Author Archives: Rana Abdelhamid

3 things we learned from the second season of ‘Founded’

Last year, Google’s  Women Techmakers launched “Founded,” a podcast celebrating the real, honest stories of women leaders in the tech industry and their journeys to entrepreneurship. Now, we’re back with a second season that will follow six women in tech with a common goal: to build a successful business. 

We’ll hear from women like Hana Hassan, who’s working to diversify tech companies’ hiring practices, and Laura Rodriguez O’Dwyer, CEO of a startup that’s demystifying certain parts of learning languages.

As the host of “Founded,” I’ve learned so much from these incredibly driven women. So to give you a sneak peek to the season, here are three lessons you’ll hear throughout the episodes: 

  1. Just start. In the interviews, you’ll hear that most of the founders we spoke to didn’t have the “perfect” financial or social circumstances to launch a tech startup. What they did have was  ambition and drive;  the moment they put their foot to the pedal, their ideas took off. Sometimes this take-off was very slow, and sometimes it was fast. What mattered is that they began their journeys and made their ideas a reality. 
  2. Be bold in your ask. You can’t build a company on your own. You’ll need a team, and you’ll probably need other people’s money. These people are investing in you and your vision. To get that investment, you have to make “the ask.” The initial ask might be challenging, but you need  to grow your resources and knowledge base if you want to build a company beyond one person and one idea. We heard from people who demonstrated how one relationship, one investor, one supporter could transform a startup’s direction. So never miss that opportunity! 
  3. Stay rooted in a clear sense of purpose. From ensuring financial stability to building and nurturing a team, founding and running a startup is hard work.  But a common thread between these founders was they always reminded themselves of why they started their businesses in the first place. What makes them get up in the morning is the same drive that helps them overcome obstacles. 

Season two of “Founded” is available now, and you can find it on Google Podcasts or wherever you listen.

Meet 3 women who found community in India’s tech scene

From left to right: Dhruva Shastri, Varsha Jaiswal and Supriya Shashivasan.

Based on research Women Techmakers conducted in 2018, women only make up 34 percent of all technology sector employees in India. Thankfully, there’s a rising leadership of Indian women in tech working to make this industry more inclusive and equitable. 

Many of them are a part of our Women Techmakers community, which is at the forefront of this change. I recently had the chance to talk to Dhruva Shastri, Varsha Jaiswal and Supriya Shashivasan, three Women Techmakers Ambassadors from India, about their experiences in tech, and why they’re so motivated to do this work.

How would you explain your job to someone who isn't in tech?

Dhruva:  I’m a Flutter developer with a background in UX Design, so I’d say I create experience and tools for people who use Android phones, and that I pay extra attention to the design so that it’s fun and easy to use.

Varsha:I’m a web developer, so I would say I talk to people about how they want to use technology so that I can create the places on the internet that serve them with the information or tools they’re looking for. 

Supriya: I’m a front-end developer who takes amazing mockups and designs of websites and apps and converts them to live code so everyone can use them. I’m also pursuing research in security. So I’d say I’m looking into how best we can safeguard our assets, data and online details from hackers.

What made you want to work in this field?

Varsha:Since an early age, I was  interested in  technology and wrote my first code in first grade. I’ve always been passionate about solving problems and building solutions.

Supriya: I’ve always been curious about the mechanics of how things work. I’ve also loved building things on my own since I was a child. In college, I fell in love with technology and discovering ways it could make life easier. Solving problems by building innovative solutions with nothing but a laptop!? It's amazing.

Tech is such an evolving industry, how do you keep your technology skills current? 

Dhruva:The industry is constantly evolving. The internet is the easiest and best resource to learn new things and stay updated on my field. I learn from people and organizations I follow on Twitter, by reading blogs and newsletters and occasionally visiting forums like Stackoverflow, Quora, Reddit and so on. I also attend offline (and more recently due to the pandemic, online) meetups, take online courses, do pair-programming, create sample projects and talk with colleagues. 

