Are you a woman in NYC Tech and interested in participating in this series? Make sure to read the whole article…
Much has been said and written about the lack of women in the tech sector, be it as investors (or associates), founders, or in management positions at major companies. Is the problem the old boys network – or that success in technology is seen as a young man’s game? In this series, we speak with some of the top women in tech in New York as they discuss the challenges they face, the perceptions that need to be changed and the work that’s being done – or not – to help to promote women in tech.
Today we speak with Christina Hawatmeh, the founder of the image platform Scopio. While enrolled in her Masters program at Columbia, Christina’s passion led her to creating Scopio while becoming a leading figure for female founders. After completing 500 Startups, Scopio has grown under Christina’s leadership as the company continues to match content creators with social media users. Christina is deeply involved in the tech ecosystem and looks forward to a brighter future for women in tech.
Christina Hawatmeh of Scopio
What’s your background and how did you develop your career as a female entrepreneur in the NYC tech ecosystem?
I became an entrepreneur, because I wanted to solve a problem between the first ever explosion of image content daily, the mess of social media, and the engagement and authenticity or real time content. That happened to happen as a Masters student at Columbia and carried on after through many adventures.
What are the advantages of being a woman in tech?
Attention to detail, foresight, patience, perspective, long term vision, and bravery. Many opportunities exist for a whole new set of problems that need to be solved that affect our lives every day. Lived experience helps founders identify rapidly-scalable, market-based solutions others have overlooked. There are many subtle and obvious problems that need innovation that affect women and diverse populations.
People create companies based on their experiences, the more women create companies, the more very real tangible real world problems are solved from products, and services we use everyday. Imagery and storytelling through authentic visuals is what is important for me, and why I created Scopio.
When you open your eye to problem solving through products and services, some solutions are so tangible, it just needs someone dedicated to create, and have a path to distribution and marketing. I love the design and approach of Lola. I wish products like that could make its way to places like Walgreens and CVS that we visit everyday and not just on e-commerce for the few. The advantage is in creation, the disadvantage is doing it at scale and making it present in people’s every day lives and competing with old companies that have just established themselves everywhere. For a light perspective on this, watch the movie Joy. With that example said, what is more exciting for me is women founders that go beyond fashion and beauty. Hard science and AI. We work on AI and I think it is fascinating. I spent nights in labs at Columbia trying to learn data and I learn everyday from my co-founder on the data side. Science and Health have a long way to go, and women have a different lens that could really cure diseases and core human issues.
What can be done to further promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech in New York?
I have had way too many friends (with unique, needed ideas and determination) not be able to go past idea stage because of capital (literally unable to raise 25k), or get caught in weird situations and give up. They don’t need incubators or women funds separate from men. There needs to be a total shift in the ecosystem. I think the current systems need to be more careful in how they welcome and support female entrepreneurs. Also, women need to practice and unlearn a lot of behavior about asking for things and rejection. Elizabeth Yin at 500 startups holds a Rejectionathon, other programs like that could help. Also, women funds have a duty to not only be “last check in.” At the last check the entrepreneur has many options, it is the first check they need. I wish I had even as little as 500k reserved for investment. I would give 20k to each one of my friends to get them going. Maybe I would make more of a return than in my exit. There is so much missed opportunity.
The ecosystem needs to be more diverse in general, and women are a part of that. The biggest success areas I have seen is in younger angels, and younger funds that don’t see it as a behavior change to invest in women and diversity because they are women and they are diverse. Also, women angels should invest outside of angel groups. It is hard to locate individual women.
My thesis is that women should build the way any other awesome entrepreneur would, but they need to be aware of more opportunities, and they have to be accessible. Watch Sallie Krawcheck’s New Yorker talk about her startup and how she fundraised through women. It’s really powerful to see serious capital deployed by women, especially in fintech. If key leaders focused on capital deployment they wouldn’t need to engage in the girl power/pr language that can really distract and work against us.
What is diversity to you and do you see it evolving in tech?
Diversity is of social class, race, educational background and age. Can you imagine the innovation when people totally different from each other can solve problems together. Banks failed because it was the same segment and profile of people making decisions together. Experience levels and perspectives are really remarkable when mixed together for really hard problems. My team is totally different from each other, and I see the wealth of knowledge we bring to each other, but I also see how difficult it is to prove that that matters when there is no measurement in the beginning for that. I know that we cannot evolve beyond the current issues we are trying to solve if diversity does not evolve in tech, and globally at that. I would like to see smaller exits from all parts of the world tackling different issues to bring us closer together, and make people’s day to day lives, better. For me that is curing the horrible, unrelatable imagery online, and making it more real time and dynamic.
Identifying all the moving parts- teams, press, university programs, investors all should focus on what matters to solve and give the opportunity to people brave enough to approach those problems. Universities play a crucial role through grants, aws credits, pitch competitions. The reason why universities have an amazing advantage is because you are allowed to fail without anyone caring or paying attention. You are there to experiment. You can also pick up the phone as a student and virtually anyone will talk to you if you show them you are trying.
