San Diego Business Journal

One of San Diego’s longest running startup accelerators for women has a new leader at the helm.

Silvia Mah has headed up Stella Labs — formerly known as Hera Labs — since she co-founded the organization in 2012. Now, with her new role as chief operating officer of Connect with the San Diego Venture Group, Stella Labs has tapped a new leader to manage the accelerator on a full-time basis.

Briana Weisinger, a founding board member of Stella Labs, will step up as the new head of the program. She’s no stranger to the startup world. Weisinger founded UC San Diego’s Ignite conference, which grew to become one of the largest university-based conferences for entrepreneurs in California. She also had partnered with Mah on projects in the past before helping create Stella Labs.

“Silvia and I had both worked in the entrepreneurial space. It was kind of a natural fit for an audience that was underserved,” Weisinger said. “The creative period is really wonderful because you get to experience what your entrepreneurs are going through. … I’ve been very involved in developing the vision and mission.”

Mah to Still Have Active Role

Going into the future, Weisinger said she will be involved in the everyday oversight of the program, though Mah would still have an active role in Stella Labs as its founder.

“Stella Labs has been going through a transition for a year now. We’ve known for a while that these changes were coming down the line,” she said.

On July 11, Stella Labs graduated 24 startups in its most recent cohort, hosted at Sony Electronics’ headquarters in Rancho Bernardo. The number of graduating startups has increased since Stella Labs began partnering with the San Diego and Imperial Women’s Business Center in National City earlier this year.

“That really brings us the ability to reach into communities and regions that we hadn’t been able to reach before,” Weisinger said.

The companies ranged from beauty products and clothing to medical devices and software platforms. One founder was working on a platform to streamline the process for accessing clinical trials.

After getting more involved with the current group of companies, Weisinger said she was impressed by the founders’ passion and drive.

“They’re committed to building these businesses. The contribution they’re making to the regional economy is significant,” she said. “I’m excited for what’s coming next. We will start planning for next year and looking at how we’re growing.”

Helped Launch 146 Startups

To date, Stella Labs has helped launch 146 startups, scale 223 businesses and create 128 jobs. The program has two tracks: one for founders who are just launching their company, and another for founders looking to scale up their business.

In the future, Weisinger hopes to continue to grow Stella Labs’ presence — and not just in San Diego. She hopes be able to reach a broader group of women across the U.S., through building out its partnerships with small business development centers and looking at virtual accelerator models.

“We want to be able to help more women grow and get access to the resources they need in order to build their businesses,” she said.

Weisinger said Stella Labs would also continue to support previous graduates, even as its “family” continues to grow.

“There’s a significant amount of peer-to-peer support and mentoring that goes on,” she said. “Stella Labs is like developing a family. It’s not a one-and-done kind of thing.”