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Urban Engine Discussion Focuses on Unique Challenges Faced by Women in Business

The Rocket City is known for its high-tech, digital-driven businesses and engineering.

But, if you’re a woman in those industries, there are challenges that male counterparts don’t have to face.

So, Urban Engine Executive Director Toni Eberhart stepped in to help women answer those challenges with a panel discussion called “Her-Story.”

“We decided to do a panel discussion for Women’s History Month which featured women who were making waves,” Eberhart said. “The panel was designed to open the discussion of the unique challenges faced by women. It was important to us to find women that were relatable and accessible.”

Founded in fall 2016, Urban Engine is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, small business incubator that governs, nurtures, and sustains.

“Urban Engine facilitates aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s collaboration,” Eberhart saidr. “We started a meetup and a place where people work on their side projects. It’s geared toward those interested in startups leveraged around mobile technology and software, the industry disrupters.”

The meetups soon gained momentum, and what began as a group of six to 10 people grew to 100 people and morphed into what is now known as “Coworking Night.”

The “Her-Story” event was moderated by Carly Seldon, host of “Let Me Tell You Something.”

“I’m really excited about the panel,” Seldon said. “Toni and I have worked on this. We wanted to have an honest conversation about the struggles and to be able to pass along some knowledge.”

The panelists were: Jessica Barker, entrepreneur, owner of Affluent Business Services; Joanna Broad White, government affairs liaison, Huntsville Area Association of Realtors; May Chen, computer engineer at Adtran; and Emilie Dover, owner of Rocket City Digital.

Seldon started the panel discussion by asking Chen about the challenges faced as an engineer, which, traditionally is considered a male-dominated field.

“There are (few) females in research and development or management,” Chen said. “It’s hard to have a female voice. I see myself as a capable, confident engineer.

“Customers and clients don’t see you has having the answers. Is it because I’m female? Because I’m Chinese? It’s hard not to question. I try to see things objectively and say what I think.”

Women also have to face certain “stereotypes” compared to men in the same position.

“I’ve never heard a man be referred to as ‘pushy,’” White said. “I think men lack some of the qualities women have. Men are reticent to express passion. If a woman is really jazzed or really angry about something, men are going to get uncomfortable.

“Assertiveness is valuable, and paved with passion that men will grow to appreciate. My male mentors were afraid to be assertive, which allowed me to push forward. It’s also important to back everything up with really good work.”

Climbing the ladder also brings its own set of challenges for women.

Barker brought up the “crab” effect, also known as “Crabology.”

“Something that a lot of black women know what you’re talking about,” she said. “Like a bucket of crabs, as you’re climbing up, trying to get up the ladder (out of the bucket), your friends are pulling you back down. At this point, you start to lose friends, or your friendships change.

“The problem is not limited to the black experience. How to circumvent it is to change your own mindset. Keep in mind that they (your friends) might not be in that same mindset. You can’t be talking about travel and new car purchases, you have different conversations with them and don’t bring up certain things.”

Did Someone Stifle Your Growth?

“It’s a huge reason why Rocket City Digital came into being,” said Dover. “I had several bosses who would give me more work. I would take on more jobs, more responsibilities, all along realizing I could do this for myself.

“One day I told my future partner, ‘I’m quitting. So, if we’re going to start this business, we’re going to start it today.’”

Seldon posed another question: “How do you make sure you don’t stifle someone else’s growth?”

“I’m very self-aware, my partners and I have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Dover said. ‘We strive to provide a safe, healthy, fun workplace for our employees. At Rocket City Digital, we strive to provide a workplace where you want to be there.”

What are the traits a woman needs?

“You really have to know what your passions are. You have to love STEM, or at least like it. You have to have the courage to pursue what you want,” Chen said.

“Whatever you wake up in the morning yearning to do,” said Barker. “Put your passion to a purpose. Whatever it is that’s burning inside you. Someone needs what you have the passion to do.”

What lessons are you passing on to your children?

“Make sure you find out what they are passionate about,” said Barker, a mother of four – ages 1-14. “Follow what they like to do. Let them be free to live their lives.”

White, also a mom with four children, said let the children know what is important.

“That the world doesn’t revolve around them, we are not the only things in mom’s life,” she said. “Husband, faith, friends, they are all very important. We celebrate our friend’s successes. They have them ask themselves ‘How can I make a difference? Do I have compassion?’”

“I want to make sure that my son knows that life isn’t always fair,” said Dover, mother to a 3-year-old son. “Time and dedication, it will ultimately pay off for the future.”

What about R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

“I love confrontation,” said White. “When you live in the present, it’s so important to deal with these things because they will fester. You cannot please everyone, you are not pizza. Not everyone is going to like me, but they will respect me. I just need to make sure that I back it up with good work.”

“Show them real value and you’ll be respected,” Chen said.

What would be the advice you would give your younger self?

“You need to become ‘numb” inside,’” said Dover. “Business is business and business owners see things differently. You can’t take everything personally when it comes to business. Then, it becomes a vicious cycle. Find ways to do your job better and more efficiently.”

“I have an amazing group of friends,” said Chen. “I have a lot of good friends, male, female. Find your support group, it helps.”

“Energy is not created nor destroyed,” said Barker. “Whatever you put out there is what you will get back.”

“Take a minute, stop and eat,” said White. “Nothing is as dramatic as you think. There is a time when you need to take time for yourself.”

