Lessons learned from Bounce’s female tech entrepreneurs

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Did you know that many of Bounce’s tech founders are women? In fact, we are seeing more women in tech fields doing their own thing – here at Bounce and around the world – than ever before. 

To that, we recently talked to several of them to discuss how they’ve leveraged their strengths, overcame challenges and used the resources at Bounce to start or grow their tech startups. Their answers are unique and varied, and can be applied to all entrepreneurs.

Our five entrepreneurs are from three software accelerator and two tech incubator startups:  

B. Corsi (top left), A. Brankov (center), C. Monty-Bromer (top right), M. Egts (bottom right), J. Wagner (bottom left)

Aleksandra Brankov, founder of Cafilia, a subscription service to local coffee shops that reduces cup waste by using an exclusive glass travel mug to access the subscription at local coffee shops in Cafilia’s network. 

Brittany Corsi, co-founder of EarthXYZ, which provides access to information, solutions and location-specific resources to help individuals and businesses take steps toward sustainability.

Melissa Egts, co-founder of J.M. Hartfiel Healthcare and inventor of a cover for nasal cannulas that keeps them clean and sanitary when not in use to deliver oxygen.

Chelsea Monty-Bromer, PhD, CEO and founder of RooSense, a consumer diagnostic company that has created a wearable sensor to analyze athletes’ sweat during exercise to ensure proper hydration and electrolyte balance.

Jessica Wagner, founder of Jus B Media, a boutique digital marketing agency that is launching The Honey Pot, an agency management software to help boutique agencies stay organized and streamline communication.

What inspired your interest in technology?

Aleksandra: Tech is how the world works. It is the present and the future. Concepts are more effective and scalable through technology.

Brittany: I stumbled into a tech startup at 23, had a great mentor and carte blanche to learn. It’s where the creative kid who once drew ideas in a notebook learned how to make them a reality using technology. When I was young, I wanted to be a veterinarian, then a lawyer – but technology sparked a fire in me that dissipates when I stray too far. When I discovered how to incorporate my childhood interests in a project, I truly fell in love with technology.   

Melissa: As someone who uses supplemental oxygen, I had a problem. The oxygen is delivered through a nasal cannula that has prongs that go into the nose and is connected to the oxygen tank with tubing. When you take the nasal cannula off, it can fall on the floor, or end up draped over a chair or doorknob. After it comes into contact with so many surfaces, it goes back into the nose. When I couldn’t find a cover to keep it clean, I decided to make one.

Chelsea: I’ve always been interested in how things work. I majored in chemical engineering, but as an undergrad attending career fairs, I found that the work the larger companies were doing didn’t excite me. It wasn’t until I started doing research and development on products that engineering felt like a good fit.

Jessica: I started Jus B Media in 2015 to provide social media management to clients, which has grown to websites and digital marketing. Last year, a software developer fell in my lap. He had interned at H.P. and recently moved to Cleveland. We have developed The Honey Pot, a boutique agency management software solution to help agencies stay organized and streamline communication with tools for onboarding, CRM, internal messaging and client asset management.

What are some of the resources you’ve used at Bounce and how have they helped you start and/or grow your business.

Aleksandra: I was accepted into the Bounce Software Accelerator in February 2020. Although I had been working on market research for about six months prior to Bounce, by working with my advisor, Austin Kettner, I was able to rev up market research and product testing, launching Cafilia in July 2020 with five local coffee shops in the Cleveland area. We are now at 30 coffee shops and are growing at about one a week, as well as growing our subscribers.

Brittany: At Bounce, I have weekly meetings and feedback loops with my mentor/advisor, Jack Hilton. EarthXYZ has benefited from access to AWS to host our prototype as well as counsel to guide our business decisions.

Melissa: I have worked with entrepreneurs in residence, Mike Haritakis and Bill Flickinger, on everything from customer discovery and how to buy a barcode to material science, FDA regulations and manufacturing contracts. It’s taken me two years to go from an idea and product development to addressing manufacturability issues and now piloting my product with a local hospital. Not having any manufacturing, business or medical experience, I had a lot to learn. Bounce is a resource rich hub in an environment that promote creativity, collaboration and connectivity. Bounce has also provided me with a business address and has been a great catalyst for introductions to others who can serve as resources.

Chelsea: I have lab space at Bounce and have taken advantage of all the resources, including marketing, accounting and assistance with financing. Entrepreneur in residence, Bill Flickinger, has been great in helping to refocus our mission and secure funding, including a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Jessica: I have been working with Jack Hilton at Bounce through the Software Accelerator program who is advising us on bringing The Honey Pot to market.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a tech entrepreneur, particularly a female tech entrepreneur?

