Dr. Charlene Brown has spent her life immersed in medicine. Her mother, both of her godmothers, and most of her mother’s friends all worked as nurses. She was drawn to their profession early on. But she also had fixed notions of gender roles that were challenged at a childhood checkup.
“My pediatrician was a man, and I somehow formed the view that only men could be doctors,” Dr. Brown recalls. “When my mother took me to the hospital clinic as a child, I met a physician who was a woman for the first time.
“My mother tells me that I was confused and refused to be treated by the physician because I was certain that she was a nurse and I wanted to see the doctor. Once it finally sunk in that she was actually a doctor, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor shortly thereafter.”
Dr. Brown didn’t miss a beat. Her academic excellence in New York City led her to major in chemical engineering at Princeton University. She went on to earn her MD at Harvard Medical School and her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health. Her career highlights include Deputy Commissioner for Medical Operations with the Baltimore City Health Department; Medical Officer at USAID; and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Emory University School of Medicine.
Now, she can add CEO and Co-Founder to that list. Dr. Brown led a team of 5 to pitch and prototype ReciproCare –an online platform and mobile app to bridge service gaps for home care agencies while expanding work opportunities for home care workers. Dr. Brown and her team built ReciproCare at Startup Weekend’s Flip the Ratio event in Washington, DC, from September 25-27. ReciproCare went on to win 1st place in that weekend’s competition.
Dr. Brown had been honing this idea with her co-founder, Faran Negarestan, for several months prior to Flip the Ratio. Their concept — initially called ReciproCall — kept pivoting in the months beforehand. Eventually, it became the pitch that Dr. Brown gave for ReciproCare on Flip the Ratio’s opening night. That first pitch involved persuading attendees to join her team and build her idea. It was a turning point for Dr. Brown. She assumed that since most participants were younger, a tech solution for elders care would not interest them.
“I was wrong,” Dr. Brown says. “Our pitch resonated with many participants who shared their personal caregiving experiences with me and others on our team throughout the weekend. Our incredible team included people with a diverse range of skills that perfectly complemented my own.
“I was joined initially by my partner from ReciproCall, Faran Negarestan; he is a talented, full-stack developer with a commitment to work that can make a difference in people’s lives. Next, Vince Natale, who has both a strong background and training in sales and home care industry knowledge, joined our team. He was followed by Evan Taylor, who brought an ideal fusion of insightful design and project management skills to the table; she kept us on task throughout the weekend using Scrum.
“Finally, we were joined by Roy Morris, who brought a combination of personal experiences as a former adult caregiver for his father, an extensive background in business, and experience as a startup advisor to our team. I felt incredibly humbled by the dedication and talent of this team and was absolutely thrilled to work so intensely and collaboratively with them on ReciproCare.”
ReciproCare beat 9 other teams to win Flip the Ratio — an event held to increase female tech participation. There was roughly a 50/50 gender split among attendees; ReciproCare’s own team consisted of three men and two women.
Their success serves as a sobering reminder that most founding teams do not look like them. A mere 14% of leadership roles at S&P 500 companies are held by women. But repeating this number disguises deeper problems. While gender diversity is abysmal, racial diversity is even worse.
14% of the U.S. population is black — but there are four black CEOs in the Fortune 500. The problem is so severe that when former Brown University President Ruth Simmons joined Square’s Board of Directors, she became its second woman and black director — an extreme rarity. Tech giants including Facebook and Apple have no black board members at all. Nor do 74 companies on Standard & Poor’s 250 index.
Statistics like these are why events like Flip the Ratio exist. But for her part, Dr. Brown never joined Startup Weekend to make a statement. She first fell in love with hackathons after joining a healthcare-themed one in Boston. She joined the Startup Weekend mailing list and kept an eye out for events in DC. Flip the Ratio was the first event that worked with her schedule — but it was not her first time as an entrepreneur.
Dr. Brown previously started her own real estate and healthcare companies within the past decade. She has seen how tech can transform healthcare to break down barriers in a bureaucratic business. As part of their Flip the Ratio grand prize, ReciproCare won a of their own booth at DC Tech Day on October 6. Dr. Brown says it was just the start of her burgeoning business.
Her current focus is expanding customer development efforts to home care agencies. She cites a recent Department of Labor ruling that will slap home care agencies with increased workforce expenses. Dr. Brown wants to help new and existing home care agencies comply with federal requirements and reduce costs while improving care. She plans to work on ReciproCare full time, and cites Startup Weekend as the catalyst that propelled her forward.
