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Why We Must Change Our View of Who Belongs in Tech

I probably need to get a few things out of the way first:

I am creative – not artistic by a long shot, but most certainly far more creative than tech.
I love words – the nuance of emotion, the ability to convince, rally or even stir up simply by the choice of words.
I like to think big picture, to visualize the intricate web of interactions, choices, and steps required to get there.
I like people, and I like learning who they really are and what makes them tick.
I like to understand the motives behind a problem, because that’s where the interesting challenge lies.
I am passionate about leaving a positive mark in the world, about using talent to do good, to help others.
I have never seen myself as good at math.
Ask me to add two numbers in my head, and I freeze, my mind goes blank.
Ask me to estimate the bill of all the items in my shopping cart, including tax, and I can give you a fairly close ballpark without blinking.

photo-4This, if you got to know me, is just a tiny part of the fabric that makes up who I am, and it is precisely because I came into the world of tech through the back door, without the usual traits or talents that are suitable for technology-driven careers, that I am so passionate about helping to change who we, as a society, see as belonging to the tech world.

It matters who we, as a society, see as a good match for tech, because it affects not only how we see ourselves and how we talk to our children, but it brings diversity of backgrounds, talents and thinking styles to the problems we are solving via tech. When we make tech accessible – remove the steep learning curve and long list of prerequisites –  through tools that empower those on the edge of tech to dive in and get their hands dirty, to build stuff that matters, we change who is allowed to participate in the dialogue driving the entire industry.

Girls are often like me. They don’t see themselves as good at math, whether it’s true or not. For the women who do enter the world of tech, few reach the top levels of leadership. Far too often, instead of pushing against the system, women exit and find different ways to contribute that aren’t so emotionally draining and where the possibility of moving up the ladder is more attainable.

But it isn’t just girls. Many races and groups are under-represented as well. Because of limited access to tech and tech-oriented classes, children growing up in poverty-stricken areas enter the tech world at a far lower ratio than their peers.

This weekend, I, along with my amazing team at APPCityLife, are spending our weekend trying to change the perception of who is qualified to use tech and who is capable of helping solve problems through tech. It’s one small step, but it’s a powerful step in the right direction. We met several weeks ago with the team at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) tasked organizing this weekend’s Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam, a two-day event to generate ideas and solutions that can best improve the South Bay’s transit experience. I am proud that our company is a sponsor of the event, and that our participation will be in helping individuals who want to get hands-on with their solutions and who want to do so through our mobile platform. Up until now, we’ve used our platform only in-house. But if it is non-developer friendly enough for me, a non-techie, to build apps, then it just seemed like the right thing to do, the best next step for our company, to open our platform to others who might want to see their own ideas come to life, whether they had the right technical training or not.

imageNow I am certainly not proposing that this one platform is the be-all, end-all solution for making tech more accessible to under-represented groups. But I do believe that if each of us who believe that what we’ve created can solve a piece of the puzzle, then by working together, we can create stepping stones for more and more individuals to participate hands-on in the world of tech and help change the solutions that are possible simply through the wider diversity of experience and talent of those sitting at the table.

As I said, I like to think big picture, but I also know it takes one tiny brush stroke at a time to get there. We start painting a new canvas this weekend, and I cannot wait to see the outcome.

 

 

APPCityLife Offering Mobile Platform at Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam

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Originally posted on What's APPening®:

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Check out our latest press release:

APPCityLife Offering Platform at Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam

APPCityLife is proud to announce the company is a technical sponsor of Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam taking place in San Jose, California, this weekend.
APPCityLife is a mobile tech company connecting people and cities through a non-developer mobile platform which delivers cross-platform mobile apps with real time analytics, open-data integration and mobile coupons.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (October 23, 2014)

APPCityLife, Inc., a mobile tech company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a proud to be a sponsor of Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam. Details for the event are online at http://www.hackmyride.challengepost.com. The event will be held at  The Tech Museum of Innovation this weekend (October 25-26) and is hosted by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Tickets are already sold out. Individuals…

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Four Reasons Every Entrepreneur Needs a Mastermind

It was while interviewing Dale Carnegie for a small newspaper that Napoleon Hill landed a writing gig in 1908 that changed not only his own future but created the concept of the mastermind which became a tool for success for generations to come. The reporter was asked by Carnegie to survey over 500 men – and a few women – many of whom were millionaires and were considered among the most successful individuals in the world. The task took Hill twenty years and culminated in a report that filled several volumes of work and outlined the commonalities of experience and process among those he’d surveyed in hopes of creating a path of success for future entrepreneurs to follow.

