An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Nadya Nguyen of HidrateSpark

Building a startup takes founders through a long journey, from inspiration to scaling your company and ultimately an exit. At Techstars, we’re excited about helping entrepreneurs no matter where you are in the entrepreneur’s journey – from inspiration to IPO.

Nadya Nguyen from HidrateSpark is one example of an entrepreneur who has successfully traveled through the Techstars network. In 2014, Nadya and her team participated in a Startup Weekend and created the first smart water bottle in 54 hours! Their product was well-received and soon after they applied to and were accepted by the Sprint Accelerator, powered by Techstars!

You can learn more and watch this quick video on HidrateSpark below. Congratulations to Nadya and HidrateSpark!








Entrepreneur Barbie Made 'Official' By Joining Linkedin. What It Means For Girls.

This post is written by Elizabeth Becerril Wong, Startup Weekend Startup Weekend Torreon Organizer

A few months ago, Barbie added another career to her 150+ list of professions: entrepreneur.

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This disclosure was just made ‘official’ through the platform Linkedin, where the blond doll created her profile and stated that her new company name is Dream Incubator, where “I act as a consultant, helping girls around the world play out their imagination, try on different careers, and explore the world around them” in her own words.

This PR campaign led by Mattel originated a big controversy between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) employed and entrepreneur women. Some women are enthusiastic for a new aspirational image that Barbie can provide to young girls – an entrepreneur who fights for her dreams. The other side believes that Mattel is only looking for moms approval of what Barbie might represent and that this PR play enhances the misconception of what a real professional woman is.

Is it possible that Barbie can share a vision of new careers for young girls or is just creating another stereotype of an entrepreneur woman with pink dress? Can a doll be at fault for the misconception that women are the ‘weaker sex’ and are inferior to men in leadership / STEMS roles?

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What is the real cause for girls to do not pursue STEM or entrepreneurship careers? According to The Center of American Progress, women represent only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, yet they represent almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs.

Women face a set of barriers that impede them to close the gap between her abilities and the leadership/innovation roles they can reach. But these barriers are not set by a doll, but by women themselves, and the society that repeats a damaging behavioral pattern.

With help from the study:  “Psychological barriers to STEM participation for women over the course of development” I will discuss some of these barriers and how they permeate the young girls’ minds 

1) On one hand, neuroscience tries to emphasize the difference between women and men’s cognoscitive abilities and also describes how biological differences are the cause for young women to divert from STEM fields (Saucerman, Vasquez, 2014). On the other, recent psychology studies expose social and behavioral patterns that restrict the participation of women in STEM and leadership roles.

2) It is a general stereotype that boys are better than girls in math and science, even when there is proof that their performance is comparable. Sadly, this perception is deeply rooted in our everyday media and cultural history. To make matters worse, when this bias is demonstrated by teachers and parents, girls tend to look to these adulthood figures rather than measure their own performance objectively. Girls end up underestimating their ability in these fields.

3) Other children also influence girls’ attitude toward science and math. If the group of girlfriends support gender-egalitarian beliefs, girls are more motivated to pursue STEM activities than those whose friends adopted the typical gender roles. (Leaper, Farkas, Brown, 2011 cited by Saucerman,Vasquez, 2014).

“I wanted to build things with Legos and my computer. It angered me as a kid that I was considered abnormal for not wanting to play with dolls,” says Jessica F. (education entrepreneur) while describing her animosity against Barbie.

4) Psychological Science Journal published research by Croft, et al declaring that a father’s approach to equality ought to be more than ‘talking the talk’, it has to include congruent behavior inside the house (the father doing the dishes and helping mom with the same amount of house chores).

“Our findings suggest that it is crucial that dads ‘walk the walk’ as well — because their daughters are watching, learning, repeating,” says Croft. (Croft, et al, 2014)

Society, parents, educators and peers, hold strong to traditional gender role beliefs that limit the participation of girls in STEM fields. They do not intentionally try to cut the path for young girls, is an unconscious behavior deeply rooted and unnoticed by the majority that affects the girls’ future.

