Technology promises to do great things for humanity, but many of its benefits are funneled toward a narrow, predominantly white, predominantly male segment of the population.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The five nominees for the GeekWire Awards‘ Geeks Give Back category are working to shift the paradigm by supporting women and girls, racial diversity, low-income students and budding entrepreneurs.
Through our Impact Series, GeekWire regularly tells the stories of people and initiatives that are using tech and innovation to make meaningful, positive changes in the world. This award is our chance to celebrate them on the big stage. Last year we introduced the Geeks Give Back award, and the first winners were global health nonprofit PATH and data visualization company Tableau. The groups had jointly launched the Visualize No Malaria campaign, aimed at eradicating the disease from the Zambia by 2020.
Over the next two weeks, we’re opening voting in 13 GeekWire Awards categories, with GeekWire readers choosing their top picks from finalists selected by our panel of judges, who narrowed them down from our community’s nominations. Check GeekWire each day to cast your ballot. Winners will be revealed at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — on May 10th at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. You can vote in other GeekWire Awards categories, including CEO of the Year, Next Tech Titan and Hire of the Year, here.
This year’s finalists for Geeks Give Back are the Alliance of Angels, an angel investment network supporting entrepreneurship in the community for two decades; Female Founders Alliance, a private network helping female-led startup companies find success; Rainier Scholars, which aims to increase college graduation rates for low-income students of color; Techbridge Girls, a nonprofit connecting girls to technology in school and as career paths; and Technology Access Foundation, a STEM program training teachers and educating underserved kids in public schools.
Read more about each of organization and vote for your pick in the poll below. And a big thanks to our longtime partner, Bank of America, for sponsoring this year’s Geeks Give Back category.
Tickets are on sale now for the big Awards show, so be sure to get yours here before we sell out.
Alliance of Angels fosters Northwest startups for 20 years
Alliance of Angels is the Northwest’s largest angel investment network and has supported entrepreneurship in the community for 20 years. The group was founded by Bill Gates Sr., the father of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; Tom Alberg, a founder of Madrona Venture Group and board member at Amazon; and Tom Cable, an investment banker and founding investor in Immunex.
The trio wanted to ensure the region’s role as a technology leader. They saw an opportunity to create a virtuous cycle in which high net-worth individuals would recycle some of the money they’d made back into entrepreneurs, bolstering the tech sector and building a vibrant community of startups.
Since the late 1990s, the organization — an affiliation of roughly 140 investors — has pumped $125 million into more than 220 startups, ranging from software to biotech to retail upstarts.
Its track record of backing female-led companies also is noteworthy. More than a quarter of its members are women. Pitchbook, a financial data company, recently ranked the Alliance as the Northwest’s “most active investor in female-founded companies” over the past decade, making 30 deals with women-led startups.
“The thing that makes them unique is the network of individuals who are members,” said Colette Courtion, founder and CEO of Seattle-based startup Joylux. They include experienced investors, business executives and entrepreneurs. “They are able to really add a lot of value to the entrepreneurs and the companies they invest in.”
Female Founders Alliance gives women entrepreneurs sought-after support
Female Founders Alliance creator Leslie Feinzaig thought it was hard to be a woman working in technology. Then she decided to become a tech entrepreneur and realized that just working in the sector “pales in comparison to what you face as a female startup founder.”
Because while launching a new business is difficult for anyone, only 2.19 percent of venture capital invested in 2016 went to female-founded companies. “In other words,” wrote Feinzaig in a GeekWire guest post, “what is already a moonshot for men is orders of magnitude harder for women.”
So in early 2017 Feinzaig started Female Founders Alliance, a private organization designed to help women launching their own startup companies network and support each other.
Member events include monthly meetups, an awards event to celebrate successes and networking opportunities to help women connect to the resources and expertise that they need. This summer the group is running a boot camp to help women learn how to develop their businesses as well as pitch their ideas and do fundraising.
“Our mission is to help each other succeed,” Feinzaig told the crowd at last May’s launch event. “Individually, we are drops of water. Together we are a thunderstorm.”
Rainier Scholars helps students become first in their families to earn college degrees
Rainier Scholars is boosting college graduation rates for low-income students of color through intensive academic preparation, leadership development and personalized support. Beginning with students in the fifth grade, the nonprofit targets multiple aspects of academic success, following students all the way through college graduation.
“I strongly believe that education has the ability to change legacies,” said Rainier Scholars Executive Director Sarah Smith. “Our scholars have a ripple effect in their communities — empowering others to make positive changes in their own lives.”
The organization helps students bolster their academics, prepare for college, apply to schools and assists them with internships, counseling and career development. It guides them in building critical thinking skills, embracing their cultural identity and developing resilience.
Started in 2002, 90 percent of the program’s scholars come from families in which they are the first to earn a four-year degree and 87 percent come from low-income families. The group works with more than 700 scholars each year, and adds roughly 60 students annually. More than 90 percent of participants have graduated from a four-year college, or are on track to do so.
“Our country and our world are crying out for a next generation of leaders,” Smith said. “We particularly need leaders who represent diverse backgrounds and share common core values of intelligence, integrity, perseverance and wisdom.”
Techbridge Girls Pacific Northwest targets STEM opportunities for girls in low-income communities
Techbridge Girls is an 18-year-old nonprofit that brings technology to girls who might otherwise miss out on STEM opportunities. The group was founded in the San Francisco Bay area and four years ago launched a Northwest chapter.
“Young people, especially those from low-income communities, represent an incredible untapped source of talent for our companies,” said Callista Chen, executive director of Techbridge Girls Pacific Northwest.
The organization breaks down gender stereotypes by introducing girls to female role models in STEM and provides after-school activities for girls in fourth- to 12-grades. Last year, that included an event hosted by Techbridge that invited more than 200 Washington state girls to screen “Hidden Figures,” a film is about black female mathematicians who played an essential role in sending the first American astronauts into space.
“Our girls work on projects with real-world applications, from tackling the challenge of creating apps to helping autistic children navigate a school to learning the fundamentals of chemical engineering by mixing their own lip balm,” Chen said. “All activities are engaging, hands-on and inquiry-based.”
Technology Access Foundation (TAF) promotes STEM education for underserved kids
Technology Access Foundation, or TAF, has been serving students of color for 22 years through after-school classes, teacher training and groundbreaking nonprofit-public school partnerships.
In 2008, the foundation opened the TAF Academy, a pioneering sixth- to 12th-grade public school with a STEM focus located south of Seattle. The program sought to make students partners and active participants in their education, which centers on hands-on, project-based learning. The teachers worked to form meaningful connections with the kids and their families. The students flourished in this nurturing environment — 95 percent of the high school students graduate on time — and TAF began exploring ideas for expanding more broadly.
Since 2013, TAF has partnered with three Puget Sound-area public schools to transform them into TAF-style schools. Participating teachers received training at the foundation’s institute and have mentoring support. And last year the original academy merged with Federal Way’s Saghalie Middle School to create TAF@Saghalie, which more than doubled their enrollment to 700 students.