Women Represent At Disrupt’15

The  central event of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last week was the Startup Battlefield competition. Promising early stage startups compete for $50,000 and worldwide attention from investors and supporters.  Startups from Silicon Valley and all over the world came to show off how they're changing   and improving communication in the professional workplace, the use of virtual reality, daily routines, and more. Interestingly, in the finals, three of the six finalist startups that were competing were either created or co-created by women.

We reached out to some of the founders of these startups and asked them a few questions about their experience and companies:


Photo courtesy of Allison

Allison Kopf of Agrilyst

Tell us what your company does and who you are.

Agrilyst is a platform that helps indoor farmers take control of their operations. We help indoor farm operators use data to make more profitable production decisions. Our SaaS platform tracks and analyzes all farm data in one place, enabling growers to optimize plant performance and reduce operating expenses.  

I spent the last four years working for one of the largest urban indoor agriculture companies in the US, managing their national development strategy. I studied Physics at Santa Clara  University. As an undergraduate, I was the project manager for SCU's award winning entry into the Solar Decathlon, raising $1.2M to build a solar powered home.  

Since there are so few women in tech and Silicon Valley, how did it feel to present to a room that was predominantly male?

I really noticed when I attended the diversity panel. It was an amazing panel, but, the room was half empty.  This year, a bunch of the Battlefield teams were run by women or had female founders. It's great that there are more and more women led companies. That's one half of the conversation. The other is getting more women in the room to see them pitch.

What are some of your thoughts about being acknowledged as a pioneer of innovation?

It's  awesome! I started Agrilyst because I saw an opportunity to address a direct problem in a big industry. I don't really think of myself as a pioneer so much as a problem solver.

What impact do you hope your product will have on the community? We build Agrilyst because it is needed in the industry.

As a society, we have huge challenges facing us with regards to food production. We have the drought plaguing our land in California and the southwest. We have to meet huge demand increases as our global population grows. We have to become more energy efficient. Our software helps farmers meet these demands; we live each day thinking about the impact we'll have on our community.

What would you like to say to women striving to create startups and new technologies?

Do it. Solve real problems. Build amazing products. Help people. There are huge opportunities out there. Find them and tackle them. If I had to give one piece of advice, I'd say: find a mentor. Not just someone who supports you, but someone who will go to bat for you everytime.

Congratulations on winning Disrupt's Startup Battlefield this year! Do you have words you'd like to share?

Winning TechCrunch Disrupt was an unbelievable experience. Major kudos to all of the Battlefield teams. It takes a ton of grit to get there. We are so excited for what comes next.

Photo courtesy of Pree

Photo courtesy of Pree

Pree Walia of Preemadonna

Tell us what your company does and who you are.

Preemadonna's mission is to meet our community with technology that is relevant to their lifestyle. Our community is comprised of dynamic girls who are smart, creative and collaborative.  Preemadonna's first product, the Nailbot, prints custom nail art directly on your fingernails with your smartphone instantly at home! Through our platform, our community can express themselves in creative and original ways.

I'm the CEO and Co-Founder of Preemadonna - but I'm really just a girl that had an idea and the determination to keep going through a lot of rejection. I grew up in the South, went to college at Northwestern and earned my MBA at University of Chicago. I spent the early part of my career working in politics - getting people out to vote, building partnerships and raising capital. I moved out to Silicon Valley from Washington D.C. to work for a politician/venture capitalist, and later worked in early stage hardware. Fun Fact, I sold LIGHTS! I worked for an LED lighting startup for a number of years - we used to joke that I had a light show in the back of my car!

Since there are so few women in tech and Silicon Valley, how did it feel to present to a room that was predominantly male?

There was actually a good gender balance on the panel of judges during both of our rounds at Disrupt! I'd like to highlight what we are doing to change the ratio: Through our Preemadonna Ambassador program, girls can digitally design Nailbot nail art, build and program their own touchscreen printer and share creative stories on our blog. We aren't building a beauty company to paint fingernails - we are part of a wider girl power movement that allows us to be dynamic, original, smart and beautiful.

It's time for action - it starts with how we approach a younger generation and understanding that these issues are complex and will not be solved overnight. But our company is built by girls for girls. And that's pretty awesome. (Casey - my cofounder - is beyond amazing and can also answer this question from her perspective as a robotics engineer.)

What are some of your thoughts about being acknowledged as a pioneer of innovation?

There is a famous quote by Beverly Rubik - "You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in [her] back.”

Nail printers are not new - the general concept has existed for some time - but to get the device in the hands of girls, iterate quickly, and have it controlled by a smartphone to bring down the overall cost of the device - that is a challenge and an opportunity. And my journey to do so has been rife with difficulty and investor rejection. But we are still going - even with arrows in my back!

Being a Pioneer means being a Preemadonna - and that's fabulous.

What impact do you hope your product will have on the community?

We invented and engineered the Nailbot not just to print art and paint nails, but to give girls a platform to design, create, invent and code together. It's a seriously fun product and experience - and a way to meet girls with cool technology.

We are working with community partners - different Girl Scouts regional councils and troops, tech camps for pre-teens and teens, and maker organizations to create Nailbot events, Nailbot curriculum, Nailbot maker badges and much more.

Our company is not meant for the elite 1% - that's not authentic to who I am or who Casey is. We never dreamed that we'd be the inventors of the Nailbot - but if we are doing this - we want to make it relevant and educational for girls that are using the Nailbot.

What would you like to say to women striving to create startups and new technologies?

Don't give up! You will face a lot of rejection. We were rejected by dozens of accelerators before we got into HAX the second time I applied. It's a long journey and failure is part of the game. And remember to treat others well - when you are down and when you are up. Support and invest in other women!

This is some personal life advice: I was 29 when I had the idea and started on this company. Now I'm 32. Along the way, my friends got engaged, married, and had children. Everyone's journey is different, but you may feel lost at times. I tried to date - but was hard to find balance and I was dumped by all my boyfriends! I'm still single - it's powerful but incredibly lonely at times. There is always sacrifice. Nothing in life is free - but have faith that it will be worth it in the end. At least that's what I believe!

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