Supriya:I spend a few hours a day studying and reading different blogs and forums. I’m also part of online and offline communities like Google Developer Groups, Hashnode, Quora and Stackoverflow where I can connect with other people who work in my field and we can talk, help, network and update each other. Attending online workshops, hackathons and meetups is also helpful.

Why is being part of the Women Techmakers community important to you?

Dhruva: This community provides a sense of belonging, safety and security. I remember  when I  joined the Google Developer Group here in Ahmedabad back in 2013, I was too shy to talk to anyone. And now I feel so much more confident. GDG and Women Techmakers brought out this transformation in me by providing a platform, resources, opportunities and connection. This inclusive space gives you the freedom to share your struggles, celebrate your achievements and build your support system. Now it gives me immense happiness to touch  the lives of women and non-binary groups and be a part of helping them find success. 

Supriya: I used to be so scared of speaking in front of more than five people. I would stutter and gasp for huge breaths of air. That all changed when I got involved with Women Techmakers. During Google Developer Days in 2019, in the community lounge, I watched women speak about the importance of community and how it helped them. I found myself raising my hand to share my experience, but I could barely manage to speak three sentences. Next thing I know I heard claps, and I saw smiles all around. I didn't feel scared anymore. I went on to become an ambassador for my own community.

What is one piece of advice you have for a woman interested in getting into tech?

Dhruva:Success always lies on the other side of our comfort zone. So when you don’t know how to do something, say yes. Take risks, learn something new, because the best way to get out of mediocrity is to keep shooting for excellence.

Varsha:Don’t hesitate, try and keep trying. Ask questions, explore more and trust yourself. And you’re not alone — we’re all together in this, helping each other grow and create a better future.

Supriya:Be fearless, bold, follow your dreams and speak your mind. Turn things to your advantage by forcing your way through any obstacles in your path.


Women aren’t safe online. Merve Isler wants to change that

In February, Şeyma Yıldız was killed by her own father in Ankara, Turkey because she had posted what he thought were “inappropriate images” online. Sadly, the 16-year-old’s story is not an outlier: According to the country’s police data, 81 women were killed in domestic violence incidents this past May. 

Googler Merve Isler lives in Turkey and leads Google’s Women Techmakers efforts in the region. And it’s stories like Şeyma’s that remind her why she does this work. “Yes, the Women Techmakers program aims to increase the visibility of women in the tech industry, but it’s also about ensuring their security online.” It’s incredibly important for women in her country—and around the world—to know how to protect themselves from violence, online and off.  

In the midst of a time when women are reckoning with their safety, Merve led WTM ambassadors in Turkey to organize the Women’s Online Safety Hackathon, held virtually this past August. I recently sat down with her to hear about her experience organizing the event, and to learn more about this cause. 

What was your favorite moment from the event?

I was so impressed by the CyberGuard project presentation. CyberGuard uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to detect cyber harassment by analyzing  messages sent to the user. The team trained an artificial intelligence model using Twitter data. Then, the system could run on someone’s phone and detect if they received harassing text messages. The algorithm could detect an attack on a person at a rate of 85 percent. It also directs people using it to appropriate legal solutions and psychological support if they are being harassed. 

Were there any big learning experiences for you?

Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me was learning to never stay silent in these situations. It’s important to reflect on and report what’s happening so that we can defend ourselves. 

There are a lot of legal and psychological aspects that we need to learn and be aware of in order to prevent violence against women. While we react against violence against women, we need to be careful not to harm the people we try to support psychologically. Again, it's so important to never be silent about cyber attacks or situations where we’re being bullied. Being aware of how violence manifests in these moments, gathering facts and defending our rights through reporting is important. 

What are some tips you learned about keeping yourself safe online during the event? What do you hope others learn from this work?

I definitely learned a few things, and these are things that can help keep anyone safe. For starters, take control of what people can see about you online. Use your social media accounts' privacy tools to limit who can see your posts, and even how people can search for you. If you need to, make all of your photos and posts private.

