In an effort to serve the non-profit’s mission of
diversifying the state’s economy and promoting economic prosperity and
high-paying jobs, TechConnectWV recently brought together panelists and
students to discuss roles women play in typically higher-paying fields of Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in WV.
TechConnectWV is a statewide
economic development organization that works to promote businesses and
entrepreneurial activities throughout the state.
Executive Director, Anne Barth, is especially passionate
about reaching out to women in the state.
“We think that advancing women in
technology is a good was to begin to cultivate more entrepreneurs in the state.
And we saw it as a way to also help technology because women bring a lot of
talent and expertise to the table but often need some special support
mechanisms and nurturing to really realize the full benefit of their talents.”
Barth explains that the idea for the conference was born in
response to the fact that women are underrepresented across all sectors of
technology, across the nation.
“So our vision is that, at least here in West Virginia, we
pretty much all know each other and if we came together and began to address
the issue, we could affect change and do something about it. So we see this
conference as a way to begin that discussion and dialogue and talk about the
things that are needed to support the women who are in technology already, but
also to get more to go into the field.”
In an effort to serve this end and to provide a powerful
mentor for participants, Barth invited female astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger to be the key-note speaker of the event.
Metcalf-Lindenburger is a mother and recently spent 6 months in orbit around
the Earth with thirteen other astronauts from countries around the world on
board the International Space Station. She explained that from an early age it
was a life-goal of hers to become an astronaut:
“I became interested in being an astronaut around the third
grade. That was because Sally Ride and then Kathryn Sullivan flew right in that
time frame and it suddenly was possible that young women could go to space from
the United States.
"My parents were actively involved in taking me to museums
and so this information was coming from them as well as from the outside, and
it just sparked my curiosity. I was already interested in space but to know
that you could go out and be a human being in space seemed really exciting to
Metcalf-Lindenburger wowed participants with descriptions of
developing NASA projects and photographs and stories illustrating her perspective
of the earth from orbit. She showed a picture of a 7-windowed copula, a new
module build on the bottom of the space station to observe the earth. She says
it was there that she created some of her most vivid and profound memories.
“We were coming across Washington and Oregon. Seeing the
volcanoes from that perspective and being able to—the volcanoes are so
distinctive from space and immediately I could pick out where I had taught,
where I went to college.
"That’s a personal moment that was just—wow. Earth is
incredible. This is where I come from. Look at where I am at this moment! It’s
so surreal! The Earth is gorgeous. I don’t know—it just was an incredible
Metcalf-Lindenburger also participated in a panel discussion
on the importance of mentoring. Among other sessions offered was a forum to
discuss what it takes to launch a start-up company, from business plan to legal
structure, to finances.
Investment Manager Michele O’Connor with the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust was a panelist who answered questions and spread the word
about funds the quasi-state agency has to invest in small businesses throughout
“We were now piggy-backing into the WV Capital Access
program,” O’Connor says, “which was funded through the US Treasury, through the
2010 Jobs Act, and we received $13.1 million to invest in West
Virginians, in their companies, their start-ups, their expansions.
So we’re using this as an opportunity to tell everybody what we’re doing.”
O’Connor says the trust has already invested $6 million in a
variety of companies throughout the state ranging from automotive and
industrial industries to agribusinesses.
“Businesses are starting and people are coming up with this
entrepreneurial mindset. And I think we’ve seen a record number of business
licenses here within the state, and I think that spirit is boiling up and
coming to the surface here in West Virginia. We’re excited about being able to
meet all those people and to help them.”
O’Connor says there is an underwhelming number of women who
approach the trust to try to access available resources. She thinks it’s not
for lack of female business owners, but because more outreach is needed.
O’Connor and many other panelists are looking forward to future women’s
conferences to tackle just this issue.