‘Catalysts’ highlights women changing Iowa tech scene
State association seeking nominees for yearlong initiative
KATE HAYDEN Mar 28, 2018 | 4:46 pm
4 min read time922 wordsAll Latest News, Business Record Insider, Tech & Innovation
Ten years after the Women of Innovation awards began, administrators at the Technology Association of Iowa took some time to step back.
In the fall of 2017, TAI employees started meeting with former Women of Innovation judges, attendees and honorees with a few questions: What was going well about the event, and what was still missing?
“The awards were always a very powerful and meaningful evening. People that attended walked away feeling inspired and encouraged,” said Mollie Ross, director of conferences and events. “When we stepped back and looked at it, we realized if you weren’t one of those people in that room that night, you probably didn’t get as much of an impact.”
Iowans who saw press releases by TAI, the statewide organization that strives to support the tech industry, were missing the backstories that made these women stand out, Ross said — so TAI decided to debut a new initiative celebrating women in technology.
This year, 10 women from across the state will be featured by TAI as part of the Catalysts project, a yearlong effort to showcase the different industries women change through technology and innovation.
The initiative will wrap up at an end-of-year Catalysts gallery opening, with photos and interviews done over the year on display, and conversations with the Catalyst women during cocktail hour.
“It’s really about finding a way to tell the stories of these women, what they’re doing in their daily careers, and tell the story of Iowa technology through their perspectives,” Ross said. “We like to say, and I think it’s very true, every company is a technology company. … It’s all integrated into technology.”
Catalysts kicked off in February, profiling Erin Rollenhagen, founder/CEO of Entrepreneurial Technologies and 2018 chairwoman of the board of directors for TAI.
“There are certain themes that are kind of universal: overcoming challenges, or tackling big problems, themes that everyone can relate to, and can walk away feeling uplifted and inspired when they hear those stories,” Rollenhagen said. “We wanted to capture something that would build upon those strengths, but also give us the flexibility to move in a new direction and reflect on where the industry is at today.”
“She helped steer this new project, a new way of ensuring we’re doing the best we can with our resources,” Ross said. “We have a great board that’s always pushed us to ask questions, do better, and she’s certainly one that’s challenged us to do more and be more purposeful.
“She fits that story, and she’s a great person to tell it.”
The future of the initiative is intentionally fluid — rather than compiling a list months in advance of potential profiles, TAI is inviting Iowans to recommend women for the Catalysts initiative online, at technologyiowa.org. Committee members will review submissions and choose new Catalyst profiles through the year; the profiles will be published once a month, Ross said.
“We very intentionally left it open; we still have an ask out there,” Ross said. “If you know people in your network that should be highlighted, let us know.
“There’s always more that we don’t know, and we want to make that an opportunity for people whose stories aren’t being told everyday, to tell their stories.”
This year, TAI is continuing a second initiative called “We are Iowa Tech” to showcase technology companies outside of Des Moines — the first profile, featuring Wells Enterprises Inc. in Le Mars, published last year, Ross said.
“(That’s) the perfect example of an incredible technology company based in a very small town Iowa, nowhere near Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids. So we want to tell their stories. We know that those companies are out there,” Ross said. “Some of these companies are global companies — they just don’t get the light shone on them quite as much.”
“People think Iowa, they think ag, manufacturing, insurance, banking — all those industries are developing through technology at this point, so it’s really about telling that story that we’re all tech companies. I think Iowans who may not be working in it daily will still have that singular perspective,” she added. “There’s a lot of opportunity for idea sharing, even if it’s entirely separate industries.”
TAI has a diversity inclusion committee meeting monthly, which has already released a diversity hiring/retention guide for Iowa companies to use as a reference. Retaining a diverse, trained workforce in the state has remained challenging for most Iowa companies, Ross said.
“At all of our events, we put a focus on being representative of the tech industry, so when we put people onstage for the awards and we look for speakers and panelists for the Iowa Technology Summit, we try to be really conscientious of representing the industry — whether that’s making sure we have women, people of diverse backgrounds, whatever that is — participating,” Ross said. “It’s important to recognize, too, that when we look at that talent war, trying to hire and retain diverse talent here in the state for all of our membership, part of that is making sure people feel welcome, like they can be part of this community.”
TAI anticipates continuing the Catalysts project beyond 2018, but the staff has not yet set a focus on what viewpoints the project will highlight next year.
“We’re in a spot where we’re fortunate to try new things when we want to,” Ross said.
“Because the technology industry is constantly changing, and at such a fast rate, we want to be responsive in the moment as much as possible.”