At the Minnesota Tech $100K Catalyst Finale 2016 on Feb. 10, Area professor Daniel Dwight,made a monumental speech on the StartUp Nation. Echoing somewhat-famous scientist Richard Feynman, Dwight announced that in this year alone, “Everyone has a startup — including their mothers.” For many female entrepreneurs, this speech marked an important improvement in the tech industry; finally, mothers were now represented in the diverse pool of innovators. Even undergraduate women had the chance to prove themselves, pitching their ideas to judges, panelists and the audience, which included Sheryl Sandberg, Sue Wagner ’82 and Marissa Mayer.
The tech field has long faced issues with attracting women who tend to be more reluctant to run with their spontaneous start-up ideas.
“I had to consult all of the other soccer moms in my school district before deciding to launch my startup Car-Pool planning app,” Donna Alton said.
In the amount of time this woman took to gain a consensus among her peers, her son Eric had already stumbled upon the groundbreaking idea of a start-up lemonade stand. While she was making sure she felt psychologically comfortable breaking into a new market, he had secured a product, done a cost-flow analysis and found angel investors. The Minnesota Tech $100K Catalyst Finale 2016 hopes to correct this inequality of opportunity, giving moms equal footing with their sons in the startup world.
Among this year’s top competitors include Group BottleNeck. While talking nonsensically about Schrodinger’s dead cat, the group of Caucasian males lamented about how the sixth member of their team could not make it.
“She had crabs or something feminine,” Lloyd Calgary, a sophomore nano-engineer and member of Group BottleNeck, said.
Though the group’s only female could not make the Catalyst, the team made a compelling pitch. It is currently working on a new way for mothers to listen to mini-lectures while breastfeeding, called “Feed@Edu.”
“It’s like really ingenious. Basically, moms can download and listen to lectures ranging from 20 to 45 minutes that focus on topics like ‘Competition is for Suckers,’ and ‘How to be a Great Founder,’ while breastfeeding,” Stewart Alberta said. “We really want to get cool moms involved.”
BottleNeck cited the inspiration for their idea as a Reddit post about a mom who was fired from her job for breastfeeding.
“Yeah, my mom thought it was a cool idea. I’m really psyched to add it to my Tinder profile. I’ve already had my other four start-ups in the description, but this is going to really accelerate my success rate on that,” Vick Bhutti, another group member, added.
One of his other start-ups listed on his Tinder profile is a new dating app.
“It’s like Tinder, but for vertically-minded people. Like the whole left-right swiping doesn’t appeal to people who think about climbing the ladder and being ambitious and all,” said Bhutti while moving his arms as if he was playing table-top tennis. “So, yeah. In Ember, people swipe up and down, ’cause you like always want to be looking up at women. So it’s like feminist too — if you’re pretty.”
Bhutti met his current girlfriend, MaryBeth Westman, a fellow vertically-minded startup entrepreneur, on Ember.
“He wasn’t intimidated by my success. A lot of guys would be threatened by dating a woman with more financial capital than him. Instead, my success seems to motivate Vick to surpass me,” Westman said.
This is the new power couple, each feeding off each other’s network to increase the net worth of the team. It just goes to show that increasingly, women can have it all: the successful startup and the loving partner hoping to capitalize on her ingenuity.
When asked about Bhutti’s Feed@Edu, Westman replied, “Yeah! I am so excited to use it when I have kids in the future. I’m currently in the process of beta testing an app generator that generates a pros and cons list about in vitro fertilization, so Vick and I can bypass the doctor thing.”
When women have the access to the resources of the tech world, and the confidence to push their ideas into the market, new startups are birthed that most men would never consider.
Minnesota Tech $100K Catalyst Finale 2016 has one goal: to double the number of female-founded startups by 2050, bringing the total percentage to six percent. From Eric’s mom to Vick’s girlfriend, it is clear that these innovators are making significant progress toward that goal and charting a course for women in tech.