Beyond ‘Lean In’: Women’s Startup Lab CEO on the Hito Rule

Although her Silicon Valley accelerator is rooted in helping female entrepreneurs, Hiroshima-native Ari Horie aimed to bridge the gender divide when she took the stage to deliver the opening keynote at the Las Vegas entrepreneurship conference South by Southwest V2V last week.

The speech wasn’t just for women; it was for all entrepreneurs. That aligned neatly with the spirit of the four-day conference—now in its second year—encouraging collaboration and teamwork among startup founders and small-business owners.

A veteran of IBM and other innovative companies in Silicon Valley, Horie founded her Bay Area accelerator, Women’s Startup Lab, on the principles of the “Hito Rule.” Inspired by the Chinese character and Japanese word meaning human, the Hito Rule encourages us to “lean in, lean on, and lead up” our community to build world-class businesses and business executives. At Women’s Startup Lab, members use the inspiration of leaning on their networks to leverage success in their own business goals.

When entrepreneurs work together, Horie stressed, there are no limits to what they can accomplish. But to reach our potential, many of us must first break down the barriers we create, which limit us and protect us from the outside world. A native of Japan who called herself an average student, Horie had to convince herself to chase her dream of founding an accelerator.

“All my life, I spoke bad English, I thought. I [believed I] was not qualified because I didn’t graduate from the Ivy League,” Horie says. “Those negative reinforcement conversations happen a lot, especially in Silicon Valley. When I saw that problem, I wanted to make a difference. And I knew how to solve the problem using my particular skill, which was bringing people together.”

Horie continued her internal debate for months until finally deciding to “play big” by putting aside her fear and hesitation, and founding Women’s Startup Lab in 2013. “My thought was, let’s get the conversation going,” Horie says. “Instead of continually looking at would this be successful, it was if I jump, maybe I can jump high.”

Women’s Startup Lab graduated its first class of 18 female-owned and operated tech industry businesses last year, and Horie’s work to facilitate their growth earned her a spot on the “CNN 10,” for 2014, a listing of visionary women.

Her lesson for both sexes is to chase their wildest dreams, putting aside self-doubt.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman; we have a society where there are often signs telling you that you’re not going to fit in, or you’re not going to succeed,” Horie says. “Instead of looking for validation, sometimes we need to look inside. How strongly do you feel about this? Too often we make decisions based on risk assessment. But unless you take the risk, you might not know how special you are.”


Josh Ellis is the former editor in chief for SUCCESS magazine. Before joining SUCCESS in 2012, he was an accomplished digital and print sportswriter, working for the Dallas Cowboys Star magazine, the team’s gameday program, and Originally from Longview, Texas, he began writing for his hometown newspaper at 16.

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