Women at work: Creating opportunity, adding voice in tech industry at 1871
By Sandra Guy Staff Reporter May 24, 2014 8:30PM
Two women spearheading digital startup companies at the 1871 tech hub say their new, male-dominated environment poses challenges, but ones that enliven and inform them.
Jamie Migdal, a serial entrepreneur who has grown three successful brick-and-mortar pet-care companies, in late July is launching an online career and networking site for the pet-care industry — think Match.com for pet-care businesses, employees and would-be workers.
The site, FetchFind.com, now in private beta, aims to improve professionalism in the industry by letting businesses find qualified, passionate and dedicated employees.
After working almost exclusively with other women throughout her 18-year entrepreneurial career, Migdal said she has met only a couple of other women who have founded their own companies since she moved to 1871 in January.
She has learned to be OK with seeing few other women in the shared space, and has turned it to her advantage.
“I feel accomplished, special and like I can make a huge difference because I’m bringing a voice to the tech industry,” she said, adding that she has mentored men and women for many years and values having both on her company’s board.
There’s another incentive: her 21/2 year-old daughter, Sadie.
“I feel I’m building a legacy for her,” Migdal said. “I really want to show her what women can do to challenge assumptions and create opportunities.”
Migdal, 43, is creating FetchFind after pet-care business owners begged her to help them deal with high worker turnover, and ambitious pet owners sought her advice for starting their own firms. “The pet-care industry is a $60 billion industry that has very little technology or sophistication to help move it forward,” said the Elk Grove Village native, who lives in Wicker Park.
FetchFind employs three and just closed on a $275,000 round of friends-and-family fundraising.
Her status comes from starting Out-U-Go!, a now nationally franchised pet-sitting company; AnimalSense Training and Behavior and CanineLink Training and Career Academy. Migdal sold Out-U-Go 14 years ago, and marvels at its growth. She sold AnimalSense to former student and employee Lindsay Rapp, who in May sold it to Paradise 4 Paws, a national airport-based pet hotel firm.
Katie Hench is CEO and co-founder with friend Christopher Flint, of Infiniteach, a digital learning platform that sells interactive, individualized lessons for people with autism.
Hench, 31, of Lincoln Park, spent her career in the female-dominated world of education, including as a special education teacher and training specialist for families with children with autism at the Chicago Children’s Museum and Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago.
That changed a year ago, when Infiniteach launched its first iPad app, Skill Champ. A key player in the app’s creation is Infiniteach partner and chief networking officer Lally Daley, the youngest daughter of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a clinical community psychology doctoral student at DePaul University.
Company founders have raised $550,000 in a friends-and-family fundraiser. They moved into the 1871 tech hub in early September.
Hench said her new status as part of a female minority, where she often is the only woman at a table of 10 men, has made her appreciate the value of both perspectives. “When you speak up (as a woman), there is maybe something new here that the other 10 brains didn’t think of.”
Hench has seen it when co-founder Flint proposes a big idea for a product or service, and she quizzes him about how it would fit in families’ day-to-day lives.
“I will never be a (software) coder, but I will continue to be one who investigates what I’m asking of others,” she said, noting that being an entrepreneur is foreign to her risk-averse nature.
Hench is encouraged by the willingness of women at 1871 to mentor and help one another. “It makes this a stronger community,” she said.
Neither Migdal nor Hench plans to move to 1871’s new female-focused FEMtech incubator for women-owned startups because of the valued role that men play in their companies — though Migdal hasn’t ruled it out.
Migdal and Hench are among 28 percent of companies who work out of 1871 that have a woman on the founding team. Nationwide, 5 percent of of tech startup founders are women, according to Shaherose Charania, co-founder and CEO of Women 2.0.
Wale Taiwo, a senior recruiter at Chicago-based ITADMN, an IT resourcing firm, says women locally often experience a tough time finding jobs because they don’t have enough experience, and he has seen many start their own businesses.