TekMountainBlogCFWITanniversary

When Emilyanne Atkinson started out in the tech world, there was only one constant in a culture where change is God. Event after event, conference after conference, Atkinson always ended up in roomfuls of men. And while it’s unfortunate, it’s hardly a surprise. Even the world’s 11 largest tech companies average only 30% women in their workforce in a nation whose overall workforce is 59% women.

At these gatherings, however, Atkinson began to notice a “unicorn” that kept appearing. In the middle of all the networking and bad coffee was Audrey Speicher, who was the director of tekMountain. The two talked about how the lack of women around them was less a problem of disinterest in tech and more a need for organization and co-promotion.

And so Cape Fear Women in Tech was born, a nonprofit group of women with tech careers like coding, database administration, graphic design, and more, as well as general entrepreneurship.

Meetups and Move-ups

Speicher and Atkinson then began hosting monthly public meetings here at tekMountain, a mix of industry talks, professional mentoring, skills workshops, networking, and more.

Recent CFWIT Meetings:

“Here in Wilmington, you see homegrown talent, but also a lot of people moving here from other areas,” Speicher said. We meet so many women at our meetings, tons of remote workers who work in tech, places like IBM and SAS. But there was no connective tissue. And that’s why we started our monthly meetings.”

“You also see a funnel effect from these get-togethers,” Speicher continued. “First, people come check it out; then they want to help out however they can.”

CFWIT has enjoyed high new member and retention rates at their monthly meetups, and is actually celebrating its first anniversary at the end of July.

“A lot of our friends in Tech say to us, ‘How is CFWIT only a year old?’” Atkinson said. They’re surprised by what we’ve managed to accomplish in such a short time.”

More Than Just “Holding Their Own”

The two architects of CFWIT were hardly new to the game when they started their nonprofit.

Atkinson

  • has extensive experience in programming and systems administration

  • had to teach herself database administration on the fly in order to apply as for a basic administrator gig with CastleBranch (and still scored the highest of any applicant ever on CastleBranch’s database administrator test)

  • has worked as the MakerSpace program director for Elite Innovations, LLC, where she now offers technical consulting for mechanical engineering, product design, and software systems architecture

Speicher

  • went from psychology major to actress (with agent and all) to contract worker for CastleBranch

  • worked her way up in CastleBranch through roles in special functions, client relationship building, business development, product management, and product development

  • was first Director of tekMountain, where she worked with Brett Martin (CEO and founder of CastleBranch and tekMountain) and the rest of the executive team to bring a major incubator-accelerator into reality

  • now works as a product marketer at nCino

So What’s Their Ground Game?

At CFWIT’s recent board meeting, the group established four primary goals to ramp up this year’s momentum into the next:

1 – Grow networks through local and regional events and functions. This is where all the intangible stuff happens. It’s hard to measure, but the overall butterfly effect of shoulder-to-shoulder meetups creates individual and partnership opportunities like no other medium.

2 – Increase hard and soft skills through workshops and mentoring programs. The more women with wider sets of tech skills = the more women with tech jobs = the more women in tech leadership roles.

3 – Connect women with job opportunities. Not only Emilyanne and Audrey, but the rest of CFWIT’s regular members can offer vital connections when regional job openings arise.

4 – Give back to the community by encouraging women and girls to pursue tech professions. This both increases the local interest of women in tech and builds CFWIT as a promotional force for the tech ecosystem at-large as it continues to grow in southeastern NC.

“We’ve also set up several committees, each run by someone from our board of directors,” Atkinson said. “In addition to membership and mentorship committees, we’ve got marketing and community outreach.”

“This is [CFWIT] giving back,” Atkinson continued. “We’re saying to our members, ‘Hey! Do you know about the other nonprofits in the area? Do they need a website? Do they need an app?’”

“With our unique skill set, we can do stuff nonprofits usually can’t, and we want to help.”

Championing CFWIT’s Cause

Because tekMountain’s own story owes a lot to Atkinson and Speicher, and because they’re helping to grow tech in big ways here in southeastern NC, we’re all about their mission.

“tekMountain has not only been a clubhouse, but a champion of CFWIT from day one,” Speicher said. “They’ve provided materials, space, and, more importantly, they help promote us in the community.

“We’re on their calendar, we’re on their newsletters–they get the word out there,” Speicher added.

“And not just exposure–tekMountain also connects us with speakers, those connections that lead to something you can’t name that turn into something later on. That’s been the point of tekMountain from early on–those crazy collisions that you can’t predict that turn into something beautiful.”

Contact tekMountain today to learn how to start making those crazy collisions happen for your startup.

This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda SipesBill DiNome, and with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

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