Extra chairs were brought in — and promptly filled. The sold-out women in tech demo day was approaching a close: the pitches before the judges followed by a keynote from Asmau Ahmed, Founder, Plum Perfect & Digital Product Leader, Capital One was all that was standing between the participants and the remainder of the weekend. I took a spot behind the judges at a table previously occupied by one of the teams and watched as team after team pitched. The experienced and polished to enthusiastic first-timers. Recent high-school graduates to second-career and career-changers. VR, community, mobile and web. There were slogans, tag-lines and logos — and an idea released in beta on GitHub. And a call to action from Asmau (If we want to change the future — this is what we must do!) but the five takeaways from the keynote after the pitches.
In pitching order, the ideas were:
Slack Bias Whaaat! taking on unconscious bias by looking for specific words (like “Hey Guys”) on Slack.
Bias Blaster focused on creating a way to talk comfortably and continually about diversity in the workplace.
Link With Women aims to connect STEM women on LinkedIn by elevating the number of women appearing in connection “people you may know” recommendations.
InspireHer was a team of High School students focused on skills building through mentorship — with a little help from VR.
The Tech Sisterhood was a gender diverse team with a career elevating platform to support minority women entering the tech sector.
Convenus solving gender attribution and bias in online meeting rooms used in the business environment (think, Go-To-Meeting) with up-votes and anonymity.
Check Yourself — a Chrome extension targeting bias in social interactions (with a little help from the Watson Tone Analyzer).
Bias Blur pitched by a team of recent grads from a coding bootcamp who faced bias in the hiring process. As the lead noted “I work too hard to not get a job based on race or gender”.
Wonder Girls addressing the small percentage of women contributing to open-source.
Basis solving internal networking and awareness of institutional unconscious bias challenges.
WITSource, a community that encourages sharing of resources about women in tech events.
Woman Card a virtual deck of all the badass women in tech.
Nurish for working women in tech with families, a network of parents with ability to support each other.
Womakr a fast, location-based connector for women in tech.
Nameless focused on bias in the recruiting process by making anonymous skills and relevant experience profiles.
Natasha, a mighty team of 1 taking on how women fail to support other women.
TechBean a platform facilitating IRL and virtual coffee meetups by matching skills and interests.
GirlyBot a subscription (kit and digital challenges) to help girls retain an interest in STEM.
Why Can’t I Be A Black Founder Who Builds Product For Everyone?
Capital One’s Asmau Ahmed captivated the crowd with her startup journey as the founder of Plum Perfect. Born in Nigeria, it never occurred to her that she would face the kind of questioning she did as the CEO / founder of startup needing venture funding. Because of race and gender she was “too high risk” for investors. Ultimately she became a member of the $1 million dollar club — that is, the 11 black female founders of startups who back in 2012 had raised $1 million or more. Let that number sink in: 11. It’s nothing to send a congratulatory note about — but that’s what people did when Asmau made the list.
In the final slide of her presentation, Asmau set out 5 calls-to-action — that all of us can implement starting today:
- Become an investor.
- Advocate for having more women and diversity on boards.
- Get the men in your lives to become allies.
- Amplify your voice by helping each other.
- Never settle. Don’t give up.