Power Women in Tech!
A growing community of women make up the DC-area tech economy: They’re launching thriving startups, providing mentorship and funding, and putting the local tech scene on the international map. Behold the first batch of Power Women in Tech profiles. We’ll have more in the coming days and a Power Women in Tech event Feb. 21 at the Willard. Sign up!
Elana Fine, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, managing director
Elana helps University of Maryland students create the next big thing. On any given day, the Dingman Center is buzzing with students getting mentoring from Elana's team on how to turn their ideas into businesses. She tells us her entrepreneurial and tech bugs started at Accenture, where she oversaw systems implementation projects and learned how to code. After getting her MBA at the University of Chicago, she worked in investment banking at Bear Stearns and then a startup investment bank. Her role at Dingman has special meaning since she, her mother, and sisters are Terps. Best lesson: Having a strong network can pay incredible dividends.
Virginia Lee, Speek, chief of customer happiness
Virginia’s title at Speek for a long time was “employee No. 1.” Being the startup’s first official employee after its founders means she worked the (unpaid) hours to wear 50 different hats, one of which was helping get the conference calling app off the ground last summer. It has since spread like wild fire, with large companies like Dell offering it to its small business marketplace, and the Wall Street Journal naming Speek one of the top 20 startups of the year. Virginia’s job, which is now paid, is to make customers happy--no easy feat with any new tech product. Highlights so far have been helping take the product out of beta and fixing glitches along the way. Best lesson: Keep cool and level headed.
Jen O’Daniel, CIT GAP Funds, senior associate
If you’re a Virginia-based startup in search of seed funding, you might want to become friends with Jen. She helps the CIT GAP Funds team decide on seed and early stage investments in tech, life science, and energy startups. The team has made 100 investments that have turned into $150M worth of follow-on rounds. A recent proud moment for the DC native was seeing Latista, the first company she took through CIT’s investment process, get acquired. She’s also working on spinning out and building companies from some of Virginia Tech’s research labs. Best lesson: You can do anything you set your mind to.
Ximena Hartsock, Phone2Action, founder
Ximena’s startup is giving the public a quick and easy way to communicate directly with lawmakers. She created the Phone2Action digital grassroots platform after working in advocacy and government and after noticing an absence of continuous and organic communication between people and elected officials. Since its launch last year, Phone2Action won SXSW's new technologies competition and closed contracts with several large groups, including the Consumer Electronics Association. Ximena says one of her biggest accomplishments was having the resilience to move to the US from Chile and build a career from scratch without family, connections, money, or English. Best lesson: Talent doesn't have a zip code and comes in every form and shape, so be open to working with anyone with the necessary drive.
Carla Valdes, Handpressions founder and Fortify Ventures partner
Carla is a familiar face in the DC tech startup community. She co-managed VC firm Fortify Ventures for two years and helped launch one of the city’s first tech-focused accelerator programs, called The Fort. She then guided two classes of startups through the program. (The Fort recently closed.) Carla then caught the entrepreneurial bug and took a break from Fortify to launch Handpressions, although she continues to advise portfolio companies. The tablet app lets parents create art with their children’s handprints and footprints. Released last week, it's already hit 13,000 downloads. Best lesson: Ideas can be great, founders can be talented, teams could be the best of the best, but execution is everything.