With the persistent message of “you belong here” – girls believe they are not adequate for leadership or STEM fields. It is to be expected that women pass the same message to the next generation in an unproductive cycle.

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When analyzing the parental expectations for careers between boys and girls, it is shown that parents affect the self-efficacy of girls in STEM fields, especially mothers.

5) Moms have lower expectations of her daughters to stand out in science and technology in comparison with their sons. (Blaker, Jacobs, 2004 cited by Saucerman,Vasquez, 2014). On the other hand, “fathers’ implicit role gender associations play a key role in predicting daughters’ occupational aspirations” according to Croft.

Are parents lowering expectations from their daughters by default? This Verizon ad “Inspire her Mind” recreates what happens between interaction of parents and daughter. A girl shall not get dirty playing with animals or could get hurt by using a drill, better to give it to your brother, are some situations presented in the video.

Then, with this steady reinforcement of traditional gender roles, it is not surprising that one of the fears of productive women is to decide between career and family.

Sheryl Sandberg’s message was clear in her TED Talk about “Why we have too few women leaders”; women have to take initiative if they really want to shine in the professional field. Often, women fall in unintentional defensive mistakes that prevent their success.

For example, in competitive STEM fields, people who strive for a goal either have a promotional or preventive behavior. Promotional being more aggressive in order to achieve what is desired, preventive is centered on avoiding mistakes and playing safe. Women prefer to lean back in order to decrease their chances of failure. Nevertheless, “people who approach their career goals with a prevention focus fail to take even appropriate risks” (Saucerman,Vasquez, 2014).

Women who excel in male-dominated fields tend to acquire a tough front in order to be respected. People who are perceived “friendly and warm” are liked by their colleagues and superiors but are not respected.

Thus, women that display their feelings are conceived as warm but do not get the respect they need to advance in their careers. If they choose high competence and low warmth, they are labeled as “bitchy” and reduce their opportunities of promotion because of major probabilities to being disliked in the workplace.

This T-shirt (featured below) was created Meena Harris and has gained popularity from women entrepreneurs. Harris’s website declares: I live in a one-industry city, where the first thing people want to know is who you are and what you do. Sometimes I just want to say: “I’m an entrepreneur, bitch.” Who are you?

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This product and its impact between business women shows the shared feeling of struggle that day to day women confront in the workplace.

Barbie’s hot pink dress and iPhone are not only to blame for stereotyping women. As I have laid out before you, there is an entire system contributing to how girls and women feel about themselves and where they belong in society. Years of misogyny and advertisements instructing women how to behave have infiltrated our collective mind.

To increase the participation of women in entrepreneurship and STEM fields, women have to realize the small details that give girls the wrong message. When identified, action must be taken and communication of this mistaken approach to society must be shared.

As women, we have to stop acting against ourselves and lead the future generations by example. It won’t be an easy task – baby steps.

 SOURCES:  

Saucerman, J. and Vasquez, K. (2014), Psychological Barriers to STEM Participation for Women Over the Course of Development. Adultspan Journal, 13: 46–64. doi: 10.1002/j.2161-0029.2014.00025.x

Croft, et al (2014), The Second Shift Reflected in the Second Generation: Do Parent’s Gender Roles at Home Predict Children’s aspirations? Psychological Science Journal, recovered from: http://news.ubc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/FULL-submitted-version-PSCI-13-1163d 








5 Pieces Of Marketing Advice For Emerging Musicians.

Melantha Hodge is the recent founder of 1OFAKIND Entertainment, a marketing and entertainment consulting business. She has years of experience within the music and entertainment industry as a marketing professional, having worked with ASCAP, Chris Brown Entertainment, The Tina Davis Company, Universal Motown Records and Title 9 Productions.

Check out her full bio and interview with UP Global.

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What marketing advice can you give to emerging musicians?

1) Surround yourself with a strong team that has your best interests in mind. You can have all the talent, but if you don’t have a great team in place to help you navigate through your career, then your journey will be more difficult. Teamwork makes the dream work!

