Don’t Call Me “Girl,” Sir: Women, Tech, and a Chat with Olivia Munn
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other needs. Falter says her company’s core technology is a text analysis algorithm that deciphers what people are talking about in social media. With different types of content being shared online, including video, images, and text, she says, it can get complicated for businesses to sort out what the public is saying. “There hasn’t been any innovation in how to process or analyze that many-to-one conversation,” Falter says.
Her introduction to entrepreneurship began with her mother, who launched a company (which she later sold) during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. “If you’re going to start a company you must be extremely passionate about what you do,” Falter says.
Her parents also sparked Falter’s interest in technology on her eighth birthday by giving her a unique gift: a domain name.
“I did not know what that was,” she says. “There was no website.” So during those formative years she learned how to work with HTML forms and developed some rudimentary coding skills. Falter believes more parents should think outside the box when picking gifts for their children. “Instead of giving a Barbie doll, give something like littleBits tinkering sets to make an Arduino,” she says, referring to an electronics kit. “Inspire your children to be creators.”
Marie, the CEO of 72Lux, says she grew up with an interest in technology and a desire to start her own business. She sought experience before founding her own company though, wary of the amount of work it would require, and joined another startup in the San Francisco Bay Area. “I knew it was either going to convince me ‘I can do this’ or scare me to go running in another direction,” she says. “It helped prepare me for being able to do it on my own.”
72Lux, an alum of 500 Startups, developed technology that lets digital content publishers sell products by connecting related online editorial copy to e-tailers. Initially centered on fashion and beauty publications, Marie says the platform also offers categories such as exercise, health, sporting goods, and electronics. “Each new category we open up also opens up new publications and websites,” she says.
These three honorees were chosen from a pool of 1,600 women-led tech companies that applied to L’Oréal’s Women in Digital program, which is in its second year, for the chance to work with the cosmetics maker as well as get introduced to mentors and potential investors.
Rachel Weiss, vice president of digital innovation, content, and new business ventures at L’Oréal USA, has been championing the program’s efforts to connect with more women-led technology companies. “The lack of women pursuing careers in technology and engineering is alarming to me,” Weiss says, “especially as women will comprise over half the work force in the next few years and are controlling purchase decisions.” That raises questions, she says, about where this disconnect begins.
L’Oréal sees technology at the heart of its connection to customers, Weiss says, making the involvement of women in that aspect of the business more crucial. Much of innovation and technology at play at the company, she says, have been aimed at creating new products. “We’ve only recently started to talk about innovation from a go-to-market perspective,” she says. The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in New York, has interacted with startups before, Weiss says, yet few were led by women.
She says one of her goals with the program is to find new ways to make customers’ experience more meaningful, such as demystifying decisions on makeup. “Technology is a great tool for that,” Weiss says. “You can try on makeup in real-time with your mobile phone or get offers while you’re in stores.”
The Women in Digital program, she says, is about seeing more technology created by women for women. L’Oréal sought early-stage companies that it had not yet worked with but were ready to introduce technologies for interacting with the connected consumer. “We now have, after two years, a pipeline of more than 1,000 women-operated companies in a database we can go to in order to help us solve problems,” Weiss says.
In addition to honoring Cassidy, Falter, and Marie, on Wednesday night L’Oréal also announced a $25,000 college scholarship to be given to a graduate of the Girls Who Code program, one of the latest boosts this particular initiative has gotten.
Last week, Cornell NYC Tech separately announced its partnership in the launch of the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, which hopes to introduce young women in middle school to the technology world. New York-based Girls Who Code is a nonprofit effort to get more young women, initially high schoolers, interested in tech through computer science education and mentorship.
Cathy Dove, a Cornell NYC Tech vice president, says the university had been looking for ways to work with the New York community on the K-12 education front even before submitting the proposal for the engineering campus being built on Roosevelt Island. “We didn’t want to wait until we had a physical campus open to see what we could do,” she says. In looking for partners to help bring technology education to school kids, Dove says, Cornell connected with Girls Who Code. “We homed in on? middle school as a key time in a young person’s life when we should think about making a difference,” she says.
It almost goes without saying that universities want to see more students in their classrooms already primed to learn about science and technology. Reaching out to kids at the K-12 level can help fill the pipeline, she says, though it will be a few years before they are college-bound. With women particularly underrepresented in technology fields, Dove says, there is a need to get them more engaged early on with science, technology, engineering and math education.
Some 20 young women from middle schools will be taught programming fundamentals, robotics, Web development, and other skills in the eight-week program, which is already underway and runs through August 30 in New York. In addition to collaborating here with Cornell, the summer program is also being conducted in Detroit, San Francisco, San Jose, and Davis, CA.
Dove says summer is a good time to kick off this particular program, but the idea should not be ignored during the school year. “Girls Who Code does continuing work over the year, and I’m expecting we will also continue to work with these young women,” she says. “The goal we’re all looking for is to get a much broader group of kids interested in tech.”