The tech sector is a notoriously difficult place to be a woman. A congressional report shows that only 7% of women-founded businesses receive venture capital funding. Every time we turn around, it seems there’s another gaffe that causes a rise within the community — this ranges from major companies’ lack of women in board positions to distasteful overheard conversations.
While most everyone in the tech sector has an opinion on the issue, for me, being a woman in the fast-growing tech space has actually paid off. In fact, I think that in most ways, being a female in tech has worked to my benefit.
Maybe it’s the dynamic between me and my co-founder Eileen Murphy Buckley, or the fact that we’re an ed-tech company that operates in a female-dominated industry (nearly two-thirds of teachers in the U.S. are women). I’d like to think it’s because we built an amazing product that helps great teachers teach better. So far, all signs point to the fact that we’re doing something right: ThinkCERCA is now available in schools nationwide, and we’ve secured $1.5 million in funding. We were a graduate of the Impact Engine Accelerator’s inaugural class, and we won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Literacy Courseware Challenge in July 2013.
So how can you navigate the complex male-dominated tech world and succeed?
Combine Skill Sets
You have to be strategic about whom you partner with and bring onto your team. Our biggest success had nothing to do with gender. It had to do with our team’s unique combination of skills. I come from an entrepreneurial background, and have years of experience taking businesses from concept to launch, growing them in both revenue and size. Eileen is a teacher turned entrepreneur, and the former director of curriculum and instruction for a major school system. So while I brought the entrepreneurial know-how, Eileen brought the industry expertise and a firm basis of pedagogy and research. This helped us create a product that principals, teachers and students really need. Her deep knowledge continues to help us meet our core goal: helping students achieve college and career readiness.
I believe it’s this combination of skills that has not only helped us build a successful business, but also secure funding.
Never Shy Away From the Hard Stuff
So much of our success can be attributed to our dedication to our customers. Sometimes that means going against what others are telling you to do. While the ed-tech market continues to boom, there’s still the age-old problem of the chicken and the egg. Several investors wanted ThinkCERCA to be something it was not. They told us we either had to be a content publisher or a technology platform. Despite this feedback, based on our expertise and what our customers were telling us they needed, we decided to be both. Technology alone wasn’t the answer. Content alone wasn’t either. Focusing on both, and using a research-based approach, we have carved out a place in the ed-tech ecosystem and are poised for continued and rapid growth.
Build a Team of Mentors and Advocates
While Eileen and I have a great partnership, we have strived and will continue to work to create a team that complements our skills and builds off of what the two of us have created. We now have 16 people at ThinkCERCA whose expertise ranges from technology to sales to marketing. In addition, we’ve had an incredible group of mentors and advisors, such as Chuck Templeton, the former Managing Director of the Impact Engine accelerator. Our mentors have provided the encouragement we need but also given us hard-nosed doses of reality from time to time. Our mentors aren’t the people who always tell us what we want to hear. They’re always looking out for us and telling us what we need to hear.
As our business has grown, so have we. When we came together, Eileen was “the educator” and I was “the entrepreneur.” Now, we have both learned and have each assumed both roles. We are able to fluidly assume the voice of the customer and the voice of the business, which allows us to brainstorm and problem solve, and — most importantly — switch hit. Thanks to our complementary skill sets, dedication to our customers, and our refusal to accept the stereotypical limits that go along with being a woman in tech, ThinkCERCA is doing great things for the future of education.
Abby is the Co-Founder and COO at ThinkCERCA (www.thinkcerca.com), an education technology company that provides teachers with tools and lessons they need to personalize critical thinking instruction.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.