Bria Bolton Moore, Nuoklahoma State 2017-06-19 09:02:30
NICKI KLEIN, ALPHA IOTA ALUMNA, LAUNCHES START-UP TO MINIMIZE THE RISK INVOLVED WHEN CHOOSING A CAREER Nicki Klein and her friend Melissa Hargis strolled into the Fort Mason Center building in San Francisco dressed like 15th-century queens. It was Feb. 26,2016, definitely not Halloween. They weren't headed to a costume party or date function. They were preparing to win a hackathon, a time-intensive software competition with a significant grand prize on the line. "There are stereotypes about women in technology," says Nicki, an Alpha Iota-California/Los Angeles alumna who co-founded Betagig, a new technology company aimed at helping people find the right career through job shadowing. Nicki and Melissa dress up for hackathons as "something you wouldn't want to lose to." Nicki says: "You walk into a hackathon, and it's 98 percent men in hoodies, and you just feel like the odd one out. We try to defy those stereotypes to boost our confidence and make us feel feminine and good about what we're doing." After 48 hours, two nights of not sleeping and four rounds of judging, Nicki and Melissa found themselves – and their created company, Betagig – in the top five of the hackathon's contenders. They presented in front of 15,000 people and won first place. The women who some thought were "the entertainment" walked away with a $250,000 investment and a huge boost of confidence. Betagig is a website (betagig.tech) that matches individuals with job-shadowing opportunities that range from shadowing a baker to a biomedical engineer. The career explorer selects a gig, and the company providing the job-shadowing opportunity responds to the request within 48 hours. After winning the hackathon in spring 2016, Nicki shut down Betagig to build both sides – the employer and job-shadower pieces. She secured a $1.6 million investment from Altpoint Ventures and welcomed five full-time employees with plans to add two more. Betagig officially opened for business this past spring for LA-based users with plans to expand to other cities in California. Nicki didn't always know she wanted to work in technology. She was on her third career, bored working in the stock market, when she began looking for a fourth path. "I started to think about the kind of toys I would play with as a child," she says. "When I was a kid, I would just sit in a room for hours and play with something and not move. My mom would have to remind me to eat and go to the bathroom. Those toys were puzzles and Legos. So, I decided I needed to have a career that involved building and problem-solving." Nicki literally Googled "jobs with building and problem-solving" and found coding. She signed up for a boot camp and spent 20 weekends learning to code. "I wanted a job that was constantly changing and challenging and never the same day, and that's what coding is," Nicki says. Although Nicki says she's a natural risk taker, confidence doesn't always come easily. Sometimes, she feels like she's finger painting while others are Picasso creating works of art. "It's one of those situations where you're in a room full of 1,500 men," she says of the hackathon where Betagig won first place. "There are Harvard, MIT and Yale grads there; there are people who have been coding for years and years, and then there's Melissa and me who have been coding for, at that point, a year and a half. We're dressed up in costumes, and we're sitting there thinking we're finger painting again. And then we win. And you're just on top of the world." Nicki says her best ideas usually come out of the simplest problems. Betagig originated from something both Nicki and Melissa had experienced: unsatisfying job experiences. "The driving motivation behind Betagig is that Melissa and I have both been able to find what we love to do, and that is coding, and so we want to give that opportunity to every single other person in the nation." According to a report by the Indeed Hiring Lab, 65 percent of employees look at new jobs within the first three months of being hired. "We're creating the world's first try-before-you-buy for careers," Nicki explains. "So, currently, you go to college, you pick a major, and then you pick a career. You just pick something without really knowing what it's going to be like. So, we're trying to flip the process completely where you actually experience a day in the life before going down that path." Nicki says she hopes Betagig builds others' confidence by providing them with the resources they want or need, and many times, those resources are networking. "Betagig is a way to network without networking," she says. "I think networking is something that my generation actually struggles with due to technology." After winning the hackathon, Nicki brought on three interns to help build the initial product. One of them was Nikki Benzimra, Eta Iota-Pace. Nikki had studied political science and was feeling restless working in policy reform when she met Nicki Klein at a Kappa Delta alumnae event. Nikki decided to investigate her interest in computers and technology by attending a boot camp for web design and development. She then spent the summer of 2016 interning with Betagig. "I learned a lot," Nikki says of the internship experience. "It was long hours. It was hard work. It was a group of girls, which is unheard of in the tech world." Nicki agrees, adding it can be difficult to maintain confidence in a male-dominated field. "My parents raised me to believe that I could do anything I wanted, and I was no different than anyone else – male, female, ethnicity-wise or anything," she says. "I keep that with me." The gender gap isn't imagined. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women held 57 percent of professional occupations in the 2015 U.S. workforce but only 25 percent of professional computing occupations, and a 2016 report published by the Harvard Business Review cites only 9 percent of entrepreneurs in venture capital-financed, high-growth technology start-ups are women. "I think we're taught from a really young age, unfortunately, that that's a boy's job or that's a girl's job," Nikki Benzimra says. "I think there's almost a stigma attached to career paths and what gender they're for, and it's completely false, because women use more technology every day than men ever have. We are involved and in tune with what's going on in the market, so why is it that we're not the ones building it? There's no reason." Sparked by Nicki Klein and her Betagig experiences, Nikki is building her own start-up, a medical app for renting and purchasing equipment and office tools. "I think when you're starting a business like I am, you have to be confident," she says. "You're not going to have all the answers, but you have to be confident that you're smart enough, you are enough, you can make it happen." Although there are few female technology entrepreneurs, Nicki Klein says women are what's holding women back. "When I walk into a room and there's a group of women and we're all getting to know each other – let's say I'm at a networking event or a wedding – they ask me what I do," Nicki says. "Before I became a CEO of a tech start-up, I was a software engineer. So, I would answer, 'I'm a software engineer,' and most of them would be like, 'Oh, that's so hard. I could never do that.' The problem with that thinking is that no, it's not impossible at all. And, if there were any women in the group who were thinking about that career path, you just deterred them. Now, she's thinking, well, that girl can't do it, so how could I do it? That [mentality] just spreads like wildfire." Nicki volunteers weekly for Girls Who Code teaching high school students coding. She hopes to inspire more women to start companies, and this summer she will be sharing her message as a member of a panel of entrepreneurs at Kappa Delta's National Convention. Nicki says a lot of her success is linked to communication skills, something she learned serving Alpha Iota as social chairman, and to think, she nearly didn't go through sorority recruitment. A friend spent six hours persuading Nicki to go through recruitment, which led her to Kappa Delta sisters who would encourage her and fill the launch party room when she created her first app. "I met my absolute best friends in Kappa Delta," Nicki says. "It's their network and support system that keep me going. They're my biggest cheerleaders."
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