Inspiring Women Tech Entrepreneurs Topic of Film Screening

Friday, March 09, 2018
Three people look at a camera during a documentary shoot

Serial entrepreneurial Thuy Truong talks about founding GreenGar, which has produced mobile applications surpassing 12 million downloads.

There’s a new face to tech entrepreneurship—a female face.

This fresh perspective is featured in the documentary, “She Started It,” which follows five enterprising women on a global adventure over two years. They pitch their ideas to gain venture capital from investors, build product development teams, bring products to market, sometimes fail, and, if necessary, start over again.

A special screening of the film has been arranged Tuesday, March 13, at 7 p.m. in room M137 of Myers Hall. Immediately after the one-hour movie presentation, co-director Nora Poggi will answer questions from the audience.

The event, part of the institute’s Women’s History Month celebration, is free and open to the public. It is being sponsored by the Rose Innovative Student Entrepreneurs (RISE) and Women of Like Fields Passionate About Computing (WOLF PAC) student organizations and the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Elsie B. Pawley Fund.

The film’s goal is to share the stories of successful role models for young women who are aspiring tech entrepreneurs, according to Jessica Livingston, Rose-Hulman associate professor of English. She is teaching a documentary film class this spring and its students will attend the campus film screening to learn more about what creative and ethical choices Poggi faced while planning, shooting and editing the film.

Through intimate, action-driven storytelling, the film explores the cultural roots of female underrepresentation in entrepreneurship, including pervasive self-doubt, fear of failure and risk aversion among young women.

The women profiled include Thuy Truong, who moved from Vietnam to Silicon Valley on a week's notice to become a serial entrepreneur, founding GreenGar, which has produced mobile applications surpassing 12 million downloads. Stacey Ferreira started her first company, MySocialCloud, in high school and gained $1 million in investment from business magnate and philanthropist Richard Branson.

Sheena Allen is an African-American woman from Mississippi who founded her mobile application company, Sheena Allen Apps. It was a random idea that she sketched on her personal computer during her senior year at the University of Southern Mississippi. Brienne Ghafourifar raised a million dollars in funding at 18 years old to found Entefy Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., tech startup that’s connecting people and the world. Agathe Molinar is a French web entrepreneur whose second startup, Paris-based, is one of the top e-commerce sites in France.

Besides showcasing the five young entrepreneurs, the film weaves in big-picture perspectives from female technology trailblazers, like investor Joanne Wilson, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer and White House presidential advisor Megan Smith, GoldieBlox founder and chief executive officer Debbie Sterling, and Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer at Facebook.

“The women of ‘She Started It’ are smart, resourceful and relatable, offering viewers powerful examples of female entrepreneurship, while revealing the challenges faced by women-led companies,” says Poggi, a French journalist/filmmaker who made her directing debut. She has interviewed key players in Silicon Valley for various publications and is a popular speaker at TEDx programs.

Poggi points to a Sources of Economic Hope study, by the Kauffman Foundation, that revealed women usually account for less than 10 percent of founders for high-growth tech firms, and only four percent of Fortune 500 companies have women administrators. Other studies show that in the Silicon Valley, women earn half as much as a man’s salary for the same professional work level and get less than 10 percent of all venture capital funding.

“It is also important for students to understand the structural inequalities that women still face in the Silicon Valley and tech workplaces in general,” said Livingston, who has taught a Gender in the STEM Profession course at Rose-Hulman. “I’ve heard from some of Rose-Hulman’s brightest alumnae who have experienced some harsh realities in their jobs for which they were not prepared. I want our students to be knowledgeable not just to make smart individual choices but, more importantly, so that they can be engaged in changing workplaces structurally.”

Poggi adds, “The numbers are changing, but not fast enough. For women to play such a minor role in an industry that has become so prevalent in our lives, it would seem we are losing out on a lot of potential. Women entrepreneurs tend to create businesses with a higher social impact and reinvest in their communities a lot more.”

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