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.

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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.