2) Develop your vision from the beginning. Do your best to figure out what direction you want to go with in regards to your music and your overall image. When you have a clear vision of how you want to be presented, it will allow for your team to come up with a plan to market you effectively while staying true to your artistry.

3) Strive to create a “buzz” on your own accord. Nowadays, record labels and industry executives are paying attention to the musicians that are garnering recognition and generating a fan base through their own promotional efforts. They want to see first-hand that you are marketable.

4) Focus on building your online presence across all social media platforms. Social media continues to lead the way in being cost efficient and serves as an instant outlet to promote your music and your overall brand. Followers, Likes, Subscribers, etc. definitely play an instrumental role in today’s entertainment world.

5) Keep on networking. You never know who you may come across that sees your potential and is willing to help you. The entertainment business is very competitive and meeting the right people can give you that extra push you may need.

Can you share a bit about projects you’ve worked on with famous musicians (highlights, lessons learned, major campaigns, most exciting, etc.)?

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In the very beginning of my career, I had the opportunity to work alongside Chris Brown and his management team. When I first started working with Chris, I told my family, friends, and colleagues how extremely talented Chris was and to look out for him. However, most didn’t pay attention. Two months later, Chris had the number one single in the country, “Run It”, and his career took off tremendously! My life was soon immersed in “Chris Brown World” literally, and with that came a whirlwind of great experiences which followed. I played an instrumental role in the launch of his career during that first year he was introduced to the world.

Another highlight of my journey thus far in the music field was getting the opportunity to work at Universal Motown Records where I was involved with numerous marketing projects for esteemed artists. I contributed to the album release campaigns for Akon, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, Ashanti, and Kid Cudi. I also worked on several developing artist projects that were rewarding, but it was also a challenge to garner the momentum needed to make a big impact. Working at Universal Motown Records provided me with invaluable experience and knowledge of the inner workings of a major record label, its department functions, and how to work effectively with a variety of talent and their respective teams.

During my time at Universal Motown, I was introduced to the new artist Melanie Fiona and became an instant fan. I loved being hands-on with her project and developed a great rapport with her management team. Fast-forward to a couple years later, I was approached by Title 9 Productions to join their team, and soon engulfed my efforts into the release of Melanie’s second album “The MF Life”. It was on this album that I received my first Marketing credit.

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One of my most exciting experiences was when I had the opportunity to travel overseas to work on Chris Brown’s Carpe Diem World Tour in 2012. It was such an amazing opportunity traveling to different countries throughout Europe, Dubai, and South Africa. That was my first time visiting all of those countries, and it was definitely eye-opening to experience the various cultures and to witness the fans going crazy at every show.

Most recently, I have been working diligently alongside my Title 9 Productions team and serve as the Day-To-Day Manager and Road Manager for LeToya Luckett. I have built a great working relationship with LeToya, and we continue to push forward as we are gearing up for the release of her new album. Over the past couple of years, I have overseen numerous campaigns, shows both in the United States and abroad, events, and other great opportunities pertaining to LeToya’s career.

UP Global, Startup Weekend








10 Tips from Female Founders

This post is written by Mary Lemmer, author of, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth

As an entrepreneur and former venture capitalist I have been privileged to work with amazing entrepreneurs from around the world. Each entrepreneur I’ve encountered has taught me something, as the best ways to learn anything are through action. In my recent book, Straight from the Investor’s Mouth, I share 111 pieces of advice from venture capitalists to entrepreneurs.

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Now, in honor of UP Global’s focus on “women in entrepreneurship”, some of my favorite female founders shared their advice for entrepreneurs. These ladies have started and built companies that span industries and the lessons they’ve learned and are sharing are valuable for entrepreneurs of any type.


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Lauren Bass, founder of LolaBee’s Harvest, recommends starting your company with a co-founder.  She admits, “the biggest mistake I made was starting the company without a co-founder.  Entrepreneurship is a very lonely path. If you can find the right person to take the journey with, take that risk.  It takes an army of great people to build a company that can grow and make an impact.”