While Hill is credited with penning the first published concept of the mastermind, the practice of engaging with a tight circle of trusted advisors dates far before his definition to as early as the legendary Knights of the Round Table who advised King Arthur. And, in fact, many of the innovative ideas put into practice as part of the New Deal which many historians believe were responsible for stopping the downward spiral of the U.S. economy in the 1930’s were the result of the mastermind group which advised then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

123Over a century has passed since Hill described the role and value of the mastermind, and still today it is a very powerful tool for entrepreneurs. As part of our goal to empower women entrepreneurs and inspire them to think bigger, bolder and better, my cofounder of Hautepreneurs, Jessica Eaves Mathews and I established a mastermind for our group. We meet with a small number of fellow women entrepreneurs once a month, and I have learned first-hand the value of accessing trusted collective knowledge, experience and creative thinking.

Here is why every entrepreneur needs to be a part of a mastermind:

No Complacency Allowed

As the founder of a company, every day is filled with demands and needs coming fast and furious from a multitude of directions, including customers, employees, vendors, investors and beyond. It is easy to allow your time to be consumed with addressing issues as they arise and to not to push ourselves into new areas of growth – the very thing that must happen if we are to stay relevant and capture more of the market. Meeting with a group of peers who all live with the same level of demands means that you will likely get very little pity or license to go easy on yourself. Whether you are afraid to embrace the risk of growth, face the upheaval of firing an entrenched problem employee, or of forcing yourself to slow down to gain proper perspective, a mastermind group will push you beyond complacency and auto-pilot, challenging you to address problems, step up your game and lead with more authority and courage.

Safe to be Vulnerable

There is this scene in the movie You’ve Got Mail where a famous author comes rushing into the book store worried about the possible loss in business due to a new big-box book seller opening nearby that could mean the little store might be closed before her upcoming book signing. The accountant puts on a brave face and declares, “No difference!” despite it being patently untrue. As an entrepreneur, we quickly learn that it is imperative to put on a brave face, wear our courage with a smile, and push forward into the future with all confidence despite living dangerously close to the edge of failure. We often feel isolated and alone, because we can’t let our guard down and talk about the moments when we are terrified that perhaps all we’ve done is build an intricate house of cards that will come tumbling down at any moment. These are the moments of fear and self-doubt that only another entrepreneur can understand. When members of a mastermind are bound by a legal NDA (non-disclosure agreement), there is an incredible freedom that comes with that level of trust. We can talk about the fear, about how close we’re pushing to the edge, about the level of risk we’re living with. And what we discover is that we are far from alone – that every entrepreneur out there is living with more risk, more fear, more worry and less runway than anyone else might be willing for. And sometimes, in the shared experience of learning we are not alone in our fears or in our willingness to take calculated risks, we can begin to accept that our reality and our choices are not so crazy or stupid as they sometimes seem at three in the morning when we haven’t yet figured out how we’re going to meet the lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves and our company.

Access to Variety of Expertise

The best masterminds are organized with a similar level of success and drive but from varied backgrounds and industries. When you seek the advice of others within your industry, you can begin with a higher level shared knowledge that makes it easier for your peers to understand the nuances of your current challenge, but what it won’t get you is the fresh perspective that comes with entrepreneurs who work within a very different industry and approach your challenge from a unique history and experience. When you can tap into the varied experiences, expertise and talents of successful entrepreneurs in different industries, you’d be surprised at the creative approaches that are suggested that often solve your problem in a way you would have never thought of on your own.

Steel Sharpens Steel

For a mastermind group to deliver the most value for all of the members, it is vital that the group be of similar levels of success with similar goals for growth. If the group includes a mix of powerhouse, highly driven leaders and more casual business owners, the friction of values will eventually lead to all of the members feeling that the group is not delivering enough value for the time expended. The leaders will feel frustrated and those who are happy with less pressure will feel disrespected. When the group is created with careful consideration of pairing the level of goals and intensity of drive among the individuals within the group, and when it is kept small enough for each in attendance to have enough time to feel heard and supported, the members will leave with a clarity of focus that only comes from steel sharpening steel.

Being a part of a mastermind where I can bring the unique challenges I have encountered as our team grows APPCityLife into a global platform – and where I can draw from my own experience to shed new light on the challenges of my fellow members are facing – it has helped me understand the real value of making ourselves accountable, vulnerable and available to our peers. With the right kind of mastermind, entrepreneurs gain a level of support and safety that is rare within the startup world.


