If her name doesn’t sound familiar to you now, believe me it will very soon. There is something inspiring about a Bolder Sister, who recognizes a need, or an underserved population, collaborates with a couple of partners, and follows through on an idea to serve that group. This next spotlight recognizes a woman who did just that.
Her name is Jenna Blanton and she is the local winner of the Make Your Mark contest. The contest sponsored by Bayer and Glamour, find and celebrate women who are making their mark. Jenna is definitely one of those women. She’s a Chicago resident who is passionate about bringing more women into the world of tech. She runs Technovation, the world’s largest technology and entrepreneurship program for girls and women.
Here’s more from my interview with her:
The Bolder Sister: Tell me about the contest, what made you enter?
Jenna Blanton: I was spending some time relaxing, reading articles and researching and saw a call to action by Glamour and Bayer requesting stories about women that are making their mark and doing interesting things. I thought I do something kind of interesting, so I filled it out literally sitting in my pajamas. I found out about a month later that I had been selected. I was totally floored and really thrilled about it.
TBS: What was your reaction to winning?
JB: I was actually working during the day on a conference call and I got an email from Glamour and Bayer with quite a bit of text. I opened it and skimmed it and thought oh they are just getting in touch with me. I really didn’t have time to read it all through, since I was on a call. I opened the email again and realized, oh my gosh, I won. An hour later I was on the phone with Glamour chatting about the opportunity. And it all became really real. It took me a little time to go, oh okay. It was cool that I was working on Technovation as I was finding out the results.
TBS: Why did you think you won?
JB: I think that through Technovation we are really all about empowering women and telling their stories. Helping women make their mark in the tech and entrepreneurship world. It’s a natural fit for what Glamour and Bayer are trying to do. As women we really need to support one another and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Through Technovation we’re really able to do that and that’s what Make Your Mark is all about. It was a really nice fit. I’m really thrilled that Glamour and Bayer want to bring the story of women and technology into the forefront and into a national conversation. It was really a natural fit. I am really happy to be involved.
TBS: Tell me a little about Technovation, Why did you co-launch Technovation?
JB: There is a huge imbalance and gap in women going into entrepreneurship. Specifically in technical fields related to computer science. 1 in every 1,000 students studying computer science is a woman. As a country we are missing all that amazing talent in tech and computer science. We thought why not get young women involved in computer science and talk to them about engineering early on. So when they’re making those decisions and going into college they know that’s an option and that they are good at it and have a place at the table.. It’s about exposing women early to the field. Showing them it’s creative, and that there’s a lot of teamwork involved. Exposing people early so they can realize their potential.
TBS: I have two daughters who spend a lot of time on their phones and laptops, but neither have expressed an interest in technology. Why do you think that with technology being so popular, more girls aren’t considering it for a career?
JB: The perception is that if you’re a programmer or computer scientist that you’re working in a dark room, by yourself and you’re just on a computer coding. And that it’s very solitary. That’s truly not the case. If you head into any of the top tech offices in the Silicon Valley, you’ll realize what exciting places they actually are. It’s really about dispelling some of the myths. As women, we are really attracted to helping the world and changing things. You can do that through computer science. We teach young women to solve a problem with computer science. It takes young women and girls away from being passive consumers of technology to creators. It’s showing people you can do it. Technovation is a great way to enter the field.
TBS: What has been the impact since the launch?
JB: We started the program with 50 girls. In 4 years we were able to expand to 26 countries reaching 3,000 girls. This was powerful to me, because it showed me that young women and professional women are thirsty for these kind of opportunities. Creating a program where you’re able to drive women to be in charge of their own career path was really rewarding to me. Women in the largest slum in the world are working on Technovation. I don’t think I had dreamed that but it’s certainly something that happened.
TBS: What has been your greatest success story so far?
JB: My favorite stories are about girls as young as 10 or 11 joining and developing their own app. Then saying to me at the end of the process that they could go into one of these tech companies and tell them about my app and that they actually have something to say. These make me feel like we’re really making a difference. I wish I had this opportunity when I was 10 or 11. I would be further in my career. I think if we’re able to give these powerful experiences to women early on, I’m excited to see what happens.
TBS: I feel the same, wish we had something like this when I was a child. I don’t think I ever considered this an option for my career.
JB: If you don’t want to go into computer science, it’s really a great program that teaches women to be critical thinkers, to be problem solvers. A lot of different things go into creating an app. I hope that through Technovation we’re able to reach women in many different facets of the field.
TBS: What were some of your fears and how were you able to navigate through them?
JB: My background is not in computer science or engineering. It’s actually in environmental science. I had to step out of my comfort zone, take on coding, be comfortable standing in a room of tech professionals saying I have something to say here. That didn’t always come naturally. I found my place through seeking out mentors and reading a ton. Reminding myself to be comfortable in my own skin. To kind of bridge those gaps and enter into the world of technology. It’s really just reminding yourself you have something to say and you have value to add to the conversation. Always be aware of your doubts and try to address them. Rather it’s seeking a mentor or taking a class. It’s really about being aware of where you feel you’re lacking and trying to address that the best way you can.
TBS: What words of inspiration would you offer to other women who have an entrepreneurial spirit?
JB: With everything I do, I try to take an engineering approach. When you’re taking an engineering approach you’ll realize in part of the development part of the process of your business there is going to be failure and that’s ok. What makes that ok, is that you’re realizing where the failure is and incrementally making changes to your plan. Don’t be afraid to fail. Realize failure can be a really good thing. I’ve learned my biggest lessons from failure. Be okay to fail and correct yourself along the way. We haven’t always made the right choices, but we’ve tracked those choices, measured impact, huddled back together and made a change.
TBS: How do we find out more:
JB: You can head over to Technovationchallenge.org. It’s completely free, all you need is access to the internet and the will to learn.