If you played sports or every worked on teams growing up, you may have learned similar lessons as Lauren Bass. She recommends entrepreneurs learn how to be good at failing/making mistakes. She shares, “being a competitive athlete growing up I lost way more often than I won. I learned how to study my mistakes, learn from them and let them go.  and most importantly, not to take them personally or think that they define my ability. They were education, and education isn’t free. I’ve even grown to appreciate my mistakes, they make the successes that much sweeter.” She also says “building a strong team is the most important thing you will do”. Hire people who share your values, are open to constructive feedback, and are more committed to professional and personal growth than they are committed to their ego. Then work through the challenges together relying on open communication to build trust. Once you hire someone and they show promise, trust them, delegate, don’t micromanage but offer support.”


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Jennifer Beall, Founder of CleanBeeBaby, recommends entrepreneurs “start small and test your idea. Create an inexpensive pilot or a minimum viable product (MVP) that you can try out with customers before you raise money. If your pilot proves there isn’t demand for your concept, its easier to call it quits before you pour a ton of cash into it. Conversely, if your pilot is successful, you can build traction before seeking investors.” Her company, CleanBeeBaby, is proof that if you are scrappy, you can do a lot with little resources!  CleanBeeBaby provides an eco-friendly cleaning service for baby strollers and car seats and has a vision to become the “Geek Squad” for the baby industry. Jennifer bootstrapped her company in order to test demand in Los Angeles and was able to align major partner, such as Nordstrom and Whole Foods, before fundraising.


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We’ve all heard the advice to network, network, network.  Megan Smyth, founder of GoRecess, emphasizes the importance of building your network as an entrepreneur.  She says “The most important lesson I have learned is the value of networking and relationships to open new doors. More often than not, it is who you know, not what you know.  Take the time to expand your network, build relationships, seek out mentors and stay in touch.  And don’t limit your relationships to the office; coffee meetings, happy hours, conferences, volunteering, fitness activities, and networks such as Levo League, Women2.0 and 85 Broads are all invaluable to building relationships and expanding your network.


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Neha Sampat, CEO of raw engineering, recommends entrepreneurs “surround yourself by people who are smarter than you; and that are your best champions. My most successful career triumphs have been those in which I have been backed up, every step of the way, by men and women who believed in me, my ideas, and carried the torch with pride — fully sharing the accomplishment. Embrace positive people and positive energy, and make a graceful exit from negative and cumbersome situations.”


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When starting and building your company ask for help when you need it.  Clare McDonnell, founder of True Link Financial, shares “As a founder, you not only have to excel at whatever your function is (call it software development, operations, or customer acquisition), but also be able to tackle the unfamiliar, often random challenges that pop up every day in the course of building a business. These might have to do with hiring, HR, legal issues, evaluating partnership opportunities, branding and naming, the list goes on. The internet can get you pretty far on this front — I can’t imagine running a startup before the days of Quora and Stack Exchange. But I’ve found that there’s no substitute for a conversation with someone who’s expert (or at least experienced) with the issue at hand. Almost every time I’ve thought to ask for help, I’ve found such a someone, and it’s saved a lot of time and at least a measure of angst. And, if you’re worried about imposing, it turns out that most people seem like being asked to share their hard-won wisdom.”


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Kelly Hoey, an investor, startup board member, and co-founder of WIM, challenges entrepreneurs to “take ‘funding’ off the table (because we all need or could use more money), and pause to ask yourself ‘right here, right now, what does my startup really need?’ or ‘what will help my startup really grow?’  Is it an introduction to a strategic partner? I s it sales leads or technical advice or guidance on a revenue model? Write down your answers then start moving on that list. Fast. Very few startups get funding (from either VCs or Angels) so stop imagining that money is the answer to your startup problems.”