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Travis Kellerman: Watch New Mexico Rise

Travis Kellerman: Watch New Mexico Rise

 

Travis Kellerman, Cofounder / CEO Bandojo

A few weeks ago, I went to visit Travis Kellerman, an inspiring young entrepreneur who is pursuing several new interests including Bandojo, LLC, a startup making it fun to learn music through a blending of mobile tech, scientific research and creative play where he currently serves as Cofounder and CEO. As I climbed the steps to his front door, I recalled the early days of APPCityLife when our team frequently met either in my living room or around our dining room table. He opened the door and welcomed me in, and we chatted on our way to the upper floor that is converted into a large workspace. We spent about an hour chatting about his vision for his young company, the challenges he’s faced and the direction of a pivot that needed to happen. The hour went far too fast, as it often does when sharing the dream of an entrepreneur.

A product of rural New Mexico, Travis grew up in Silver City, New Mexico before pursuing a political degree at the University of New Mexico. For someone with most of his life still ahead of him, Travis has already built an impressive resume, initially deeply involved in the world of politics, including stints as Regional Director, Campaign Manager and Field Organizer for big name New Mexico politicians like Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich as well as Majority Liaison for the House Majority to the Senate –  before landing on the management team of a young startup innovating payment systems for restaurants called Lavu, Inc. He spent four years working for the startup, building distribution and reseller networks, operational structure and managing the company’s PR, social media and branding.

About a year before he left Lavu, Travis launched his first company serving as a consultant offering expertise in business and channel development, branding and marketing. Travis also recently joined the Board of Directors of the Coronado Ventures Forum, a New Mexico organization focused on education and networking opportunities for the entrepreneurial and investor communities in the state. Along with his involvement with Bandojo, Travis, like many entrepreneurs, has many passions and interests.

In March of 2014, Travis closed the chapter on his time at Lavu and began building the foundation of his own startup which launched a month later. Travis cofounded the company with Dr. Panaiotis, a talented musician, composer and educator who designed the software at the core of Bandojo’s musical application and website based on his research and experience. And in a city where talented software engineers and programmers are often hard to find, Travis has had little difficulty building an early team of developers – including local developer Andrew Stone, a successful entrepreneur and mobile app designer.

Having cut his “startup” teeth previously with a successful young team before launching into his own startup, Travis comes to the world of entrepreneurship with a deeper level of understanding and experience than many of his peers. Travis often avoids the limelight and would prefer attention and praise be focused elsewhere, and his quiet and unassuming demeanor make him very approachable and well-liked. But it would be a gross miscalculation to interpret his quietness as a lack of the passion required to build a startup. One has only to look at his fast rise to positions of leadership within the political arena at a very young age to understand that behind his gentle smile, there is a strength of purpose and a tenacity that will carry him past many of the roadblocks and difficulties that are almost always a part of growing startups from initial idea to the version which gains traction. Travis Kellerman is a shining example of why we will continue to Watch New Mexico Rise.

 


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Why We Must Help Bridge the Gap For Women In Tech

I remember you; you’re the one we used to bet when you’d fail.

The comment came from a former writer who, like me, had been a contributor for one of New Mexico’s most prestigious publications, The Albuquerque Tribune, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper which closed its doors in 2008 – only a year before I made the shift from well-known local writer to founder of a tech corporation. And not founder of just any tech company – I launched APPCityLife as a company tasked with forging a path in the brand new industry of mobile.

March, 2010 - in San Francisco to attend MobileBeat 2010, where APPCityLife was named one of the 20 Hottest Startups. I was the only woman in the pitch contest - the first time I realized the immense gender gap I was facing.

March, 2010 – in San Francisco to attend MobileBeat 2010, where APPCityLife was named one of the 20 Hottest Startups. I was the only woman in the pitch contest – the first time I realized the immense gender gap I was facing.

While I may understand why he, like many other former colleagues, believed a quick demise was eminent for a woman taking the leap from writer to tech startup founder, the discovery that they actually took bets on how long it would take me to fail was a bit of a shock. For me, the decision wasn’t any bigger leap than the one I’d already taken from stay at home mom to writer. I haven’t ever waited to be qualified to do something that I wanted or needed to do – not ever. I applied for my first real job the same day the state of Ohio deemed me legally old enough to earn a paycheck – and I got hired from the first store I walked into despite having no previous experience in retail. At sixteen years old, I’d already been babysitting for six years and selling and delivering newspapers (sometimes two routes) for eight years. Yes, eight years. I started selling Grit Magazine door to door to earn extra money when most kids my age were busy playing kick ball or riding bikes. I wasn’t afraid of stretching skills or work, and that was the only qualification necessary to learn the rest that was needed.