Also, try not to use location tags on your posts, and don’t allow your social media apps to have access to your location data.

And always report and block harassers, or place people on restricted lists or use customized groups to only share with people you know. This is especially useful if you want to avoid confrontation.

How can people get involved with this cause?

The Purple Roof Women's Shelter Organization is another great resource that offers legal advice, medical support and counseling to women dealing with domestic violence, and to survivors of sex trafficking. In Turkey, We Will Stop Femicide was founded by the families of murdered women and it provides legal assistance to women in danger, fights cases on behalf of women who have been killed, educates Turkish women about their rights and campaigns for the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. And of course, anyone can sign up for the Women Safety Training events in their region.

CEO Hana Hassan refuses to be ignored

Hana Hassan Women Techmakers

If you’re friends with Hana Hassan, you might know her by another name: Dope’rah (yes, it’s a combination of “dope” and “Oprah”). She was given the nickname because, as she puts it, she does her best to make sure “people feel seen and heard.” One way she does that is through her role as an ambassador for Women Techmakers, a Google group committed to providing resources, visibility and community to women in tech, in her town of Waterloo, Canada. “I’m focused on enabling diversity, inclusion and belonging.”

Hana is also the founder of Blackmaple.io. Blackmaple.io helps people gain access to equitable employment and networking opportunities, as well as supports tech companies that want to diversify their hiring and develop inclusive frameworks. 

I recently had the chance to talk to Hana about this work, and why she feels it’s important to bridge the tech industry’s gender gap.

What impact has Women Techmakers had on you?

Seeing the various ways other Ambassadors around the world are tackling equality in tech has equipped me with so much insight and knowledge. It’s also provided me with a community of women in Waterloo that’s helped me navigate the tech scene here.

Kitchener-Waterloo is Canada’s top startup ecosystem, and home to Google Canada. Running a Women Techmakers chapter here allows us to provide visibility, community and resources for women in technology here. We want to make sure there’s gender equity in this booming tech ecosystem by supporting and celebrating the diverse women-identified techmakers here. 

What problem are you hoping to solve with Blackmaple.io?

I founded Blackmaple.io five years ago to support tech companies in diversifying their talent pipeline and give them resources for becoming more inclusive. As a two-sided marketplace—meaning that our platform is for companies hiring as well as people looking for jobs—our talent platform helps people gain access to equitable employment opportunities and community, as well as address many challenges of diversity in tech. 

Right now, our talent platform, which is available to those looking for work, is in closed beta. But the goal is to  streamline the recruitment process and remove some of the barriers of entry to employment. 

I also want to help tech companies gain competitive advantages through their workforce by understanding the value of employees as people first. With a diversity lens, I want to help pair the best tech companies with the most talented people across the globe.

What career obstacles did you have to overcome?

There’s a  Nelson Mandela quote, "lead from the back and let others believe they are in front," that resonated with me when I founded Blackmaple.io. I was often referred to as a "CEO of one," which was dismissive, and to which I always responded, "but a champion of many."

Because I am one of the few women of color in the space, I often encounter and have had to overcome assumptions about me. People are surprised when they learn about my ability to build and solve things, the positions I hold, the spaces I take up and the people in my network. 

What advice do you have for other women who want to start tech companies? 

Trust your abilities, find your community and don’t give up, because what is meant for you will come to you.

What do you think are the barriers that exist in tech for women of color?

Access to resources and opportunities is definitely an issue, specifically for women of color. 

These barriers persist because there’s a lack of representation in leadership. You can only solve for what you know so having a diverse leadership team is key. 

Google's Black Founders fund is an example of moving in the right direction, especially given its global reach and impact. There’s also the Generation Google Scholarship, Google Lime Scholarship and Women Techmakers Scholars programs that drive equitable educational opportunities for underrepresented groups by removing some financial burdens. These are all opportunities I uplift so other underrepresented groups may learn more about them and apply.

What else would you like to share about being a woman in tech?