“We made so much progress and had so many iterative, micro-pivots over the weekend that I was stunned at the scope and quality of our outputs,” Dr. Brown says. “For anyone who wants to start a company, I strongly recommend finding people with complementary skills who are as excited about your concept as you are and building on the power of teamwork.”
It’s Saturday afternoon, and another Startup Weekend DC event is underway. Participants met last night at 1776 in Crystal City, where they formed teams to prototype ideas within 54 hours.
Those teams will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges tomorrow night: Allyson Burns, SVP of Communications at Revolution LLC; Shavanna Miller, Co-Founder & CEO of Bloompop; Arti Anand, Co-Founder + CMO of Prevoo; and Caron De Mars of the Connect to Success women’s entrepreneurship program at the US Embassy in Portugal.
We can’t wait to see these ideas come to life — because we know that this city helps innovators fulfill their potential. DC is already America’s best city for women in tech; 37% of our local tech workforce is filled by women.
We are so close to 50-50 parity — and events like Flip the Ratio this weekend highlight the collective work being done to get there.
We could not host Flip the Ratio without our sponsors and community partners. Their tireless efforts throughout the DC tech scene have helped bring this weekend to life.
Learn more about their efforts below:
Crystal City is is home to the Consumer Electronics Association (producers of ICES, the world’s largest electronics show), PBS, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and countless other companies. It is also the largest downtown area in Arlington — and known as its most innovative.
Arlington, Virginia, is the second largest principal city in the Washington, DC Metro area. It is also a community that embraces entrepreneurship — and welcomes new companies from outside the area. Startup Arlington is offering one tech startup three months of free office and living space, as well as legal advice, public transport incentives, and more. Learn more and apply by October 17.
Halcyon Incubator is committed to solving 21st century challenges throughout the nation and world. By helping social entrepreneurs transform audacious ideas into scalable and sustainable ventures, the Halcyon Incubator acts as a catalyst for measurable social outcomes. Think you can help them make a difference? Applications for are open through October 14th.
General Assembly DC holds classes on tech, business, and design with top tier instructors. They transform thinkers into creators, and were named the world’s most innovative education startup by Fast Company.
UXDC Conference (on October 9th and 10th) offers insights from the people influencing UX strategy and delivering results across DC’s unique mix of government, nonprofit, association, and business organizations. It is the largest 2-day conference in the DC Metro area designed to help user experience professionals get ahead. Use the code STARTUPWEEKEND15OFF for 15% off your ticket.
DCFemtech is a coalition of women leaders aimed at amplifying women in tech organizations, sharing resources, and bringing leaders together to close the gender gap. Their monthlong Tour de Code kicks off this Wednesday, September 30; click here to learn more.
Modev is a community committed to connecting developers (and those in the development ecosystem) to on the latest platforms, methods, and ideas to stay ahead.
DC Web Women is a professional organization of more than 3,000 members located in the Washington, DC metro area. As part of their goal to support the DC tech scene, DCWW partners with like-minded local tech and non-tech communities and groups
Night Owls is an open and inclusive after-hours community of adventurous self-starters turning big ideas into exciting projects. They do this by organizing co-working sessions at businesses and co-working spaces around town each week.
Girl Develop It DC provides a community where women can learn how to code with no prior experience. While they focus their mission and messaging on women, they’re women inclusive — not women only. Like Flip the Ratio, Girls Develop DC encourages men to join them as teachers, teacher assistants, sponsors, even students!
Iron Yard DC offers immersive coding courses. Students can study Back End Engineering, Data Science, Front End Engineering, and Mobile Engineering — all with the goal to kickstart new careers.
Impact Hub is an events and coworking space for a global community of professionals taking action to drive positive social and environmental change.
1776 is a global incubator and seed fund helping startups transform industries that impact millions of lives every day — education, energy & sustainability, health, transportation, and cities.
Web Content Mavens is a DC-based networking group focused on web and mobile management, technology, marketing, and strategy.
DCINNO offers news, insight, and analysis about DC tech, startups, lifestyle, and sports.
SILICON HILL reports on the DC tech and startup scene to bring readers the latest news, events, and relevant insights.
Glassbreakers offers mentorship for the modern workforce and enterprise software solutions for diversity. They believe that transformative change is possible when we all participate. Accordingly, their mission is to empower everyone to break the glass ceiling.
Sara Capra is the co-founder of Orate – a DC-based startup that makes it simple for event organizers to find speakers within their budgets.
Orate’s story began last year at Startup Weekend DC – an event where participants launch startups in less than 54 hours. Orate took first place in that weekend’s competition – even though Capra had taken a chance to be there in the first place.