Over the past five years as we’ve grown APPCityLife into the civic tech platform it is today, I’ve wondered how many other women would embrace tech if they believed it possible to do so. Tech is so much more than being a full-fledged developer, scientist or engineer, and one of our goals has been to empower individuals on the fringe of tech to not just join the community but change the conversation by being part of it.

The Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp with 40% Women Participants

The Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp with 40% Women Participants

We recently hosted our first Mobile App Bootcamp, opening up our platform to the public for the first time. I was overcome with emotion as I looked out across the room of participants and realized that almost half of the room were women. Many, like me, possessed passion, vision, and innovative ideas but hadn’t taken the path of formal education in a STEM degree. And in that moment I realized the true, equalizing power of what we’d spent five years building at APPCityLife – our blend of civic tech and user-friendly access is a gateway for women as well as other under-represented groups to not only embrace but become active, contributing participants in tech.

Our bootcamp is the beginning of a new initiative we are spearheading at APPCityLife – a push to bring access to our platform to individuals and groups all around the world who already have the creativity, ideas and passion to envision valuable solutions to civic challenges within their own community. In fact, our second event is already lined up, and we’ll be opening our platform to participants at a hackathon in Silicon Valley aimed at solving transportation challenges for the region. If all that is needed to is access to a user-friendly platform which bridges the current gap between the non-tech and highly skilled developers, we can make that happen, and that is so exciting to me.

Screenshot 2014-10-09 07.53.48News broke yesterday of Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen and Marc Andreessen donating $500,000 to Girls Who Code, Code2040 and Hack the Hood, all nonprofits focused on bringing new opportunities in tech to women and black and Latino people. And while I admit to being sensitive to the subject after being on the front lines for the past five years, I found it ironic that the top search results for articles about the Andreessen’s donation all focused on Marc, many failing to even mention his wife’s involvement. In fact, the first result to include her name was penned by a woman journalist.

APPCityLife Founder / CEO pitching at the Deal Stream Summit, one of three women to pitch among ten high potential tech startups in New Mexico.

APPCityLife Founder / CEO pitching at the Deal Stream Summit, one of three women to pitch among ten high potential tech startups in New Mexico.

Our team was one of ten companies invited to pitch on October 7, 2014, at the Deal Stream Summit which brought together investors from New Mexico and the region. When I pitched with the group last year, I was the only woman. This year, there were three women presenters – a significant increase. In fact, one woman pitched on stage after having less than 24 hours to polish her presentation after her business partner landed in the hospital with a heart attack. She represented well, especially given the limited time to prepare. But since the event, not one news story published to date has covered or even named a single woman who participated in the event, although one online piece did at least post a photo. And of the women investors present at the event – not a single one was mentioned or included either. Please know that this is not about women wanting special treatment or not celebrating the successes of male colleagues, I do. This is about voicing concern over the insidious gender bias that is still happening today, where the men are taken more seriously, given more credence by the press.

Some days it gets wearying to face the additional challenges it takes for a woman to make it in the world of tech, but on days when it feels like that to me, I pull out the photo of all of the women that attended our first bootcamp. I remind myself how lucky I am to have not only a supportive, proactive spouse and cofounder but two other male cofounders who have all put their faith in a woman CEO and are giving everything they have to help change the possibilities for other women and under-represented groups by building a platform which will deliver access to tech and help bridge the gap. It’s impossible to stay discouraged for long with that much support and when that kind of promise lies ahead. If all it takes is stretching skills, hard work, and the courage to not play by the rules of the boys’ club, whether we’re men or women – we can all do that.

Originally published in Huffington Post.


Saying Goodbye One Day at a Time

It’s an odd, thing, this process of grief. I was prepared to miss my father – and I have. Sometimes it’s a painful hole; others, it’s the quiet understanding that I am a little more alone in the world than I was when he was was here. But there are these odd moments when it still hits completely out of the blue, and the grief hits like a sledgehammer. The tears come without notice – and without the ability to stop them. I wasn’t really prepared for that.

I was recently on a crowded flight watching what is a light-hearted, fun story of a family in the eighties. It’s more about the laughs – and the bad fashion and hairstyles – than about anything of real depth. So it took me quite by surprise when a scene at the end of a recent episode caused me to burst into tears – while passengers nearby looked at me with a mixture of discomfort, annoyance and pity.

Maybe it was knowing that there isn’t a father there anymore to come rescue me. I don’t really know. There are days that the ache for what will never be again is a constant companion, and then there are times that I do ok – only to be surprised by how close to the surface the sorrow still is. All I know is that through it all, I am so grateful to have had a father worth grieving over his loss. That is the real gift in all of this – the understanding that his was a precious presence in my life, and his influence will carry on with me long after my last goodbye.