In Somali, we say: “Buundada waxaa la hagaajiyaa oo keliya kadib marka qof ku dhaco biyaha,” which means “the bridge is repaired only after someone falls into the water.”

2020 has been a year of firsts and “yet agains,” sadly. As a Black woman in tech, I’m expected to be the subject matter expert, I’m expected to be co-signed, I’m expected to justify the space I take up, I’m expected to explain myself, I’m expected to prove myself. 

I build, drive and make change as well as celebrate all humans, everyday, in an industry not designed for us, but rather that’s adjusting to us.

Thankfully, though, I am one of many—and the industry is starting to notice. 

How Nikiya Simpson brought meaning to her work

In 2009, Nikiya Simpson was dealing with burnout. She’d been working in data processing at a tech company for six years but recently found herself wanting “something more meaningful.” “I felt like the long nights and weekends, the overtime and stress, didn’t contribute to making anyone’s life better,” Nikiya says. “Especially my own.” 

Nikiya decided to leave her job in tech and pivot toward a career in academic research, beginning work at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences College of Public Health. “I built a web-based application that disseminated county-level health data for the state of Arkansas,” she says. That led to more work creating systems for public health and institutional research. Today, she still supports that very first project, as well as works on creating new web and mobile applications focused on digital health and access for people in underserved areas. 

Nikiya is also a Women Techmakers Ambassador in her town of Little Rock, Arkansas. Women Techmakers is a Google-created community that works to promote the visibility and opportunities for women in tech. I recently caught up with Nikiya to learn more about her career in making public-facing tech applications, as well as how Women Techmakers has helped her find community. 


What do you get out of the Women Techmakers community?

I feel so empowered, included and supported as part of Women Techmakers. Everyone deserves to be valued and heard and to have access to opportunities that help us grow as developers or any industry. The group gives us amazing tools to be able to uplift women and support them in their careers. There’s something about being part of a community that helps you when you feel like giving up; that encourages you to keep going.

Community organizing takes a lot of effort. It means reaching out to people who tell you “no” sometimes. Starting a community like this is an incredible experience in teaching, leadership, perseverance and organization. I learn a lot. Not just about tech, but also about people and how to figure out what the community needs. 

What inspired you to enter the public health space?

I want to be a technologist for social good. I get to work with students, epidemiologists, data scientists, researchers and clinicians with different areas of expertise and different areas of research and be a part of their amazing work. I believe the pandemic has shown us the importance of looking out for others. I’m hopeful that by combining my love for education, science and technology, I can be a part of making our community better.

What is the tech industry in Little Rock like?

There’s a lot of opportunity for tech here, although many may not realize this at first. Major employers like Walmart, Sam's Club and Tyson Foods are located here. There’s also a small tech community in the central area around Little Rock, as well as a few startups.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the tech industry. What do you wish more people knew?

Sometimes when we think about tech, we think about “big tech.” I’m challenging myself and others to think about how we can use tech in traditionally non-tech spaces. I ask myself, how can we use tech to improve education, fair housing, healthcare? To reduce poverty, prejudice and racial injustice? 

Do you have any advice for other women in tech?

As a woman, it has been a lot to juggle a career, raise a family, pursue more education and take care of myself. My call to action is to show yourself some grace. Be kind to yourself, too. There are days when it’s not all going to get done. You will probably drop a ball or two. It’s OK. 


How Women Techmakers India reimagined their IWD event

When the Women Techmakers International Women’s Day event in India was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Program Manager Lakshya Sivaramakrishnan knew she had to find another way to bring the group together. Originally scheduled for March 21, the event was supposed to host panels, tech trainings, networking events and inspiring keynotes for hundreds of women developers from across India, as well as honor women in tech. “Initially, I was disheartened when the International Women's Day celebrations were called off,” Lakshya says. 