Capra entered Startup Weekend with some concerns that her idea wouldn’t resonate with event participants. She was quickly proved wrong — she and Orate co-founder Veronica Eklund ended up building the largest team, which developed a mock-up of the future platform.
Sara shared Orate’s journey with Startup Weekend DC’s Elvina Kamalova. Answers have been edited for length and clarity:
Tell us about Orate.
Orate is an online platform that simplifies the process of finding, vetting, and booking public speakers simple. Our mission is twofold: 1) Make it easy to find quality speakers on any budget; and 2) Assist speakers in more effectively marketing themselves and getting them in front of the right audiences.
What was the role of Startup Weekend in starting and developing your project?
The Orate journey began at Startup Weekend DC in 2014. It was the launch pad for what Orate has become, and sparked the initial evolution of the concept. We began with an idea to alleviate the stress of filling last minute speaking cancellations. That resonated with many people, but through the feedback process over the weekend, we decided the business model around that was not one that would be sustainable.
Through our mentors, sending out surveys, and in-depth conversations with the team, we decided the business model needed to be based on more than that. Startup Weekend helped to give us the ecosystem and structure we needed to take our first big step in understanding how to test and validate our ideas.
How did you build your team?
Building the team during startup weekend was mostly organic. Initially, I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough interest. One of the great things about Startup Weekend is that you only need two people to work on an idea. My co-founder attended and joined my team, so we would be able to explore the idea no matter what. It turns out there was quite a bit of interest, and we ended up with the largest team in the competition. I thought our most important team member would be a developer, ideally one who knew front and back end since this was meant to be a web and mobile app.
One of the most important lessons I learned that weekend was how much you can do with a little bit of resourcefulness and creativity, when there’s a lack of technical expertise. We had a wonderful graphic designer.
As opposed to trying to build out any applications over the weekend, she instead mocked up what we wanted the website to look like. That way, we could walk the audience through the customer journey, without getting too bogged down with feature aspirations and technical details. After all, it was just the beginning! We knew if so much could change in one weekend, there were many more changes to come.
What are the biggest challenges in your startup journey?
The biggest challenges have shifted over time. Initially it was staying focused. There were so many things to be excited about – potential partnerships, big ideas, ideas within those ideas, the way you envision the company 1, 2, 3 years down the road.
The challenge is taking that long-term vision and working backward to map out your trajectory starting with today, and breaking down steps for initial short-term growth. We’re over a year in and have now seen a lot of our early ideas come to fruition. We are still constantly brainstorming, but we’re much more skilled at capturing ideas for a future state, and continuing to stay focused on the short-term execution to make them happen.
The other challenge we face is getting into the heads of our customers. Collectively, we’ve conducted hundreds of formal and informal interviews, feedback surveys, and tests. While there are times that what users say and what they do are parallel, we have found that monitoring their actions is most effective.
Did you have technical skills coming to SW?
Aside from some basic HTML (we all had MySpace, right?), I didn’t have any experience with coding going into Startup Weekend DC. However, attending the event and launching the company inspired me to spend more time learning about software development, and gave me the ability to discuss the basics of other languages when I need to.
Tell us how you realized your goal for building your venture.
I’m still getting there! We are in the middle of fundraising to get to our next phase. We have achieved a lot so far. We’ve scaled our speaker database extensively, had only positive feedback from clients, and launched a new website and subscription service. While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, we don’t rest on our laurels. We have big plans moving forward and the wonderful team me and my co-founder have built is at the core of making those happen.
How did you raise your first funding?
We socialized Orate early and often. We pitched a lot, organized the data and financial information we had to help us have informed conversations, and put all of our cards and chips on the table. Our initial round was mostly from angel investors, and some funding came from the accelerator program Orate participated in called The Startup Factory.
What would be your advice to starting entrepreneurs?
Sharpen your communication skills. Entrepreneurs must always be networking and selling, even if their title or job responsibilities don’t formally include it. Entrepreneurs have to effectively communicate with and motivate their team to execute on the vision. They need to be good role models, and inspire the team to be brand advocates. Establishing and growing relationships are crucial to starting a company. Being a genuine, impactful, and effective communicator, is instrumental in that process.
It’s also important to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Take the “no’s,” the risk, the ambiguity, self-doubt, and constant change, and learn from it all. After you learn from it, embrace it. Two of the best things about life are that almost nothing is final and the possibilities are endless. Reflect on the lessons you learned, what led you there, and use them to make better, more informed decisions moving forward. This is one of the reasons it’s crucial to have good advisors and mentors. You need a brain trust that can help you step back, put things in perspective, and work through challenges.