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Technology Ventures Corporation (TVC): Watch New Mexico Rise

Technology Ventures Corp (TVC)

 

While there are organizations and institutions that have been a part of New Mexico longer than Technology Ventures Corporation  – better known locally as TVC – I am not sure there is an organization that has helped bring more funding into the state focused on investments in New Mexico-based tech companies or helped launch more tech startups or  with the sole purpose of changing the economy through creating an entire support system to identify, support, grow and exit tech startups in the state. Please know that if there are, I welcome the corrections, as this is a personal look at what is going right in our state and not a thoroughly researched piece of journalism.

In fact, TVC first came on my personal radar when I was a freelance journalist. Assigned to write a profile on the iconic Sherman McCorkle, who was part of the initial team which, in 1993, launched TVC as a nonprofit 501-(c)3 as part of the initial bid by Lockheed Martin to manage Sandia National Laboratories. Sherman served as President and CEO and was deeply involved in the reach and scope of TVC until his exit in 2011. He also served on a long list of company’s boards as well as community and educational institutions. I interviewed Sherman in late 2010, one of the last assignments I took before wrapping up my writing career as I prepared to launch my own tech startup which didn’t even have a name at that point.

Sherman McCorkle

Sherman McCorkle

During my interview with Sherman, he was relaxed. He reclined behind his desk with his legs crossed, revealing his always iconic cowboy boots. But the moment I mentioned my idea to Sherman as an example of a follow-up question, he quickly abandoned the prospect of talking further about his own history. His face lit up with a wide smile as he uncrossed his legs and leaned forward behind his desk. For the next few moments, I shared my first tentative ideas about my business, which I hadn’t yet completely decided to launch. By the time we ended our interview, Sherman had pretty much moved me to the next steps of founding my own company. I once told him later that I never understood his willingness to not only humor me on that day but to continue to mentor me and provide introductions and access to those I needed to help with APPCityLife. His response has carried me through many dark, low points along the way. “There were several of us who saw the spark in you, who believed you had what it would take to become a great CEO,” he said. “Besides, you had a damn good idea.”

Sherman’s passion to foster those tiny sparks of possibility within individuals was infectious and became part of the culture of TVC that still drives today’s team. By their own accounting, TVC “… figured prominently in the production of more than $1.2 billion in venture capital investments,more than 120 new high-tech companies and more than 13,500 new jobs.” And as impressive as that is, – and as a repeat recipient myself of TVC’s services – it actually isn’t why I believe that TVC is one of the most important cogs in the wheel that is helping New Mexico rise. I believe TVC has served a vital role in our state because their entire focus is on what is best for the entrepreneurs they support. As a 501(c)3, TVC has the privilege of focusing on goals other than creating a revenue stream or building value off of those they serve, including:

  • Free to the public classes on a continuing basis to empower startup founders to learn the tools needed to protect intellectual property as well as entrepreneurial training in partnership with Sandia
  • Hosting one of the only major pitch events in New Mexico where promising tech companies are given vital national exposure after being mentored for several weeks to properly prepare for on-stage pitches to investors who attend the annual summit from across the country. In fact, one in three companies to go through the program have received funding – all without giving up any equity to TVC.
  • TVC continues to foster tech transfer from the federal labs to entrepreneurs in the private sector, leveraging tech innovation already developed through our tax dollars into high-paying tech jobs in startups which are not dependent on federal funding but, instead, contribute to the tax base of the state.
John Freisinger

John Freisinger

In the past few years under the leadership of the organization’s current CEO, John Friesenger, TVC’s team has broadened its scope to embrace more tech companies which are not built on tech-transfer, including companies like my own. In fact, this year’s Deal Stream Summit features several companies which are private enterprise rather than tech transfer. I am excited to have the opportunity to share the vision of our company when I join nine other companies who will pitch at this year’s Deal Stream Summit on October 7, 2014, in Albuquerque.

In the past decade, the number of organizations and groups springing up across the country whose revenue and growth are completely dependent on entrepreneurs has exploded and have generated increased concern over the burgeoning numbers from many in the industry including Mark Cuban. TVC has been serving the startup community long before it was vogue to be a startup and has continued to evolve to support today’s startups. TVC is a shining star among the organizations helping us all watch New Mexico rise.

If you have a story about your own experience with TVC or want to share a part of their history that might not be covered here, please share your comments here.

 

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