Portland went off last night. Last night we landed in the PNW for a night of cocktails and conversation! We’ll talked all things entrepreneurship, creative & tech with women who are breaking down barriers and actively putting in work to build a better future. Over 300 guests attended the popup at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront, hearing from panelists Grace Mahary, Jessica Naziri, Karen Okonkwo, and Heather Lipner about their life in STEM, their aspirations, and how women are the true superheroes.
FIND YOUR TRIBE
TechSesh founder Jessica Naziri quit her job in the startup world when she felt like she didn’t belong. She told the crowd, “I never want to feel like that again. I want to make it my mission to empower myself and empower others.” So she taught herself to code— well, with a little help from her friends. “I am part of a network called Persian women in tech. We all meet once a month.” One of the women in the group help Jessica learn to code. “I’m not going to say I’m a programmer. I know the basics and that enabled me to understand the foundation. Even if you don’t want to code, just knowing a little bit is so important. These days it’s so easy— you can take an online course and empower yourself.”
Model and Project Tsehigh founder Grace Mahary also brought up that in such a digitally dependent world, there is no way to survive without getting involved in STEM in some way. So get on it.
TURN PASSION IN PROJECTS
Heather Lipner, the founder of then now-closed, but highly popular, Clashist (they made James Franco leggings) and now Drawsta, knew that she wanted to continue in the fashion world, but incorporate tech. “Augmented reality at that point was not really even a word people were talking about.” Before Snapchat even came out with face filters, Heather was doing R&D to figure out how to make Augmented Reality work in the fashion sphere. “If you don’t know what it is, it’s adding a digital layer to a physical thing you can touch and feel, and the digital layer can only be experienced through a device like an iPhone. With Drawsta you can have real time changes to your clothes. With AR you can upload a new animation— you can program your clothes in real time. It’s a powerful tool and a new way to experience wearing something. With Snapchat and Instagram stories everyone is changing their face, but it could be on clothes and surfaces.”
It could also make fashion more sustainable— something that Grace Mahary brought up.
OFFSET YOUR WORK
“I work in an industry that’s one of the most polluting on the planet, so it’s all about offsetting,” the activist told the crowd.
Project Tsehigh (PjT) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing uninterrupted energy to impoverished or remote communities around the world via renewable energy sources.
“While I was visiting and living in some of these developing nations I realized, very quickly, I couldn’t charge my phone, I would go to a restaurant and the power would go out. When you live in that condition you’re forced to see how people live and wake up every day. To think that you can’t wake up every day and have facilities that run consistently— that’s how I became passionate about it. We’re working with solar panels, and as of this month, we’ll be launching our first project in Eritrea, and we’re donating 101 solar units to households — and then a school, a church, and a mosque.”
Karen Okonkwo of TONL, a which seeks to transform the idea of stock photography by displaying images of diverse people and their stories around the world, explained, “For people to feel welcome in any industry, they need to see online that there are other people that look like them, in those particular fields. Imagery, in the form of advertising, is the first step in saying, ‘hey you are welcome and we want you here.’ That angle is very powerful and underutilized.”
“Sometimes, especially in the black community we feel tokenized,” Karen told the crowd. “I’m not trying to act like the spokesperson for the black community. I’m simply someone who is trying to provide change and influence. I may have some missteps along the way. Try to give people grace as they launch their businesses and feedback.”
She also dropped a version of this gem: Be your own Dora the Explorer and teach yourself.
“If you don’t see what you want— anyone who has a skill set, be that change. Start your own Facebook group or start your own meet up, or agree to mentor one person, that’s how we create that cascade of people who can enter into STEM. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, either. That knowledge is there for you to take.”
WOMEN ARE FREAKIN SUPERHEROES
“A lot of money is controlled by men, and that’s the biggest problem,” shared Heather when talking about raising money and going into VC meetings. “When you go and try to raise you’re almost always talking to a man and they don’t understand the female perspective. Until you experience something or have that problem, you’re not going to understand what the solution is. It’s harder for women to get funded, it sucks,” she said frankly. “For me I’ve been jumped into a room and seen a total glaze.” Which is why she says, “The money has to also be diverse in category, gender, race, and everything so you can create companies that are targeted for what your niche is.”
Heather then dropped this AMAZING bomb during the Q&A portion.
“I just had a baby. The baby was in me and then it came out of me. And I feed the baby with my breasts. Men cannot do that. I wish I could go back to all the VC meetings I had and to the men in those rooms say, ‘You have no power.’ I wish I could have a different mind shift and just go for it without being intimidated or being scared. It’s a crazy thing to think about. They might have the money. It’s artificial. It’s contrived. And we can change that. You just need that mind shift.