Aleksandra: I come from a business background with no tech experience. Since there were a lot of unknowns, I had to identify resources that could help. One of my strengths is being able to lean on others and ask for help, but I don’t think that’s uniquely female. It’s about being human and open to asking for advice and building trust.

Brittany:

  • Playing the game with an underdog chip in a room full of pedigree.
  • Learning the audience – if they’re at a level 2 or 8, and whether they need circles, squares or triangles.
  • The big 4: Capital, learning curves, resources and time.

Melissa: I had been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years and don’t have a technical or medical degree. It was intimidating at first. Then one day, I sat down and decided what characteristics do I want in my company’s DNA from the very beginning? Right in my first business plan, I decided my business was never going to be all about me. I decided it was about working with my partners, making them look good, as well as perseverance and providing attention to detail.

Chelsea: Getting funding and getting people to take you seriously. Often, you are either too far along or not far enough along in the process, but you have to believe in yourself. I do think it is a little more challenging for women.

Jessica: One of the challenges is learning how to pace your growth without doing a disservice to your clients. You also have to find people that you trust. Although 2020 has been challenging and we lost some smaller clients, we are rebuilding. Our clients are located throughout Northeast Ohio, so I’ve been fortunate to grow the business mostly through word of mouth and my involvement with FemCity, a network of local women business owners and entrepreneurs.

What are your greatest strengths as an entrepreneur and how have you been able to leverage them to be successful?

Aleksandra: I’m able to see the big picture, but also recognize that the details matter. Business development is all about self-confidence, so another strength is polite persistence and not being afraid to ask for what I want.

Brittany: Vision gets me fired up and keeps me inspired on the journey. Intuition leads my hat tricks. My analytical mind is my most trusted ally and survival mode kicks in to rally when the chips are down.

Melissa: I’m good at finding the helpers. As women, I think we are used to working cooperatively and building relationships and teams. I would also say I’m a coalition builder who works with people much smarter than me.

Chelsea: I’m unreasonably stubborn and persistent. Throughout the ups and downs, such as when people weren’t funding, I’ve always stuck with it.

Jessica: Staying genuine, being honest and being true to myself. In tech, there are a lot of buzzwords, so it’s important to meet my clients where they are. If they only want a website or social media management, I give them what they want. It’s more important to establish a long-term relationship and become a trusted business partner.

What advice do you have for other female tech entrepreneurs?

Aleksandra: Don’t be afraid of what others think. You only have one brain, so use the other brains around you – but have the wisdom to know what advice to filter out and what to keep.

Brittany:

  • The Agreement that you make with yourself (a contract to define expectations and hold yourself accountable) is one of the most important things you will do. Sign it.
  • Understand and live by energy (quantum manifestation, law of attraction, 55×5 method).
  • Join and build networks with people in real or virtual life, not just on social media. Telling your story and building relationships is just as important as your pitch.
  • Build your arsenal and understand how and when to leverage it effectively.
  • Always remember the first rule about Fight Club, the Trilogy of the Godfather and the metaphors from the Lion King.

Melissa: I’m lucky in that I’m customer #1 and really know my customer because it’s me. It wasn’t until I went through the process of defining my value proposition that I began to understand you can never know everything about your customers’ wants and needs from your product. Keep talking to potential customers about your product and you will discover new designs and new ways to use it.

Chelsea: Don’t give up on yourself. Seek out good mentors. Bounce has a lot of great resources and you can get back a lot more than what you put in to be a member. It’s well worth it. Ask for help when you need it and take advantage of all the northeast Ohio resources that are available.

Jessica: Always be genuine and don’t overpromise. Stick to your strengths and rely on others for what you can’t do. It’s also important to create space for yourself. I keep consistent hours, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but need me time on the weekends. That’s probably the most corporate thing about me.

Bounce Innovation Hub offers a wealth of resources for tech entrepreneurs, including our signature Incubator program for those developing a proprietary technology product or service, and the Software Accelerator for startups that are developing a software solution. Support ranges from access to experienced business advisors/mentors, potential customers and investors to office and co-working space.

About the author:
Jill Wodtley, APR, is a freelance writer and owner of Fine Point Public Relations and Advertising. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, she develops and implements marketing communications, public relations and advertising initiatives for a variety of clients, ranging from health care and social service agencies to industrial/manufacturing firms.

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