Monday, March 31, 2014

Female Founders Who Are Using Tech to Empower Communities

As a renter in San Francisco who was recently slammed with a 40% increase in my housing rent, I’ve been engaging in a healthy dose of conversation about the impacts of gentrification in San Francisco. Most discussions have focused on blaming the influx of techies for ruining San Francisco. As a member of that community, I think more attention needs to be given to the many entrepreneurs who are using technology to impact society for the better.

I’ve been organizing Women 2.0’s Founder Friday* events (now, re-launched as City Meetups!) in San Francisco as a volunteer for two years, during which I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from some of the most innovative female thought-leaders –attendees and speakers alike–who are using technology and innovation to focus on change around their communities.

Jen Pahlka (Founder, Code for America) 
One of my favorite Founder Friday events featured Jen Pahlka, the founder of Code for America**, which is essentially “the peace corps for geeks.” CfA focuses on connecting techies with governments to solve public service problems, design community improvements and support civic startups across the United States. Making changes in the governmental sector is incredibly difficult, but she’s using techies and technology to make community changes around all of the red tape. Not only did she tell our group about the company’s many accomplishments in public policy innovation she’d shared in a TEDTalk, but she also got on a more personal level with the audience and talked about how she schedules her life to balance the duties of running her company while being a mom. (Sidenote, they have a cool list of free apps for things like collecting and interpreting community feedback and helping parents select schools for their kids).

Jessica Scorpio (Founder, Getaround)
As a long time fan of Singularity University, which is a generator of tech ideas to better humanity, I was stoked to hear from Jessica Scorpio, who hosted a past Founder Friday, and shared the story of how she founded her company, Getaround. Getaround was conceived at Singularity University, where Larry Page tasked Jessica and her co-founders with thinking of something that would positively impact one billion people in ten years. The team decided on the solution of revolutionizing transportation through carsharing. Carsharing has put pressure on car companies to be more accountable for environmental considerations and for car rental and taxi companies to be more accountable for good service. Neither of these social changes would have happened nearly as quickly without the pressure of innovative startups like Getaround.

We’ve had countless amazing speakers over the past couple years including–Danae Ringlemann, Founder of Indiegogo, Julia Hartz, Co-founder of Eventbrite, and Leah Busque, Founder of TaskRabbit. All of these entrepreneurs have developed technologies that better integrate their communities and improve the environment around them through technology.

If you’re in the realm of wanting to be a techie or wanting to improve your tech skills, which is a popular initiative for furthering socioeconomic improvement, General Assembly should be on your radar. They were the venue for February’s San Francisco Founder Friday, and they’re focused on innovating traditional education by teaching relevant skills in today’s rapidly changing tech environment; like data science, front-end web development, and digital marketing, which can be directly applied at work.

While I’ll leave the core gentrification debate to writers much more evocative than myself, there is a definite role that “techies” and entrepreneurs can play in fixing the negative effects of gentrification and prioritizing social change. We already have some great role models to look to, and continuing to highlight them in the media and at events such as Women 2.0 City Meetups, will help make social change a greater priority in the innovation dialogue.

*Founder Fridays (newly re-named “City Meetups”!) are events produced by Women 2.0, which give a city’s current and aspiring innovators an opportunity to speak one-on-one with notable mentors in innovation, to meet each other, and to share their experiences on a regular basis (if you’re not in San Francisco, these events also take place in 19 other cities).

**I have no promotional obligation to any of the referenced companies.

Reblogged from my original post at

Attempting to Program Serendipity Through Women 2.0 City Meetups

I learned about Women 2.0 back in 2007 via a blog post by Sarah Tavel. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and Women 2.0–along with all of the other writers of the blogs I was reading–was based only in San Francisco. I was already buckled into the tech startup bandwagon, but this particular post about a napkin startup pitch competition gave me the serious case of FOMO that eventually brought me to the beautiful, meteorologically erratic city of San Francisco.

After experiencing the transplant initiation frenzy of attending every Eventbrite and happy hour I could find, I wanted more involvement and got in touch with Women 2.0 about volunteering opportunities. Soon after, I was told they needed help officially launching Founder Fridays (newly re-named City Meetup) in San Francisco. I’ve been organizing the Women 2.0 San Francisco monthly meetup events for more than two years now and have seen them launch in 20 cities worldwide. We’ve had more than 25 different female founders (Julia Hartz of Eventbrite, Ruchi Sanghvi of Cove/Dropbox and Jen Pahlka of Code for America, to name a few) speak at our San Francisco events and meet with attendees one on one.

Here’s what I’ve witnessed as an organizer of these events:

I’ve seen a number of attendees get jobs from people they met at the events, I remember one attendee in particular who got a job at TaskRabbit after meeting the founder who happened to be a speaker at the event.

Another cool account was hearing that Deena Varshavskaya, the Founder of Wanelo, (who hosted and spoke at our January event), had attended the nascent version of these events before she started her company. I’ve met women in the midst of building really cool companies at every event as well.unnamed

Beyond meeting people who’ve contributed to my consulting practice, I ended up meeting one of my best friends, a female engineer at Cloudera, at an early event. She’s my go-to tech and startup event companion and we’ve shared countless life memories since, including Burning Man. 

I met two of my co-organizers, Salem Kimble and Kate Rohacz, through subsequent Founder Friday events. I actually met my other co-organizer, Kathie Green, while on a flight to SXSW a few years back. The ephemeral nature of working in startups makes it difficult to find consistent mentors, so we have regular career coaching happy hours to bounce career-based issues and thoughts off of each other. It’s fantastic to know a group of women who make a point of creating sources for this, and it’s pretty logical that I found them through these events.

This is basic, but it’s the part that many attendees I’ve spoken with (and myself) tend to have the hardest time remembering. Business cards are like that pair of jeans you keep because you think you’ll eventually fit them, but they just end up unused in the back of your closet. Once I take the effort to use any business cards I get, I end up learning the most interesting things about the person, far beyond our initial conversation. Usually, talking to about five women at an event leads to at least one relationship that continues beyond it, as long as I follow up.

Lastly, in an elegant full circle, I ended up meeting Sarah Tavel at one of our events a few months ago. I’d invited Christine Lemke to speak and Sarah showed up to support her. As a result, I got to hear about how she’s liking the startup world at Pinterest and we discussed how we had some company projects in common.

Despite constantly reflecting on how many ridiculously smart people live in San Francisco, I’ll never get over how easy it is to meet someone awesome, by just talking to a handful of new people every month. It also really helps that attendees at our events are self-selected in wanting to meet other women who also think about innovation and technology in their free time.


Reblogged from my original post at
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