Ladies, Let’s Get Started

Why women in Sacramento are making maker headlines

Back Commentary Nov 20, 2014 By Tracy Saville

I’m a risk taker. Yet this is not so much about my nature, rather I attribute it to the ecosystem where I live and work, the mentors who have shown me the way, and about Sacramento’s new maker culture I find myself enveloped in — where permission to fail is encouraged.

As a member of a management team building a clean-tech company in the region, and as a serial entrepreneur with a penchant for helping bring startups in the clean-tech and social/mobile space to disruptive grace, I believe that to change the failing paradigms of education, innovation, and climate action while serving the most disadvantaged among us, we have to get over our fears and get to making.

That’s exactly what UP Global’s Startup Weekend, Women’s Edition, held Nov. 14-16 affirmed.  The event produced at least five winning ideas, and proved women are a driving force in our maker culture.

Victoria Stoyanova, Regional Manager for Europe’s UP Global program, was visibly astonished by the startup ecosystem she found in Sacramento, saying, “This is the most powerful community I have seen anywhere.”

What was wholly unique and serious about this startup weekend is not that it was for women primarily (men could participate on teams), or that so many bankable businesses were baked out of the divergently creative space that is the Urban Hive, where the event was held.

My most important take-aways from this extraordinary weekend were:

  1. the quality of the ideas;
  2. the disruptive solutions offered up against winning business models; and
  3. the unbelievable strength of the collaborative ecosystem created and sustained by those who organized and attended — my count was over 250, men, women, and children alike.

Add a skoach of well-developed critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and iterative ability among the vision leaders of the winning entrepreneurs (winners were Dash_Bar, MakeMyQuince, and BARK), and Sacramento has found a recipe for serious business baking that we can ill afford to write-off as just another hacker event. Dash_Bar is a “brain” for your bike, using a mobile app to integrate a bike’s accessories, and will charge your phone as you ride and provide safety features like a rear video camera. MakeMyQuince gives young Hispanic girls and their families a crowd funding and event-planning platform for the traditional Quinceañera — in 2011, there were nearly 3 million 16 year-old Hispanic girls in the US alone. And then there was BARK, a sharing network web and mobile app platform that connects dog owners with each other and enables community care and feeding.

Investors, I hope you’re listening.

According to Change the Equation, a nonprofit working to bridge business and education to insure that all students are STEM-literate, “the Sacramento area has three times more STEM jobs than a typical city its size.” Green or clean-tech is helping drive that trend, but they are only one part of the tech sector recipe simmering vigorously in our region, sectors that the serious women startup maker culture can fuel.

Sacramento State’s Higher Education and Leadership Policy Institute reminds us that while  “keeping with recent trends, between 2006 and 2016, employment in STEM occupations in California is expected to grow…the supply of STEM-educated workers is not keeping pace with demand.”  Maybe Startup Weekend Women’s Edition gave us some clues on how to kick start that supply.

With a growing maker and creative culture — HackerLab, Urban Hive, CapCity, SARTA’s TECHCon channels of innovation acceleration, AngelHack, UP Global, Flywheel Accelerator, etc. — Sacramento’s startup ecosystem is a critical part of addressing not only our STEM job shortfalls, but our NextEconomy and climate economy goals as well.

Women are offering up unique talents that could accelerate our economy, percolate social benefit companies with profit-making power that can deliver STEM jobs, and leverage (and better coordinate) the incredible, growing support system for women in business regionally.

The Sacramento Women’s Chamber of Commerce, NAWBO Sacramento, the Women’s Business Center, Women In Technology Sacramento (WITI), Women4Science, GirlsOnTheGrid, and many other women-centric and STEM-centric programs and chamber efforts are heating up to increase the number of successful, women-owned or led STEM-connected companies, as well as companies that will have significant impacts on our regional economy, culture and social fabric.

The Global Fund for Women recently launched IGNITE: Women Fueling Science and Technology, a project that calls for investment from governments, funders, and corporations to  close the global gap between men and women in accessing, shaping, and leading science and technology.

A STEM-related startup at the women’s weekend event, Playbook, is intent on helping connect female teens with STEM role models. Playbook, founded by Cari Vinci, is one of the Velocity Ventures finalist businesses currently participating in Velocity’s entrepreneurial boot camp in Folsom.

However, in the non-virtual world, we must do more to turn the sparks into flames.

Dr. Judith Kjelstrom is Director of the UC Davis Biotechnology Program, Director of their Advanced Degree Program (ADP), and Program Manager for their Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology & NIH Training Program in Biomolecular Technology (clearly also a maker role model herself). After attending Sunday’s final pitches, she said:

“I was so impressed with the energy and creativity at the Sacramento Women’s Startup event.  Our young women really impressed me with their innovative solutions. As a growing percentage of the scientific and technological workforce, women need to participate fully not just in finding solutions to technical problems, but also in building the organizations responsible for the job creation that will bring these solutions to market and to bear on pressing issues.”

So what did all this hoopla amount to?

It’s about what the 36 mentors at the event said to the 26 entrepreneurs who pitched, and the 10 teams competing for the top prizes. It’s about awesomeness in the face of adversity. It’s about learning from your mistakes, facing your fears. It’s about working fast and smart, relying on each other, and at the end of the day, putting yourself out there because if not you, then who? If not now, then when?

I live by the dictum, “Imagine the impossible,” because everything is possible. And while we may not have to DO everything, just because we can, sometimes we are the only ones to do what must be done because we can.

That is the burden of being a maker. The women of Sacramento, of every age and station, are clearly up to the challenge.

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