“Seeing the smiles on girls’ faces when they discover the world of motorsports and realize that they, too, can participate. Sounds corny but absolutely true. Changing one life makes all the difference.”
Meet Susan Lucas-Conwell WG83, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Della Penna Foundation, a not-for-profit devoted to driving change in motorsports, one girl at a time. Women are widely underrepresented in all facets of motorsports, from the business office and engineers to trainers and drivers. This foundation was created to provide more opportunities for young women to get involved in the industry. Research shows that girls often drop out of STEM classes between the ages of 9 and 16 which creates barriers to future careers in tech or science.
Susan’s Co-Founder is Michelle Della Penna, whose father, John Della Penna, was a renowned Indycar driver and team owner. Michelle recalls her experience watching her father at races, often as the sole girl. Susan grew up as an athlete and as a mother of four athletic daughters, she understands the challenges of breaking into male-dominated sports. Their passion has paved the way for girls to explore motorsports through events and karting scholarships.
In her extensive career, Susan has pursued various roles that combine her passion for entrepreneurship, science and sports. From being on the boards at Sparrow, a subscription product that makes science accessible to 97% of the world, and Women in Sports Tech (wist), connecting women with sports tech opportunities, Susan is driving change, on and off the racetrack.
Tell us a bit about your company
Della Penna Foundation is a not for profit dedicated to driving change in the motorsports industry, one girl at a time. I founded it with Michelle Della Penna, whose father was a race car driver and team owner.
What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
We’re looking to change the dynamic in the motorsports industry by introducing the breadth of career opportunities to high school girls before they drop out of STEM and lose interest in sports.
What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?
As an athlete myself (not motorsports though!), I have four daughters who were all college athletes, one on the national team.. and recognize the incredible challenge of breaking into an almost completely all white mens’ sport and industry that is generally only accessible to those with deep pockets.
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
Despite the challenging environment of a covid world when we started, we’ve reached over 100 girls with programs and events — in 2023, the first Della Penna Fellow shadowed women at George 4 Foundation for a week and the first Della Penna Scholar is completing a karting program with NXG Youth Motorsports in Indianapolis.
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
The motorsports industry offers an exceptional breadth of opportunities for young adults yet its image and current composition have created barriers for girls. Particularly those coming from economically disadvantaged communities.
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
To date the Foundation has been privately funded with a few generous in-kind donations. We can’t scale without funding — particularly challenging in a sport where every actor is looking for funding from drivers to teams to tracks.
What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur? Something out of left field?
This is the second time I’ve been an entrepreneur, first time as a co-founder of a not-for-profit. The surprises are universal I think — the people who say they’ll support at the start rarely do and those who seem to have the least connection to the mission with the smallest resources are the most generous.
How can the WAFFA community help you?
Support, funds, promotion.
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
Seeing the smiles on girls’ faces when they discover the world of motorsports and realize that they, too, can participate. Sounds corny but absolutely true. Changing one life makes all the difference.
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