Again, focus here is on real tangible world issues. I am always shocked to see what businesses get a lot of press and attention. With many friends as entrepreneurs, I see the mismatch is pretty harsh. Organizations like 500 startups are capitalizing on global talent, and seeing higher returns by investing in diversity solving underserved markets in the trillions.
Why do you think it’s important that women retain, grow, and develop into senior roles within their organizations?
I heard recently that not only is it good for women to have female “bosses,” but it’s also good for men, because women are more nurturing and attentive, and want everyone to succeed by nature because there is more of a belief that everyone can win together (some people might oppose this statement but I believe it is a part of our nature) and helping and enabling others to have opportunity and succeed is healthier for a whole organization. A great example is women in comedy. People, including women, have said women are not funny. Now you have proven stars, like Amy Schumer getting prime spots and winning powerful awards for talking about real issues and brave enough to talk about subjects that people haven’t for 100 years. The outlet is important and their success is essential to have more women feel they can say what they want, and that will lead to further success. Now, people have realized women can be funny. What wasn’t “funny” was how real the problems they were addressing or making fun of were and uncomfortable to a lot of people at first, including women. Contribute images to women you know at work here. There is literally a black hole of real women in business photos, and we launched a contest to generate those images so businesses can use them, instead of cheesy stock photos.
How do you see the future of teams and interactions in a diverse environment and what implications will this have?
I unfortunately don’t see this much internal to teams in the beginning. Globally I have seen many teams, most of them look a like. It’s more comfortable and “trust worthy” to team up with people that look like you or act like you, but to me it pigeonhole’s your worldview, and won’t contribute to lasting success 5 or 10 years down the road or experience the benefits of differences of opinions. There are now amazing tools like Balloonr (female founder) that remove bias (in hiring) and group decision-making. You can use technology to help drive diversity forward as you grow, or if you already are big you have to break that down it is hard. I think the software enabling diversity is really groundbreaking if applied consistently.
How can women rise in the ecosystem and what are the unseen barriers?
Female relationships are so powerful, yet so under utilized. There is no value in seeing yourself as competition, and to be honest in entrepreneurship most women don’t, just like all entrepreneurs who are mostly humble due to circumstances of creating anything so difficult and uncertain. There should be more power women relationships highlighted for women, and young ladies. Advisors are very important. What you can do is throw bones without anyone asking. I have had some “surprise” emails from women thinking of me for opportunities for my company, or me personally, and I appreciate that, and try to do the same for others. Fundraising help is really not shared enough amongst women, and women bootstrap 2x as long as men. In Tech you’re running around meeting interesting people that can be helpful for each other, so it’s good to keep others in mind. That is how you build ecosystem. New York is so fast paced it’s hard to build those long-term relationships. I don’t think people pay enough attention to it. It’s also very hard to think long term when you are struggling with monthly burn, and so many other difficult realities. As a founder, your job is just to ask for help for everything. Sometimes, you do not need anything immediate from them, but it’s ok to take a step back and focus on long term relationship building in the face of uncertain short term.
Please tell us about a few organizations that you are involved with or respect that are promoting women in tech.
500 startups is doing the best job I have seen so far, Arch Grants and Seeds of Peace do as well. I favor organizations that focus on diversity as well as women in tech, because I believe that is more beneficial for the entrepreneur and more towards the goal of a diverse ecosystem in general.
What can men do to participate in this discussion?
Men are key. I learn so much from my guy friends. I will often say hey I had this meeting, has this ever happened to you, and they tell me how their conversations go, so I am better prepared and can see the world through their lens.
Also, men can create quotas in their conferences for women, and discounts to women who can’t afford those fees. Conference fees are usually difficult for women, especially not “ivy league” grad types of women. Privilege often gives chances to women who went to fancy schools, or had an upper hand by having friends and family invest in their first rounds. Most women I see that start businesses have the pedigree that gives them a shot, and at least gets them PR, although it is still difficult with all the brains and pedigree. What about everyone else? How do they get a shot? Conference fees are an easy way to give opportunity. Public forums are great opportunities for people to hustle, and meet people, and push their businesses forward. Because women bootstrap 2x longer than men, they often miss out on these opportunities with no event budget. Men should invest more in women. Advice is great, but money with advice is even better. Often times they teach us, just ask for advice, but when I see my other friends that are men they will get both, while women often spin around in a sea of advice, when they really just need the capital to get to the next milestone. That is where many women get stuck, especially in “the ask” with men.
The team at AlleyWatch believes it’s important to have an inclusive discussion around the challenges facing women in tech along with highlighting the work of the female entrepreneurs that have made NYC one of the best places for women in tech according to some recent studies. That’s why we are running this series that showcases women in tech in New York.
If you are a female founder in NYC working in tech and interested in participating in the series please visit this link or click on the image above.
Please feel free to pass this on to any women in NYC that you feel should be considered for the series. Thank you.