To start your own startup story, join us for Startup Weekend on September 25-27. Register here and buy your tickets today!
Like almost everyone in San Francisco, Eileen Carey moved there to start her own business. And like every other Bay Area CEO, she met her co-founder online.
“Lauren [Mosenthal] and I both moved to San Francisco…to start our own company,” Carey told Femsplain earlier this year. “We connected on the Internet via a mutual friend and got together to talk about all our ideas. And from there we decided to start the research.”
That research was for Glassbreakers.co, which celebrated its first birthday this month. Billed as “Mentorship for the modern woman,” Glassbreakers offers individual and enterprise solutions to tech’s pipeline problem.
The Glassbreakers consumer app uses algorithms to introduce women with common career goals (disclosure: I am a member). Users can connect through the Glassbreakers platform, then pursue offline mentorships as needed. So if a twenty-something product manager in DC wants to learn more about venture capital, she can use Glassbreakers to connect with an experienced VC and learn more about the business. Matches can either occur online to transcend distance or in person based on geography.
But that online platform is just the beginning. To celebrate their first year in business, Carey and Mosenthal announced that they will launch an enterprise software solution for diversity next year. They saw that big businesses spent $8 billion on diversity initiatives in 2013 — yet none of that money went towards software solutions. Carey — who earned her BA at the University of Maryland — and Mosenthal want to help diversity divisions measure and scale their impact.
All of these efforts point towards a high level goal — to make the c-suite a 50/50 split between men and women. It’s the same reason why Flip the Ratio exists; without conscious efforts to make tech more inclusive, there is little hope that current numbers will improve.
That’s why Flip the Ratio is honored to name Glassbreakers its digital partner. In the week leading up to Flip the Ratio this Friday, Glassbreakers will promote the event through its own online networks.
They are strong networks full of true trailblazers. The Glassbreakers community is 12,000 strong. And its co-founders have raised $1 million from some of tech’s most successful women, including Jocelyn Goldfein (Facebook’s former engineering director) and Susan Kimberlin (Salesforce’s former product marketing director).
Glassbreakers is also inviting us to share lessons learned from this weekend on their blog. If you plan to attend Flip the Ratio and want to share your experience, reach out to Bridget at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re a woman in a large enterprise, you can sign up to help Glassbreakers with its UX testing via Skype or Google Hangout next month.
Flip the Ratio is honored to partner with one of tech’s most inclusive initiatives. We hope this is the start of a long term partnership to accomplish the shared goal of a more equal workforce.
We also believe in the power of technology to turn shared online interests into offline mentorships. And we know that the more united our networks are, the better chance we have to smash the glass ceiling.
Glassbreakers and Flip the Ratio are both ideal ways to learn more about different areas of tech, from back end development to product marketing. You don’t need to have all the answers; you only need to take the first step towards connecting with mentors whom you can learn from.
Haven’t bought your Flip the Ratio ticket yet? Sign up here.
Last year, Startup Weekend DC organized its first ever Flip the Ratio event. Our goal was to proactively increase the female-to-male ratio in a tech industry where event attendees (and employees) are overwhelmingly male.
Most tech events have a male-female attendee ratio of 70-30. So, our goal for Flip the Ratio was to have a female-male attendee ratio of 70-30. We didn’t achieve it — instead, we hit a 90-10 female-male ratio.
This confirmed our belief that diversity in tech is not an academic abstract — it is a real need with proven demand.
Flip the Ratio 2014 saw great success in terms of attendance and team solutions. It was also a great learning experience for SW DC. We realized that we can — and should — provide ongoing education for attendees.
Startup Weekend is the best way for those interested in tech roles to learn more about the industry. It’s an awesome training ground for everyone who attends. But it is also only the beginning. Startup Weekend’s real success shows when ideas become businesses and attendees keep learning.
That’s why Flip the Ratio 2015 is offering all attendees discounts to study at the world’s most innovative education startup.
General Assembly’s DC campus has joined SW DC as an official sponsor. They want all Flip the Ratio attendees to keep building their skill sets once the judges’ final ballots have been entered.
So, they are offering the following prizes:
- All attendees will receive 10% off GA DC’s one-time workshops. Attendees can use this discount towards any workshop of their choice. This discount is valid for an entire calendar year;
- All members of the winning team will receive $200 off GA DC’s part-time courses. This discount is valid for 3 months following Flip the Ratio.