In part, that’s because she knows how important moments of representation are for these women. In India, women only make up 34 percent of all tech employees (based on research Women Techmakers conducted in 2018).  “While we took time to settle into the new mode of life 'online,' it was important to celebrate the super-women in our lives,” Lakshya says. The group decided to host the event online, scaling it  into a worldwide gathering. In just 20 days, around 5,000 women from across 76 countries, along with 40 speakers, registered and eventually joined the summit. The event lasted four days and offered four tracks (Leadership, Machine Learning & Cloud, Design & Entrepreneurship, Android & Web); pre-scheduled sessions pulled in 10K views, and live streams accumulated 6.4K views.  “It was so great to turn things around and celebrate the event with a global audience. And it was incredible to see our local Ambassadors pull this off.”


I talked to Lakshya to get her thoughts on reorganizing a massive, IWD event into an even bigger, online-only one. Here are five things she learned, alongside  her team of Women Techmakers local Ambassadors, while bringing this event to life.


Listen to your community.

Coming together to create a unified women in tech online summit in India was a result of one of the monthly community chats we have as a team. From ideating between smaller, chapter events to regional ones, the conversation snowballed into a country-wide event and eventually became global with registrations pouring in from 76 countries. 


Create collaborative systems

This event brought us all together to create something that was unheard of! We’d never hosted something with multiple tracks like this online before. We used Google Docs to collaborate and  ensure that our discussions were all in one place for anyone to add their contributions. A few of the collages and videos were produced in under  two hours, which speaks volumes to the love and attachment  the Ambassadors have for their communities and exemplifies their leadership capabilities. 


Play to your team's strengths.

The organizing team was one of the most diverse I have seen: We had passionate, young leaders with varied cultural backgrounds, technical expertise and creative minds. Smaller teams were formed and owners were identified for designing and maintaining the website, creating posters and interactive filters for attendees, engaging with participants through social media and  figuring out the technical infrastructure needed to host 22+ sessions over 12 hours in an online medium despite flaky internet, bad weather and frequent power cuts. 


Community is key.

The highlight of the summit was that almost all speakers were part of the Women Techmakers community. This ensured visibility to our community champions, giving them a great platform to showcase their passion in tech, design and leadership.  One of the most engaging moments throughout the four days were the 15-minute ice breaker sessions. The speakers tried to engage with the audience even in the online medium by asking and taking questions from  through live chats, as well.   


Celebrate and amplify your success.

I truly believe that a  leader is only as good as their team. My goal was to ensure they brought out the best in themselves while working on what they’re most passionate about. The experience of working with them so  closely, mentoring them and learning along with them as we figured out the unknowns was incredibly gratifying. After each day of the event, we would have a small after party to bask in the day’s success and pep each other up for the next day.


One founder’s mission to make healthcare more accessible

In 2018, women received only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding. Women Techmakers, Google’s program to build visibility, community and resources for women in technology, is committed to changing this narrative. That’s why we launched Founded, a web series that shares the stories of women founders who are using tech to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. To highlight the stories of four women of color tech entrepreneurs, for our first season we’re taking our viewers to Atlanta, home of one of the largest technology hubs in the U.S

In our latest episode, we interviewed Chrissa McFarlane who is the Founder and CEO of the blockchain startup Patientory (which is also helping distribute diagnostic kits and medical equipment during the COVID-19 crisis). She first learned about bitcoin in 2010, started working on broader blockchain solutions in 2015 and later published her book, "Future Women: Minority Female Entrepreneurship and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Era of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency."

Tell me about the moment when you first came up with the idea for Patientory. 

I was working with a telemedicine company and experienced first hand the difficulty patients have obtaining access to their medical information. I was also actively researching Bitcoin and Blockchain at the time and made a connection between the two industries. 

What was your vision for healthcare? What problem are you hoping to solve?

For over a decade, the main problem in the healthcare industry is  the topic of interoperability. The ability to access health information securely and easily across multiple providers has been a challenge. I recently wrote about this for the Electronic Health Reporter

Where do you see Patientory going within the next five years? 