What do you do to get motivated?

“In the office, we do slow claps,” said Dover.

“I listen to local Huntsville music, like Judy and Josh Allison on Spotify,” said White. “I nerd out about Huntsville. Stuff to keep me focused and to remind me why I am here. I also focus on big projects. Huntsville is a small pond. So, if you work hard, you’ll be a big fish really quick. Maybe things are ending for a reason. Be sure there’s a good examination, find a network.”

Barker, who listens to New Orleans jazz music to get motivated, said, “When things look bleak, I go back to my network, go to networking events, and make sure I’m staying current.”

How does one learn to say ‘No’?

“I’ve often weakened my ‘no’ by saying ‘yes,’” said Dover. “If you are doing the hard work, they will respect your ‘no.’”

“Make sure you’re personally aligned with your mission,” said White. “Develop your personal mission so you know when to say ‘no.’”

“Build relationships and rapport,” said Chen. “When I say no, they know I have a good reason.”

“To them, your ‘no’ may look like doom at first,” said Barker. “But it just might be your victory.”

For more information on Urban Engine’s Coworking Night and other programs, visit   https://www.urbanengine.org/

Urban Engine Salutes Women in Technology, Female Entrepreneurs

Urban Engine, a local nonprofit organization aimed at accelerating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics)-focused innovation and entrepreneurship through education, announced a series of free events that will celebrate women in technology and showcase female entrepreneurs in conjunction with Women’s History Month.

The series of events includes:

  • Wednesday, March 6: Women in Tech-themed Co-Working Night at Huntsville West, 3001 9th Ave., 6 p.m. – A schedule of one-hour technical workshops ranging from software and web development to digital marketing will be led by women in partnership with Women Who Code Huntsville.
  • March 14: 32/10 Speaker Series at The Camp at MidCity, 5901 University Drive, 5:30 p.m. – Amanda Latifi co-founder/CEO of the Los Angeles-based shopping application, HaftaHave.
  • March 20: Google “I am Remarkable” Women’s Empowerment Workshop at Huntsville West, 3001 9th Ave., 6 p.m. – Led by Lauren Johannesmeyer, city manager of Google Fiber Huntsville.
  • March 27: “Her-story” Panel at Huntsville West, 3001 9th Ave., 6 p.m. – Featuring Joanna White, Governmental Affairs liaison for the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors; Emilie Dover, co-founder/president of Rocket City Digital; and Jessica Barker, president of the Huntsville/Madison County chapter of Alabama New South Coalition.

Urban Engine is celebrating women in technology and female startup founders to bring awareness to equity in STEAM careers and startup opportunities.

National data indicates women make up less than 20 percent of U.S. tech jobs while owning about 40 percent of all businesses. But, for those working on technology businesses, only 17 percent of venture-backed capital is invested in women-led startups.

For more information, visit https://www.urbanengine.org/events/wemonth.

Huntsville is Mainstage for Worldwide Hackathon

With a pronouncement of “We are going to be to space travel what the Silicon Valley is to electronics,” Dr. Deborah Barnhart, CEO of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, launched a press conference Tuesday of global proportions.

Huntsville has been named as the “Mainstage” for the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, an annual worldwide hackathon. The Challenge is Oct. 19-21 and will feature coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers and builders who will address NASA-issued challenges on Earth and in space.

“Space Apps is an annual event … (held) at the same time in cities around the world,” said Toni Eberhart, executive director of Urban Engine, a local nonprofit organization aimed at accelerating STEAM-focused initiatives among the millennial startup community.

Last year’s Challenge reached more than 25,000 participants in 187 cities on six continents. The Mainstage sites were New York City and Palo Alto, Calif., but, this year, Huntsville is the only Mainstage and will feature local space and science professionals.

We are honored to be selected as Mainstage and host this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage the community in something that can have massive, global impact,” Eberhart said. Honoring Huntsville’s legacy in aerospace and aviation is something we’re so passionate about.

“To foster education and team collaboration in support of Space Apps, we’ll be providing a wealth of educational workshops at CoWorking Night which is designed to prepare teams and refine skills they’ll be using during the hackathon – and everything is being provided at no cost, thanks to our sponsors.”

Mayor Tommy Battle, who was introduced by Eberhart as Huntsville’s favorite “double millennial,” said the city is the perfect site because “we’re on NASA’s mainstage to get back to the moon and go to Mars.”

“This is a challenge that is made for Huntsville … to see our millennials and ‘double millennials’ working together.”

Hal Brewer, co-founder and chair of Intuitive Research and Technology – one of the event’s presenters, said this is a chance for businesses to take part for team building and “international exposure.”

In fact, he called out some local companies to answer the challenge.

“It’s a great opportunity to foster STEM research,” Brewer said. “If you sponsor this, you’re going to be getting international exposure.”

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber is also a presenting sponsor and is launching its new website – asmartplace.com – to tie in with the Challenge while helping with career exploration.

“The brand new asmartplace.com is the Chamber’s workforce development and recruitment initiative, focused on connecting students with a smart career and attracting smart people from around the world to be part of our dynamic and growing workforce,” said Georgina Chapman, workforce director at the Chamber. “We knew the NASA Space Apps Challenge would reach the most talented and motivated coders, creators and problem solvers in the world, and we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to reach them directly.”

For information on the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, visit www.spaceappshsv.com.