Not sure which courses suit your interests? Attend GA DC’s Back to School Night on Friday, October 2. This free event will help you decide which courses will expand on Flip the Ratio.
GA DC is also hosting its Women in Tech breakfast this Thursday, September 17, from 9:15 – 11:15 am. SW DC’s own Lilibeth Gangas — an Open Innovation/Crowdsourcing Strategist at Booz Allen Hamilton — will speak on the panel and network with attendees.
We hope you’ll join us at GA DC this fall, and at Flip the Ratio from September 25-27. Register here to buy tickets!
Adulthood can seem like a sea of china bowls and champagne flutes. As friends get engaged and plan weddings, their loved ones flock to online registries. In theory, these registries are excellent: they cut down on duplicate gifts by listing what each couple needs.
But the goal of these registries — to help engaged couples stock their new homes — is slightly outdated. Cohabitation has increased by nearly 900 percent over the last 50 years. Many of today’s engaged couples already have full cabinets. So, they want registries that are more altruistic.
While living in Senegal, Peace Corps Volunteer Kate Glantz wondered what to buy her own engaged friends. She also saw several development projects that needed support.
“What would happen?” she wondered, “if an online platform could connect couples’ wedding registries with global development projects?”
Glantz answered her own question at Startup Weekend DC Women’s Edition 2014. She arrived with the goal to build Heartful.ly — a website that connects wedding registries to specific infrastructure or development projects. She had moved back to D.C. from Senegal that July and wanted to see if Heartful.ly could be prototyped into a real business. She found Startup Weekend DC after searching online for local startup and business contests.
At the time, Glantz no tech or business experience — only the goal to bring her idea to life.
“I went into Startup Weekend with a clear vision, a hopeful heart, and no idea what people would think,” Glantz says. “Fortunately, the concept resonated with the crowd and a brilliant team of developers, designers, and business savvy rock stars formed around me and got to it. My team was so focused and so passionate that we actually created a working demo by the end of the weekend!”
That demo impressed the judges — Heartful.ly won Startup Weekend DC Women’s Edition. Her team beat 13 other projects to win consultations with iStrategyLabs, Overachiever Media, and Springboard Enterprises. But those prizes were just the beginning of Heartful.ly’s journey.
One year ago, Glantz was wondering whether Heartful.ly could become a real business. Today, she is the brand’s full-time CEO. Heartful.ly’s team of 3 is part of the S&R Foundation’s Halcyon accelerator at Georgetown University — and Glantz says she owes it all to Startup Weekend.
“I learned that hard work and grit transfer into any industry — and so do good ideas,” Glantz explains. “Even though I lacked every traditional credential in the tech world, Heartful.ly still bubbled to the top. Whenever I felt discouraged in the weeks and months that followed, I tried to remember that really smart people who owed me no kindness decided Heartful.ly was a winner.”
Glantz considers herself an accidental entrepreneur. Despite Peace Corps experience in Tanzania and Senegal — and serving as the Department of State’s Public Policy Advisor for their AIDS initiative — she says she entered Startup Weekend feeling like a fraud.
She had never written a line of code or a business plan. She knew that attending meant she would have to motivate a group of strangers who possessed these skills to work on her project — not to mention impress the judges.
Glantz not only persevered, but used Startup Weekend to pivot Heartful.ly into a business. This experience convinced her that sometimes, an idea is enough.
“It took a few months and several false starts to believe that I deserved to be at the table,” Glantz explains. “It was liberating when I finally realized that I was the only person holding myself back. I’ve been able to persevere in spite of imposter syndrome because I believe so viscerally in the need for Heartful.ly to exist. It’s okay that I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to do the very best I can and it doesn’t make me weak to ask for help when I need it.”
Despite initial nerves, Glantz cites Startup Weekend as “one of the most hectic, exciting, heart pounding, lesson-learning weekends of my life.” She also encourages anyone — especially women — to get involved and test ideas’ validity.
“[Startup Weekend is] a low-pressure way to see if the idea you always daydream about could be something more,” Glantz explains.” Everyone at Startup Weekend is there to collaborate and work on something interesting. I don’t think I even knew what MVP stood for before Startup Weekend. I was a woman with a plan, but none of the infrastructure to implement it on my own. Startup Weekend showed me that it takes all kinds of people and backgrounds to build something great.”
Startup Weekend DC is thrilled to have Kate serve as a coach for Startup Weekend Flip the Ratio 2015. She will mentor teams throughout the weekend of September 25-27 and give in-person advice. Register here to buy tickets today!