On Thursday night, we competed in a pitch competition – the Big Idea at Colorado College. Women-led teams took home a majority of the prize money! Take that, Silicon Valley!
Elise: To My Power Pitcher,
My brother teased me last night because he said that you and I looked, “nonplussed, business as usual,” when we stood up to accept our first place award at the Big Idea. However, you and I know that we were nervous about returning to compete and very ecstatic to win. As if we can expect nothing less from Colorado College, our competition was inspiring and intimidating! This year’s competition was also inspiring because, for the first time, women-led teams made up a majority of the competing teams, and the ladies took home a majority of the prize money! That’s opposite the trend in the start-up world, where women receive only 2.5% of venture funding given to men. And, on average, male-led companies will receive double the amount of funding per investment, compared to women-led companies. These numbers make me want to pull my hair, fortunately, I don’t have enough hair to grab onto.
The second place finishers, Raw Sauce make some really tasty fermented hot sauce. I love kimchi, I love spice, I love chips. George and Alex’s pitch was well delivered, and they had already sold out of 70 bottles in 48 hours. What?? Seriously, impressive.
The third-place finishers, Momentix, is where I really get excited. Momentix is led by Alana, Anna, and Josie. Both Alana and Anna are physics majors (Anna double majors with art), just like me! Momentix is creating Rube-Goldberg machines, which I admittedly have never built before. These are the machines built from levers, pulleys, and home objects that can be used as an exciting way to complete a basic physical task, such as turning on the sink. Momentix mission is to make Rube-Goldberg machines both accessible and social, by supplying the intimidating pulleys and levers pre-built, and an online platform for kids to share their creations. Childhood exposure to building, playing, and problem-solving, and so important for people being motivated to pursue STEM later in life. Momentix has the potential to shift the gender dynamics of toys and science! It’s difficult to explain the gender gap in STEM.
To start, there are the obvious difficulties, such as being one of three girls in 30+ person class, harassment from the overwhelming amount of immature boys we must be surrounded by and work with, bias from our professors, lack of female role models, lack of female colleagues, stereotype threat, unconscious bias in potential employers and grant readers, etc etc etc. But before we even get there, we have to sit down in a physics class in the first place. My childhood is probably similar to many girls. I was never exposed to any building projects, tools, electronics, etc. My brother was always taken away to do activities with dad or grandpa. As a child, I heavily internalized gender roles and felt afraid to step outside of them. When I decided to go into physics it was more of a freak, random decision with little “physics” hobbies leading up to physics. In college, I doubted my place in physics when a male professor would say, “any physicist has played with __, __, __.” No, I hadn’t played with those toys or shared those with my peers. Why do I think I belong here? Why do I think I’m prepared enough to study physics if I didn’t train my brain with these toys as a child?
Thank goodness I am stubborn enough to fight this voice, I’m really glad to be here! I can say though, that I would have felt more comfortable in physics if I had played with Momentics as a child. In the future, I hope when a girl is teased or doubted by a peer or teacher, she can whip out her Rube-Goldberg machine and school them with her double door closing, dog feeding, bed making contraption. And if anyone tries to doubt us ladies and our companies, we can whip out our giant checks.
I am so inspired by the women we competed with, including LifExpectancy, an app (free, download it) coded completely by a freshman, Lauren Weiss. Holy shit, Lauren, you are going to take the tech world by storm!! I’m also inspired by the many female and femme role models we have in our lives. This week was a big big win for the ladies, AAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!
Cassidy: To My Business Boss,
You sound like Leslie Knope when you get this excited. And nothing gets you more excited than crushing with Chica or other women in STEM. I love it.
I am not quite a woman in STEM, but I am a woman in economics. So I am well-acquainted with the feeling of being among the numbered femme few in a male-majority class. It is extremely isolating. And difficult to fit your voice in edgewise when you are surrounded by young men who are just so used to being listened to. (Keeping in mind that I am speaking as a white-passing woman; I still occupy a space of extreme privilege in that respect).
The sense of isolation is further reinforced by the “Queen Bee” archetype: women who advance in our fields are warned that the “The biggest enemy of women is a powerful woman.” A TIME Money article notes that “women don’t advance in their careers beyond a certain point without learning to interrupt, at least in this male-dominated tech setting,” so strong female leaders are often dismissed as “bossy, unpleasant, and bitchy.” And unless she chooses the path of the “Righteous Woman,” a female leader is not expected to support her fellow femmes in power, because they read as threats to her own position. We’re expected to step on each other’s necks in our efforts to climb the corporate ladder.
But, statistically speaking, this stereotype does not manifest very commonly–rather, having other women in your field makes it a more comfortable space for you to occupy. Shocker. Having role models, having advocates, having study partners; seeing yourself reflected in a position of influence. This is extremely powerful, and should not be underestimated.
That is why this year’s Big Idea win feels so special. I was afraid of what it would mean for us if we didn’t take home the biggest check; would it indicate that our project is doomed to fail–that we are the only ones who still believe in Chica? But even if we hadn’t taken first place, I would have been thrilled to stand on that stage with our peers in innovation. I am proud to be part of the cultural shift that is taking place within Innovation at Colorado College: last year we were the first women-led team to place, and this year we were among a women-led majority. It actually makes me giddy. Plus, Momentics–and the team behind it–are just so COOL.
When we think about change on a macro level, many of us will point to education as the source. The catalyst. But the willingness to actually invest in education comes more slowly. So disruptions like Momentics will be extra powerful: they will provide the foundation for women like you to believe in their acuity and ability from the very beginning, without relying on anyone else.
We are seeing change–albeit slow change–and the work to make innovation inclusive and intersectional spaces continues. But we are surrounded by remarkable people, and I think that is something to be truly proud of.