Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are. — Martin Luther King Jr, Quoted by Jocelyn DeGance Graham
In striving to create equal opportunities for either gender and minorities, celebrating every small win can be empowering. One such change in recent years has been a rise in the number of female founders of tech startups. Thanks to the Top Women Entrepreneurs in Cloud Innovation Awards event, this change was acknowledged and celebrated!
On January 29th, Facebook’s Production Engineering team hosted the 7th Annual Top Women Entrepreneurs in Cloud Innovation Awards presented by CloudNOW and Office of the Cloud — powered by Kaizen Technology Partners and TechStars.
Celebrating women for their accomplishments was one aspect of the event while the other aspect was to highlight the change-makers in academia, venture capital, and social entrepreneurship. They shared stories and findings to help equip everyone with the tools necessary to increase diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
The event kicked off with Jocelyn DeGance Graham, the founder of CloudNOW, announcing the fifteen CloudNOW STEM Scholarship recipients from Holberton School and Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project. The scholarships are a great reminder to every one of the commitments we all have to reach beyond ourselves to lift others as we “rise.”
A highlight of the evening was the opening by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Sandberg spoke about the very urgent need for women to guide technological advancement. To increase diversity and inclusion, a lot of work was needed in “not making women feel isolated in STEM fields.” Sandberg expressed concern over the retention of women and remarked that “we are still losing women every step of the way.” Encouraging women to enter technical fields, Sandberg remarked:
If you care about making the world a better place, if you care about products that have an impact, if you care about helping people get the best of their lives, I don’t think there’s a better field to be in.
A blitz of lightning talks followed by amazing speakers such as Caroline Simard, Hadi Partovi, Megan Holston-Alexander, Jenny Lawton, and Naitik Mehta. Each speaker was an expert taking on a unique aspect of the diversity challenge ranging from identifying and fighting stereotypes and gender biases in the entrepreneurial community to building workplaces inclusive of people with disabilities.
It’s well known that female founders receive an abysmally low percentage of VC funding, roughly two percent of all that’s available. A panel of female VC’s shared how they approach funding female founders and how to support them too. Some interesting tips shared by the panel for founders seeking funding was to get the investment criteria upfront and the need to share more success stories of startups with female founders to create a “virtuous spiral” that draws VC’s to invest and fund more of them. The panel included Jenny Fielding, Jessica Lin, Jocelyn Goldfein, Kristina Shen, and Trina Van Pelt.
The event concluded with the announcement of the Top Women Entrepreneurs in Cloud Innovation Awards winners. They covered a wide range of innovations in cloud computing from legal, artificial intelligence, web services and more!
This year’s winners are (in alphabetical order):
- Sarah Gerweck, founder, Chief Architect of AtScale
- Tongtong Gong, co-founder, COO of Amber Data
- Edith Harbaugh, founder, CEO of LaunchDarkly
- Brynne Kennedy, founder, CEO of Topia
- Katherine Kostereva, founder, CEO of bpm’online
- Catherine Krow, founder, CEO of Digitory Legal
- Idit Levine, founder, CEO of Solo.io
- Sce Pike, founder, CEO of IOTAS
- Masha Sedova, co-founder, CEO of Elevate Security
- Charu Sharma, founder, CEO of Next Play
Additionally, two industry trailblazers will be recognized with Industry Excellence Awards:
- Sandy Carter, vice president of Amazon Web Services, for Excellence in Cloud Achievement
- Kelly Ireland, founder, president of CB Technologies, for Excellence in Entrepreneurial Achievement
Sandy Carter, Vice President of Amazon Web Services and one of the award recipients from the evening shared a powerful analogy with the story of The Elephant and the Rope. The story emphasizes the need to overcome conditioned mindsets that can be equally limiting as an external barrier. To me, this is true on both sides of advancing women — first women thinking that they can be successful and second, the society accepting that they are and can be successful. The event was a reflection of exactly that.
How many times are we chained to something when we can break free with the right amount of courage, confidence, and collaboration? — Sandy Carter, AWS
Congratulations to all of the award winners for leading the way and kudos to CloudNOW and Office of the Cloud for putting together an event that turned out to be a huge success! Looking forward to the next year!