Steve Case wasn’t the only person who received red carpet treatment in the Triangle in recent weeks.
Lisa Abeyta, founder of the civic tech company APPCityLife, Inc. and a female entrepreneur support organization called Hautepreneurs, got a warm welcome when she trekked across the country from Albuquerque in April. Invited by her Triangle-based investor Jennifer Wege of MooDoos Sedona LP, Abeyta spent two days crisscrossing the Triangle and networking with leaders in the female founder movement like Albright Digital’s Vickie Gibbs and open data experts like Jason Hibbets and Reid Serozi.
Visits from out-of-town and up-and-coming entrepreneurs don’t typically make the news, nor do they attract the kind of attention Case did during his Rise of the Rest tour stop in the Triangle. But Abeyta’s visit is important for two reasons. It’s yet another indicator that the Triangle is on the rise—evidence that entrepreneurs from outside the region believe there are enough lessons to be learned from entrepreneurs and leaders in our community to justify a visit. It also proves the Triangle’s spirit of openness and the premium the community places on respecting and valuing each individual’s contribution regardless of background or demographic.
We met Abeyta during her visit and caught up again after her trip to get her thoughts on the region and learn how she’s implementing what she learned here back in New Mexico. But first, a bit about this ambitious woman.
Journalism, Civic-Tech, and Hautepreneurs
Abeyta is a serial entrepreneur, a strong supporter of female entrepreneurs, and leader in Albuquerque’s startup community. A former freelance writer, her work has been published in a variety of sites, from Writer’s Market to New Mexico Business Weekly, and she contributes to Huffington Post as an IconNext blogger.
The jump from freelancer to tech co-founder and CEO is a big one. But while Abeyta describes her independent writing career as, “only dipping your toes into the startup world,” she also says her journalist days taught her the importance of producing results in a timely fashion and the mechanics behind setting up a business. She also enjoyed being in charge of her own growth. Founding a technology business was a natural extension of both her journalism career and her long-standing interest in technology dating back at least to her high school graduation when she used her graduation money to buy a Commodore 64 (C64).
Several decades since the C64 peaked her interest, Abeyta contributes to technological innovation through the company she founded in 2009, APPCityLife, Inc. whose product is “a really powerful tool that users can utilize to create civic apps for cities anywhere in the world.”
Specifically, she likes to find the “intersection where open data solves problems for cities and the people who live there.” APPCityLife’s replicable and customizable template allows cities to hit that sweet spot. For example, Albuquerque’s public school district created an app for students and their parents with the sole purpose of notifying them—via push notifications—of emergencies and providing instructions for what to do during them. It’s simplistic design and laser-focused purpose has resulted in nearly universal adoption by parents of Albuquerque students since its release in August 2014.
While building APPCityLife, Abeyta found herself traveling across the country to learn from experts outside the state on how to build both her business and Albuquerque’s economy. Few trainings or conferences happened in New Mexico—and there was nothing for female entrepreneurs. So she connected with a fellow Albuquerque-based female entrepreneur, Jessica Eaves Mathews, over the issue and the two co-founded Hautepreneurs with the mission to create New Mexico’s “premier peer network for women entrepreneurs, thought-leaders and innovators.”
Since its inception in 2014, the group has arranged monthly networking events and sessions called “Design Councils” where attendees can learn from, support, and brainstorm with each other about challenges and opportunities their businesses face. Their first conference, “Haute Highlights,” held in February 2015 highlighted local companies and brought in talent and expertise from presenters like the Triangle’s (and CED’s) own, Joan Siefert Rose. She was a panelist on the “Investing in Your Future: How to Fund Your Dream,” panel.
Spun out of Hautepreneurs is the aptly titled, “Haute Hopes,” a non-profit that provides scholarships and/or grants to disadvantaged New Mexican female entrepreneurs who require funding to get their business off the ground but aren’t yet ready to fundraise. The co-founders raised money for the scholarships at their first annual gala event, “Haute Night Out.” They had a goal of raising enough funds to cover two scholarships but instead funded six.
In addition to the scholarship money, the recipients receive a year of mentorship and training, with the stipulation that once the mentee completes the program, she’ll mentor the next year’s class of participants.
Abeyta and Matthews aren’t done with the “Haute” theme yet. They plan to launch a series of programs under the Haute name, each with the aim of improving the startup business climate for female entrepreneurs in their city and state.
Why the Triangle
After learning more about the Triangle community from Seifert Rose, Abeyta soon made plans to visit our region. She wanted to learn about initiatives around open data, civic hacking and startup-hub building best practices.
Siefert Rose and CED’s Director of Communications Steve Hinkson coordinated with Wege to arrange 11 meetings for Abeyta, tours of American Underground and HQ Raleigh, and a happy hour at American Underground’s new rooftop patio in her honor. She left inspired and expects some of her new connections will lead to future collaborations and idea-sharing around civic tech. Her next Triangle visit is already on the books—June 11th-13th—when she will speak at CityCamp NC.
Post-visit, she says she observed both similarities and differences between the startup communities in the Triangle and Albuquerque.
In terms of similarities, it’s hard not to think of Soar and E51 when learning about Hautepreneurs, or American Underground’s HelpFest when reading about the “Design Councils” the organization hosts. And like Raleigh, Albuquerque has been at the forefront of the Open Data movement—it was one of the first cities to make city data sets openly available to residents.
But the Triangle’s momentum began before activity picked up in Albuquerque five years ago. As evidence, she pointed to our region’s startup hubs (American Underground, HQ Raleigh) and the fact they’re busting at the seams. She also noted that early-stage ventures here can afford office space, showing they’ve achieved some level of success.
(Researcher’s Aside—the high number of members paying to rent space at the Triangle’s startup hubs could be more influenced by the rates charged rather than the relative success of the early stage ventures. But Abeyta’s observation is interesting and worth noting and exploring.)
For Abeyta, seeing the Triangle’s thriving startup community was affirmation that the infrastructure—accelerators, incubators and organizations like Hautepreneurs—she and other startup enthusiasts are investing in can pay off. She was also inspired by the women she met and plans to share their stories with Albuquerque women. She hopes to invite women involved here to speak at Hautepreneur events.
And for the Triangle, the care with which CED and Wege planned and coordinated Abeyta’s visit highlights the value the region places on sharing the knowledge it’s acquired. It also says something about the Triangle’s startup community that it welcomes both Case and Abeyta with equally open arms within a week of each other.
It would have been easy to write off Abeyta’s visit as ancillary and unimportant compared to Case’s, but instead she and Case met with similar Triangle leaders, visited the same spaces, and attended similar events thrown in their honor.
Visits from heavyweights like Case are important to shine a light on the region, but visits from entrepreneurs like Abeyta are also important because of the lessons and stories that can be shared between regions.
The Triangle can always improve, it can always iterate, and it can always build upon its successes to get to the next level. And if it can help pull up sister cities in the process—all the better.