Looking past our current pandemic, I see Patientory providing the capability to keep large populations of people around the world healthy. This year proved that we need access to digital health solutions more than ever. Telemedicine usage rose over 70 percent for certain apps. Being able to treat patients is not going to stop with an office visit, but should be an ongoing engagement that can be facilitated by technology. 

As a fellow New Yorker, I’m curious about your upbringing in the Bronx. How did it shape your vision for your work?

Growing up in the Bronx, I was exposed to various cultures and many different people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. During my first internship at the New York City Human Resource Administration/Department of Social Services, I met with hundreds of families across the city. This opened me up to  discrepancies that existed, especially as it related to healthcare; it helped to shape the mission behind Patientory in serving all people regardless of class or race.  

What are some of the first steps you took when starting your company?

I found advisors and mentors who would help me for the long-term. One of the most important factors of running a business is having strong relationships. 

 Two years ago, you made headlines after securing $7.2 million in funding in two days. How were you able to raise so much so fast?

Being a pioneer in the space, it was difficult to secure the first round of institutional funding. So we decided to create a cryptocurrency, called PTOY, through our Foundation. More than 1,000 people all over the world purchased the cryptocurrency, which secured over $7 million in funding for Patientory. It also provided grants to support early stage companies building blockchain healthcare solutions, which later translated into interest and continued support for Patientory’s initial capital raise. 

What advice do you have for other women interested in starting their own technology companies? 

Connect with an ecosystem, whether it’s an accelerator or incubator, and never stop talking to customers! I recently wrote a book about women entering the modern entrepreneurial world, and I talk about the 10 important mindsets you should have when you’re starting a business—for example, persistence and coachabilty. 

One founder’s mission to make healthcare more accessible

In 2018, women received only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding. Women Techmakers, Google’s program to build visibility, community and resources for women in technology, is committed to changing this narrative. That’s why we launched Founded, a web series that shares the stories of women founders who are using tech to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. To highlight the stories of four women of color tech entrepreneurs, for our first season we’re taking our viewers to Atlanta, home of one of the largest technology hubs in the U.S

In our latest episode, we interviewed Chrissa McFarlane who is the Founder and CEO of the blockchain startup Patientory (which is also helping distribute diagnostic kits and medical equipment during the COVID-19 crisis). She first learned about bitcoin in 2010, started working on broader blockchain solutions in 2015 and later published her book, "Future Women: Minority Female Entrepreneurship and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Era of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency."

Tell me about the moment when you first came up with the idea for Patientory. 

I was working with a telemedicine company and experienced first hand the difficulty patients have obtaining access to their medical information. I was also actively researching Bitcoin and Blockchain at the time and made a connection between the two industries. 

What was your vision for healthcare? What problem are you hoping to solve?

For over a decade, the main problem in the healthcare industry is  the topic of interoperability. The ability to access health information securely and easily across multiple providers has been a challenge. I recently wrote about this for the Electronic Health Reporter

Where do you see Patientory going within the next five years? 

Looking past our current pandemic, I see Patientory providing the capability to keep large populations of people around the world healthy. This year proved that we need access to digital health solutions more than ever. Telemedicine usage rose over 70 percent for certain apps. Being able to treat patients is not going to stop with an office visit, but should be an ongoing engagement that can be facilitated by technology. 

As a fellow New Yorker, I’m curious about your upbringing in the Bronx. How did it shape your vision for your work?

Growing up in the Bronx, I was exposed to various cultures and many different people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. During my first internship at the New York City Human Resource Administration/Department of Social Services, I met with hundreds of families across the city. This opened me up to  discrepancies that existed, especially as it related to healthcare; it helped to shape the mission behind Patientory in serving all people regardless of class or race.  

What are some of the first steps you took when starting your company?

I found advisors and mentors who would help me for the long-term. One of the most important factors of running a business is having strong relationships. 

 Two years ago, you made headlines after securing $7.2 million in funding in two days. How were you able to raise so much so fast?

