founders
A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION. Vanessa Archambault's founder journey is one where her experience of overcoming adversity is reflected in her company's mission. "I've always been invigorated and inspired by hardship," she says. "For my whole life, I've had people try to dictate to me what I was capable of or what I should be satisfied with in terms of success. If I had listened to any of those people, I wouldn't be where I am now."
In 2021, Vanessa co-founded DealEngine, a platform that helps entrepreneurs from non-traditional backgrounds who have an idea but don't know where to start. Users sign up for the service, share information about their concept, and DealEngine crunches the data to offer them a practical way forward. "We help founders on what approach they should take, the type of team they need to build, and which organizations would be most beneficial to engage with for funding."
Vanessa's path to launching DealEngine is far from the typical startup path. Raised in Southern California by a single mom who worked as a janitor, she became the first person in her family to go to college. After studying Environmental Science at UC Berkeley, she taught herself how to code alongside a full-time job. Undeterred by her lack of technical expertise, she was motivated to pursue a career that would ensure she didn't experience the same hardships of her childhood.
"I had software developer friends who told me I wasn't the type of person who could code. It made me really angry and lit a fire inside me to prove them wrong. Yes, I grew up in a blue-collar family, and I didn't own a computer or have exposure to many technical things until I came to Berkeley, but I think your background has nothing to do with your aptitude and what you can achieve."
THE COURAGE TO SUCCEED. Along with her childhood, Vanessa's early experiences in the entrepreneurial world have also informed DealEngine's equal opportunities philosophy. As a queer woman new to the startup community, she recalls moments of feeling "intimidated" to pursue her ideas, even in LGBTQIA+ spaces, which men often dominate. "I would think, well, I don't know what I'm doing, so I'm just not even going to try. Ultimately it affected how I built DealEngine and collaborated with the team because I always held the vision of that underrepresented person in my mind."
Vanessa's motivation to lead a company sparked during her first job in tech as an entry-level software developer, where she discovered a love for "managing a team to build something great" and enrolled in UC Berkeley's Entrepreneurial Leaders Program. Despite no desire to found her own company, a sharp-eyed professor recognized her potential and introduced her to who would become her co-founder for DealEngine, Kal Deutsch. "I remember joining the program and thinking, this isn't what I signed up for, but after hearing Kal's idea, I thought, wow, this is something that would have helped me in my journey."
Today, DealEngine is thriving in its mission as a diverse team providing equal opportunity for all entrepreneurs to succeed. Reflecting on her success, Vanessa, who now works in an advisory role for the company, says she will continue to pass on perhaps her most valued advice to future generations of entrepreneurs: "Don't let anyone tell you where you're supposed to be going in life.
“My internal metric for success is a gut feeling of, do I feel like I'm moving forward? Do I feel fulfilled in what I'm doing? Am I happy? I know it's cheesy to use happiness as a metric, but it's always worked for me, so I'm not going to change it."