What a difference a year makes.
In one year, the conversations about the challenges women face in the technology industry broadly and the startup world specifically went from being segmented and novel to widespread and national. Major media companies like Newsweek, chronicled in detail women’s experiences in startups and tech companies in Silicon Valley. The Valley’s tech giants released reports detailing the diversity, or the lack thereof, in their workforce. And thought pieces about why more women should and how they can be more involved in technology popped up almost as frequently as stories about startups.
Here in the Triangle, the movement to encourage more women to start their own businesses or join the growing local tech industry has almost taken on a life of its own. E51 went from being a one-time session for women to air their grievances about working in startups to co-hosting the Inaugural Innovative Women Conference at NC State University. Triangle Startup Weekend hosted its first weekend focused on increasing female attendance, and garnered over 70% participation from women. And local news sites regularly feature articles about the “women in tech/startups” issue.
And then there’s Soar, backed by Google for Entrepreneurs’ #40Forward initiative with the mission to—“build a Triangle-wide community specifically geared to preparing female entrepreneurs starting scalable businesses for success.” The program launched less than a year ago and has already had an impact on four mentee women and their companies, and helped build momentum for the “women in tech” conversation in the Triangle through networking and educational events.
At a celebration hosted by the American Underground on its new rooftop patio last week, Soar celebrated its first year, its first class of entrepreneurs and their companies, and laid out a roadmap for the year ahead. We attended the event and caught up with three of the Soar mentees afterwards to hear about their experiences with Soar, get an update on their companies and ask their advice for the next class of applicants.
Tatiana Birgisson, Mati Energy
Birgisson is probably the most recognizable Soar mentee. She and her company, Mati Energy, were recently featured on CNN Money, and regularly make the front pages of local news sites. Later this week she’ll represent the Triangle at Google’s Demo Day. But in case you’re uninitiated, Mati Energy is the company behind the healthy energy drink, MATI.
In the past year, Birgisson says Mati went from $15,000 in revenue to surpassing $100,000—a 666 percent in a year. Birgisson says her company’s growth is a “testament to the value of the Soar program.” In addition to the mentoring and publicity the program provided her—she says the media publicity MATI received in association with Soar increased her sales at Whole Foods by 40 percent—her mentors were “instrumental” in helping her navigate and prepare for the NC IDEA grant application process. She won a grant late last year.
She also credits Soar for helping her make connections with heavyweights in the industry like Jonathan Prinz, a former Coke branding consultant who helped Birgisson refine the MATI brand and messaging. And as a true testament to the types of relationships the Soar program has the potential to build, one of Birgisson’s mentors is joining the company’s board.
Advice for Applicants
Gucciardi advises Soar applicants to make time to attend the educational events because they are excellent. Also, be ready to work hard, “because this is a program that can take a business to the next level.”
Kmiecik encourages applicants to “be determined,” and take advantage of the resources and the Triangle’s “great community” of people who are willing to share experiences and connections.
Birgisson’s advice for Soar applicants is to demonstrate early traction and the ability to scale within the timeframe of the Soar program, to plan to fundraise during the program to get the most out of it and to remember to be “coachable” and to take advantage of the mentor’s time and resources.
Gibbs also offered some advice to Soar applicants—“do not be shy about applying,” and “be honest about your gaps as you see them.”
The application opens April 1st and can be found at soartriangle.co