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According to Emily A. Hay, founder of Hay There Social Media and socialgig.co, “when you get started as an entrepreneur, you need to do all you can to propel yourself forward, to keep taking action towards realizing a goal.  In order to do so, you must tell yourself you are too far to turn back now.  When you reach the point of no return, not going forward isn’t an option. Plain and simple.  It took me a while to grind out to get to that point of no return, so while you are pursuing that point, stay laser focused, keep your nose to the grindstone and know that reaching the point of no return is liberating!  Then it’s not as scary to keep going forward because it would be silly to go back.  Even though I haven’t reached my end goal, getting to that point of no return is one of the most satisfying accomplishments I’ve had to date as an entrepreneur.  Only you can define that point of no return for yourself.”


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And of course, don’t forget to have fun!  Christine Luby, founder of Pinrose, shares “Things go wrong all the time.  When they do, there is a temptation to put even more pressure on yourself, feel bummed out, feel alone.  The truth is, the sun is still going to rise again tomorrow, you (hopefully) have your health, and things are going to be a-ok.  Most mornings I try to write down three things I’m grateful for to help me keep perspective on how lucky I am and remind me of what a fun journey I am on, even when the going gets tough.”

Like these ladies, as you pursue your entrepreneurial venture take note of what you’re learning, as the lessons you learn not only will help you weather the storm of your startup, but can also help other entrepreneurs just like you!








Women start it up: Women’s Startup Weekend looks to empower female entrepreneurs.

This article is written by Sherri Richards was was originally posted here

Fargo – Ashley Hahn wanted to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. She also had an idea, one that would change physical therapy from isolated exercise to a game that would track the patient’s progress.

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That’s why Hahn took part in last year’s Startup Weekend, a 54-hour event where the tech- and business-minded gather to pitch ideas and then break into teams to develop the most popular. Hahn’s pitch was one of the top vote-getters.

“It’s so much cool talent and ideas that come together in one weekend,” says Hahn, a project manager at Intelligent InSites of Fargo.

Fargo will host another Startup Weekend on March 7th – this time geared specifically to women across the state.

Of the 1,068 Startup Weekends completed worldwide, about 8 to 10 have been women’s edition events, says Claire Topalian, communications manager for UP Global, which oversees Startup Weekend and Startup America.

Hahn, who will mentor participants this time around, says there were very few women at the Fargo’s first Startup Weekend. It wasn’t awkward or intimidating for Hahn, whose electrical engineering classes were male-dominated, but she thinks the Women’s Startup Weekend will be empowering for women.

“Women interact a little differently than men,” she says. “It has a completely different feel and impact than the mixed (weekend).”

Dr. Susan Mathison, one of the Jan. 24-26 event’s organizers, says Startup Weekends foster creative collaboration, and women are by nature more collaborative.

“I think we flourish in the presence of other women,” she says.

Mathison was a judge at last year’s event and struck by the small number of women taking part. She hopes this event will have about 60 participants.

She believes there is an “untapped entrepreneurial spirit” in women.

“Women are starting so many businesses, but I think sometimes we tend to think small,” Mathison says. “I wish we could encourage that big thinking, entrepreneurial mindset in women.”

Kari Warberg Block, of Bismarck, describes herself as a “serial entrepreneur.” She had bookkeeping and housecleaning services in high school. She started a balloon delivery service when she was 19.

Now she’s the founder and CEO of Earth-Kind, which makes an all-natural rodent repellent and an all-natural air freshener.

Block was named to Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program in 2012, and was the Small Business Administration’s 2013 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year.

Through the Winning Women program, she attended a meeting at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, a major funder of Startup Weekend. There, she says, she learned about the Startup movement, and then sent books about starting Startup communities to people around the state.

“When you engage with other entrepreneurs, it’s amazing,” Block says. “You create something that didn’t exist. It’s transformational.”

Block notes that women are starting businesses at a faster rate than men, but are not scaling their businesses, often because they don’t have the support they need. “Sometimes it might just be an introduction,” she says.

Block says she wants to be a good role model and help women reach their potential. She’s giving a kickoff speech at the Women’s Startup Weekend, and will be a coach.

By gearing the event toward women, Block says organizers hoped to see a better turnout of women than a traditional Startup Weekend.

“There’s some awesome ideas out there just dying to take root,” Block says. “I can’t wait to water them.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556