City Focus: Washington, DC
Bordered by the states of Maryland and Virginia, Washington DC is the home of the US federal government and some of the country’s most iconic architecture. For a place so emblematic of the United States’ history, traditions and political institutions - its landscape is dominated by white marble monuments in the neoclassical style - the past few years have seen ‘the American Rome’ become what Time magazine describes as “a female-friendly counterpoint to the bro culture of Silicon Valley.”
According to Fortune, in 2017, all-female startups received a mere 2.2% of the total venture capital funding in the United States. By contrast, all-male teams received 79% of the pot.
However, in the same year, Forbes Magazine found that women in the Washington DC tech scene made 94.8% of what their male counterparts were paid, compared to the national average of 84.8%. Women were also found to hold 41% of the tech jobs in the city - far ahead of the national average of 26%. SmartAsset ranked Washington DC as the top city for women in tech for the fourth year running last year.
This trend is also set to continue, as the 2018 midterm elections resulted in the highest proportion of female congressional representatives in history, with 42 women winning their first seat in in the November midterm elections. According to the New York Times, “the congressional freshman class of 2019 is perhaps best described in superlatives. It is the most racially diverse and most female group of representatives ever elected to the House, whose history spans more than 200 years.” The 2019 Congress will include “at least 105 Democratic women and 19 Republican women.”
As such, Washington DC appears to be one of the best cities in the nation for powerful, enterprising women. In November, serial entrepreneur and veteran of seven startups in the Washington DC area, Tiffany Norwood, said in an interview with the Free Times, “to be around where you have … women or people of color popping up and saying, ‘We are in support of the startup economy, we want to be entrepreneurs, too. We want to collaborate and be supportive,’ that is so exciting to me.”
Amelia Friedman, co-founder of Hatch, a startup that allows people and businesses to create their own b2b or b2c applications without coding, told Time Magazine in February 2018 that “I think what we’ve done, it’s only possible in DC. Here, women-run companies can grow big.”
Sou Sou - Fonta Gilliam
One women-led DC startup disrupting the fintech sector is Sou Sou. Taking its name from a Caribbean and West African financing tradition called a sousou - where people regularly pay into a fund, withdrawing money when needed - the Washington-based startup was founded in 2015 by ex-US State Department program manager, Fonta Gilliam. Her startup leverages community to build a funding source, according to a report by the Washington Business Journal.
Gillian says that traditional banking services “overlook the thousands of prospective loan applicants because they do not fit into traditional credit risk profiles. This has created a deep divide between banks, women, minorities and low-income communities.”
This is where Sou Sou comes in. It’s a “crowd-banking platform built to give people struggling financially or with no credit (think recent college grad) an option other than a bank, investor or predatory lender”, Gilliam explains. “A user visits the Sou Sou website and selects a fund based on personal financial goals. The site charges members a monthly membership fee automatically deducted from their accounts. Those fees are used to capitalize the community loan fund, and an algorithm determines when it’s a user’s turn to request a low-interest loan from that fund, so long as they’re up to date with their contributions.”
Entrada ESL - Erin Janklow
After becoming fluent in Italian while studying abroad, Entrada ELS founder and CEO Erin Janklow “learned firsthand that taking up a second language as an adult is challenging, but it's not impossible”, Inc reported earlier in 2018.
Her startup, which was featured in July 2018 by startup capital investor Rent the Runway, helps immigrant employees in the hospitality sector become proficient English speakers while at work. The method uses a device and Talkback method of teaching, according to Technically DC. With 30-minutes lessons per day, Entrada ESL claims it can deliver confident English speakers “in just 100 days”.
Veda Data Solutions - Meghan Gaffney Buck
Veda Data Solutions, led by ex-Washington fundraising specialist Meghan Gaffney Buck, is disrupting the way that healthcare consumers connect with their medical specialists. According to a report by Technically DC, Veda’s service works to ensure the accuracy of medical provider directories. “If you went online right now and were looking for a new primary care provider, and did a search, about half of the data points that search provided back to you would be inaccurate,” Buck said in September 2017.
Since “Medicare decided that it was such a big barrier to care that they would fine insurers for inaccuracies,” Buck’s team is hoping to help insurers avoid fines by introducing machine learning tools designed to correct faults in databases.
Last year, Veda secured a win at the Vinetta Project Venture Challenge - a startup competition that highlights entrepreneurial women - and a $1mn seed round, Technically DC writes that “the company looks poised for growth.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.