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Sometimes the Straightest Path is a Curved Line w/Tracey Welson-Rossman

Tracey Welson-Rossman, Chief Marketing Officer at Chariot Solutions and Founder of TechGirlz.org


@TechGirlz
@TWelsonRossman
@ChariotSolution

“If we don’t engage women and underrepresented groups, the U.S. is going to be in trouble. By 2020, there is going to be a job deficit of 1 million workers in the tech industry.”

Tracey Welson-Rossman is working hard to change those stats. She founded TechGirlz.org and chairs the Women’s Tech Summit in Philly, and is also the Chief Marketing Officer at Chariot Solutions, an IT consulting firm. She wasn’t always passionate about tech, though. “My path in my career has been highly curved. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I graduated, I’d have said an executive at a high-level women’s clothing store, married to my high school sweetheart. None of that happened.”

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First Steps
“I’m a type A, sometimes a type A+.”

Her first job was for Philly clothing maven Strawbridge and Clothier, where she loved the excitement but not the striation of the corporate ladder. “If you were innovating, it didn’t matter. I’m a type A, sometimes a type A+. I’ve always been rewarded for doing good work. What I was being told here, though, was that I had to wait my turn. And that didn’t sit well with me.”

She moved on, joining QVC when the company was in the beginning stages of building its empire. It didn’t take her long to realize it wasn’t a good fit.  “I was seen as a maverick. Which was not a compliment there.”

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On the Road to Entrepreneurship
“The people you work with are really important to your overall happiness, whether you realize it or not.”

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Tracey reconnected with one of her old profs at Drexel, which led her to her first foray into entrepreneurship, working in sales for ValPak. She applied her work ethic to the new industry. “I’m a planner. I planned my first birth to be between sales deadlines.” Within a year, she was making more money than she had in retail. And yet ValPak left her restless, too, which taught her the lesson of making sure you understand what drives your employees.

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Her next move was to buy KangaKab, a NJ-based transportation system for kids, in 1996. “At the time, running the company was the most challenging thing I’d ever done.” But Tracey was a bit lonely. Although she liked the people she worked with, she felt she couldn’t share with them. The feeling was a harbinger for her transition to the next phase of her career, and her life.

She sold KangaKab in 2000. “If I hadn’t bought KangaKab, I would’ve just rolled through my career being ordinary.”
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You Can’t Do It on Your Own
“In the team, there is power. Vision will only get you so far. Execution is where you fall down.”

Something clicked when she walked into the offices of Skylight Systems, an accounting software firm just down the street from her house. “I felt like I’d known most of the people in a prior life.” The move led to her latest venture, Chariot. “We had an incredible team there but not a business. So we decided to build one. The company needed Java development, and we had some developers who were getting really good at it.”

Chariot started out when the economy was terrible. “Starting at the bottom, you have nowhere to go but up.”

This July, Chariot will celebrate its 13th anniversary. “It’s a team effort. We have a focused mission and message, a strong culture. It’s not all been perfect. We’ve made mistakes, we’ve gotten lucky, and we’re still here.”

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Activism and the Philly Tech Community
“This is Philly. We don’t flip companies here. We build them.”

Always passionate about Philly, Tracey is a founder and board member of Philly Startup Leaders, as well as chair of the Women in Tech Summit. She also started TechGirlz, a nonprofit that supports 11 to 14 year-old girls learning about careers in tech.

“We’re creating a community of women and girls to change the conversation about what’s going on. At Chariot, we see this parade of men coming in, but not women. TechGirlz gives us a way to talk about that, and to solve the gender disparity in tech.”

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The program has been growing. At their first event this year, they had a 50-person waitlist. “We have some of the girls who started with us in middle school teaching for us now that they’re in high school. Girls want to be there, even if it’s their parents making them come.”

Tracey’s measure of success for TechGirlz is eventual obsolescence. “My goal is that TechGirlz won’t exist in 5 years. That there won’t be a gender issue. We’re creating this culture where girls belong here.”

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Melissa Alam’s Path to The Hive

Melissa Alam, Founder of The Hive and Femme & Fortune

melissaalam.com
@RingTheAlam
thehivephilly.com
@TheHivePhilly
femmeandfortune.com

There is a joyous fearlessness in Melissa Alam. Her latest venture is The Hive, a coworking space for female entrepreneurs in Old City. Although she’s only officially been on the entrepreneur path since graduating from Temple University’s marketing program in 2010, really, she’s been an entrepreneur since grade school.

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“Growing up, I was obsessed with magazines like Teen. The boys in my sixth grade class felt weird about buying them, but they’d come to my locker and want the pictures of the hot chicks. So I made bundles of photos and sold them to people for $1.

2010:
“I’m a Leo, so I’m a power hungry person.”

Melissa grew into her own as a force, leading a small new sorority on Temple’s campus. She also started a blog. “It was a way for me to get better at writing. I never had the confidence to be a writer, and I have the worst memory. So it was kind of an online diary.”

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2011:
“I realized I wanted to do something where I was in full control.”

She got a job at SEO but quit after a year. “I wasn’t feeling creative any more, so I needed to move on.”

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2012:
“2012 was my year of freelance, and I loved it.”

She began designing web sites and blogs on a freelance basis. “When clients asked me for something I didn’t know, I’d say yes! And then Google it.” It was an exhilarating year. “ I loved being in the wild in my career. Being on your own teaches you the art of the hustle.”

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2013:
“Starting the magazine put me on the path to female empowerment.”

Drawing on her experience as a blogger, she started Femme and Fortune magazine. “I wanted something more professional than just a blog. So I thought, ‘why not start my own magazine.’ It caters to ambitious women.”

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2014:
“2014 is the year that changed my life.”

Melissa moved all her content to melissaalam.com, and the move felt right. “This is when I got cooler in my branding. I used serifs. I used a single color palette. I created the logo I still use today.”

Interviewing a host of women for her blog got her thinking bigger. “All these women I was meeting and talking to were building these awesome businesses. I thought, ‘Why can’t I?’”

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An acquaintance ran into her and mentioned that his office was up for rent on Craigslist. That conversation sparked an idea. “I found an office space, called up the company, and told them I want to open a co-working space for women. I want to provide workshops and resources for women who don’t have as much time to do their own research.”

In September she signed the lease. Then, Technical.ly Philly picked up her story. “I got a lot of interest from women. It’s like this is what I’ve been building myself up for.”

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2015:
“Confidence is a ladder we’re always climbing.”

As of this month, she has 10 women in The Hive. Tonight she’s hosting an event for one of them. “She’s a health and fitness coach, so she’s doing a talk on eating healthy for entrepreneurs.” Also on the radar are The Hive awards, which recognize the efforts of women in STEM careers.

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“With enough support and enough people to help you, anything is possible. Trading services, being available…all that has helped me.”

Melissa Alam was our Startup Meetup presenter on January 20, 2015.