Being a pioneer in the space, it was difficult to secure the first round of institutional funding. So we decided to create a cryptocurrency, called PTOY, through our Foundation. More than 1,000 people all over the world purchased the cryptocurrency, which secured over $7 million in funding for Patientory. It also provided grants to support early stage companies building blockchain healthcare solutions, which later translated into interest and continued support for Patientory’s initial capital raise. 

What advice do you have for other women interested in starting their own technology companies? 

Connect with an ecosystem, whether it’s an accelerator or incubator, and never stop talking to customers! I recently wrote a book about women entering the modern entrepreneurial world, and I talk about the 10 important mindsets you should have when you’re starting a business—for example, persistence and coachabilty. 

Sandeep Ahuja is comfortable confronting convention

In 2018, women received only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding. Women Techmakers, Google’s program to build visibility, community and resources for women in technology, is committed to changing this narrative. Founded is a new web series that shares the stories of women founders using tech to solve some of the world’s challenges. For our first season, we’re taking our viewers to Atlanta, home of one of the largest technology hubs in the U.S., to highlight the stories of four women of color entrepreneurs.

Today, we’re releasing our second episode, an interview with Sandeep Ahuja. Sandeep is the co-founder of cove.tool, a software platform that helps architects and engineers model energy efficient buildings. We had the chance to talk to the Atlanta-based entrepreneur about her international upbringing, how she creates community for women in tech and how it felt to make Forbes “30 Under 30” list. 

Can you explain what cove.tool is to someone who’s not in tech?

Buildings contribute to 40 percent of total carbon emissions, and while developers and owners don’t mind doing the “right thing” for the planet, no one has unlimited budgets to spend on green building design. We still have to make things affordable and that’s exactly what cove.tool’s smart optimization does. We want to make it easier to build sustainable and green energy efficient buildings.

What originally inspired your interest in fighting climate change?

As a daughter of a diplomat, I traveled the world seeing the remarkable homogeneity of buildings in climates as diverse as Riyadh and Moscow. Given the outsized contribution buildings make to climate change, I was deeply troubled by the lack of architectural response. I wanted to disrupt this idea, and for me, given that I moved to a different country every four years, I’ve always felt comfortable with change and with confronting entrenched beliefs.  For me, there was no such thing as conforming to conventions. 

What was it like to be named to the Forbes “30 under 30” list? 

It’s both exciting and humbling; so many people reached out to express support and congratulations. It was exciting to see so many  strong women on the list, as well as so many immigrants, including myself! 

Cove.tool is meant to help architecture and engineering professionals fight climate change, but how can everyone else help? 

Getting politically active and pushing business and political leaders to take action is the key. Multinational corporations, investment firms and government regulations account for the vast majority of emissions. A good place to start in America is to join grassroots efforts like Citizens Climate Lobby, a bi-partisan organization tackling climate change. Collaborating with them is a great way to organize, volunteer and raise awareness. Writing letters to your local representative, congressperson and voting for fighting climate change candidates also makes a big difference. 

Why do you think it’s important for women in the entrepreneur and tech worlds to create community? 

Being a data driven person, the data clearly answers the "why.” Women only receive 2 percent of VC funding and make up only 11 percent of leadership in tech; this is creating a world of systematic bias. This needs to change and the change can start with me, you and everyone else. I drive change by making sure that cove.tool maintains a strong gender and diversity ratio and that we put  women in leadership roles. Our first non-founder team member was a woman, and the second was a woman, too, and they weren’t hired for any other reason aside from the fact that they deserved those roles and had the best skillsets. I also volunteer, coach and hopefully inspire other women founders and architects.

Reality TV star Tanya Sam on life as an entrepreneur

In 2018, women received only 2.2 percent of all venture capital funding. Women Techmakers, Google’s program to build visibility, community and resources for women in technology, is committed to changing this narrative. That’s why we’re launching Founded, a new web series that shares the stories of women founders who are using tech to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges. To highlight the stories of four women of color tech entrepreneurs, for our first season we’re taking our viewers to Atlanta, home of one of the largest technology hubs in the U.S

In our first episode, we meet Tanya Sam, a reality TV star and tech startup investor. Through her work with Tech-Square Labs and the Ambition Fund, Tanya is strengthening the power of historically under-served entrepreneurs. 

We sat down with her to dig deeper into her vision for the tech industry. Here’s what she had to say about her past life working in healthcare, how she’s helping bring minority voices to the table and how she balances her career with filming a television show.

Today, you’re a tech entrepreneur, investor and reality TV show star—but you were a nurse for the bulk of your career. Tell me about your career transition to becoming a tech founder. 

When I first moved to Atlanta, I was still working full-time as a registered nurse, and my then-boyfriend/now fiancé Paul was launching a cybersecurity company. On our second date, he actually had to take a coffee meeting with his co-founder, and I sat in on the whole conversation. I was so impressed! I wanted to learn more about the entrepreneur world.   

My career in healthcare is actually what inspired Limitless Smart Shot: As a nurse, I worked busy 12-hour days, and we relied on coffee constantly. So I wanted to create a dietary supplement that would be healthier and could increase focus, attention, memory and support healthy brain function.  

You’re the co-founder of  Tech Square Labs, Atlanta’s lead seed stage venture fund. What was your vision for Tech Square Labs? What problems are you hoping to solve?

The vision of TechSquare Labs was to create opportunities to help tech entrepreneurs make something from nothing. Oftentimes, early entrepreneurs have an idea that they believe can become a large-scale, technology-based company, but they don’t have the resources to drive that idea. TechSquare Labs helps with everything from providing coworking space to helping teams with patent research and networking opportunities.

You also founded the Ambition Fund to invest in women and underrepresented entrepreneurs. Where do you see The Ambition Fund scaling with the next five years?

In the next five years, I plan to take the Ambition Fund Business Battles to over 50 cities across the globe, help fund over 500 companies and by that point to have also helped 1,000 women and minorities become angel investors. I want to help change the face of entrepreneurship by making it more female, more black and more diverse.

Just being on set with you for the shoot, I noticed that you have a great sense of humor. What really cracks you up?

I am truly a corny and goofy nerd at heart! I like dry, witty humor and laugh at my own dumb jokes. I try to live life to the fullest by working hard and enjoying what I do! I think that comes from my stint as an oncology nurse; it really teaches you an appreciation for life and health. 

What’s it like filming The Real Housewives of Atlanta? I’ve read you turned down the opportunity to film full-time—why?

When I was offered the chance to work on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, I thought it was a great chance to show the life of a black woman working in tech on mainstream television; representation matters! But filming takes a ton of time, and it wouldn’t be possible for me to work on the Ambition Fund and TechSquare Labs, and all my other projects, if I were on the show full-time!

You do a lot of these kinds of interviews; is there anything you’d like to share that you don’t usually get asked about?

I love to talk about my passion for a nonprofit organization that I am very involved in. Kate’s Club is an Atlanta nonprofit helping young people who are facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. Kate’s Club connects kids and young adults so they can share their experiences, and helps them process their grief in a comfortable, safe, uplifting setting. I’ve been a volunteer and working with children at Kate’s Club since 2016, and I’m currently on the Board of Directors and serving as the Gala Chair for our annual Mourning Glory Gala May 16, 2020.

There’s a personal reason why Kate’s Club holds such a special place in my heart. I also experienced loss at an early age; I lost my mother at the age of 12. When I was going through that, let me tell you, there was nothing like this around for my younger sister and I. No clubhouse, no programs, no summer camps or even exposure to other kids that had experienced loss.    

Are there any stories you’d like to share about using your influencer status in a positive way?

So recently, I actually helped bring someone onto the Kate’s Club board after meeting online. I use my Instagram Stories to talk about my work at Kate’s Club, and I had a woman reach out to me to share her grief story, and she ended up making a donation right there over Instagram. And now, just this week, she ended up joining the board!