Media & Press, Business Tips, Random Faves


The Idea Farmer – Cusp Conference

I recently spoke at a wonderful Chicago based ideas conference called CUSP. Check out these photo highlights:


Riana Lynn Riana Lynn CUSP Conference CHicago

Riana Lynn Cusp Conference


Planting vegetables with her grandmother led Riana Lynn to the White House South Lawn – and to the forefront of food+health technology.

After graduating with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (where she taught herself how to code and was also a top-ranked performer in discus and javelin) Riana went on to pursue a Masters at Northwestern University. While getting her hands dirty in the White House Kitchen Garden, her work also included major policy initiatives such as Small Business and Jobs, STEM, and Public Health.

Her passion for the value of fresh food, farms, entrepreneurship, and technology ultimately inspired her to develop innovative supply chain management tools and create FoodTrace, a next level technology platform designed to help businesses with growth and supply chain management by helping them become more traceable and discoverable.

A native of the Chicago area, her story and accomplishments have been featured in, Wired Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, TheGrio 100, and other local and national publications. Riana is a politico, restaurant enthusiast, world traveler, and innovative fruit connoisseur, and is currently serving as the Google – Code 2040 Entrepreneur in Residence.



Women Tech Founders Live! Fall Series #WeAreWTF


WTF is back!
Our next event, cohosted with WiSTEM and Ms. Tech, will be on Monday, October 19th 5:30pm at 1871!
We’ll be featuring many women who are not only successful tech founders, they’re tech heroes, saving lives from Afghanistan to our backyard. Find out more about this unique event here:
If you know students/groups who need free tickets, please message me.
100% of the ticket proceeds from this event will fund the videos we’ll share on Vimeo, YouTube – so stories by women tech founders can reach future founders and leaders. These stories will also be distributed to great organizations such as Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, Year Up, and Youth Technology Corps.
Here’s why you should spread the word:
At one of your Women Tech Founder’s event at 1871, I actually found a path to reach my dream. If you did not hold that event, I would not have been who I am today. If you are wondering who is Gereltuya. I am an intern at I.C Stars. I was selected out of 500 people to get this position. I am currently building an Android mobile application for Central States Fund…” Gerulteya Batdembarel

“Hearing the WTFs speak with such strength and passion about their startup journeys coupled with WTF’s desire to authentically diversify tech energized and excited me–it was the last push I needed to join the tech world and I decided to jump in–they gave me hope and energy. Now I’m excited to have completed the Startup Institute and to be joining the ThinkCERCA team!”  Katie Ekler-Lynch

Please share this unique event with your networks and help us improve diversity in tech!

Free Tech Coding Camp for Girls

Apply here:

Dear loving parents or mentors,

We are on a mission to empower young girls between 14 – 16 years old to become agents of change in the world. We offer a 5-day BraveCamp for high school girls focused on solving meaningful community problems through design thinking and technology. The camp exposes participants to expert mentors, leadership and entrepreneurship development training, and basic coding skills. No previous coding experience is required and lunch is provided. Scholarships are available. Apply now! Only 20 spots are available!

Yours truly,
The Brave Squad

10 Women Tech Founders Share: “WTF Startup Lessons.”

This Thursday, the high-energy crowd of Women Tech Founders (WTF) is back at 1871! After our first event drew more than 200 people to be inspired by 15 fantastic female entrepreneurs, we’re holding our second WTF event this Thursday at 5:30 – and it will fill up quickly so get your spot!

We’ve got 10 new WTF to share their very earliest lessons and challenges, like the actual baby steps they took to get started. How they spend their first $1,000. How they got their first customer. The biggest mistake they made. Awesome founders include:

Claire Lew (CEO of Know Your Company and recently named a Crain’s 20 under 20)
Sandee Kastrul (the highly respected founder of i.c. stars)
Nicole Staple and Sonali Lamba (Brideside cofounders)
Lindsay Austin (TapePlay)
Heidi Brown (Options Away)
Corielle Heath (LiftUpLift)

There will also be time for networking and lots of asking questions.

Register here:

Hope you see you there!

Google backs 3-city program for black, Latino techies (USA Today Mar. 16, 2015)

Jessica Guynn

published by USA Today on March 16th, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO — The growing effort to get more African Americans and Hispanics to join tech companies or start their own is hitting the road, pushing beyond Silicon Valley into the rest of the nation.

Google is backing a new pilot program from CODE2040 in three cities. Starting this year in Chicago, Austin and Durham, N.C., the San Francisco non-profit will give minority entrepreneurs in each city a one-year stipend and free office space.

CODE2040 is a non-profit founded in 2012 that focuses on getting more African Americans and Hispanics into the tech workforce. It has graduated nearly 50 fellows, many of whom have gone to work for companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Uber. The group’s name refers to the year the population of minorities in the U.S. is expected to overtake whites.

While building their start-ups, the three CODE2040 entrepreneurs in residence will build bridges to technology for minorities in those communities.

“There is no question that Silicon Valley is the epicenter of the tech world, and as such there’s huge opportunity for impact on inclusion in tech,” says Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder and CEO of CODE2040, who came to Austin to announce the launch of the new program at a SXSW panel Monday morning.

“However, working on diversity issues in Silicon Valley means going against the status quo,” she says. “(It means) trying to change the ratio of employees at large companies, trying to bring inclusive techniques to established hiring practices and trying to infiltrate relatively closed, powerful networks.”

That work, says Powers, is crucial in Silicon Valley because it houses the headquarters of some of the world’s most powerful tech companies, which can set an example for the rest of the tech world.

But spreading to smaller tech hubs also presents an opportunity, she says.

“Here, rather than trying to change what is, we are trying to shape what might be. In smaller tech ecosystems around the country, often the cultures and norms around talent and inclusion are not yet set. We have the opportunity to help these places bake inclusion into their DNA from the ground up,” Powers says. “It’s an opportunity to create whole ecosystems where we never see the divides we see in Silicon Valley.”

Silicon Valley has never been diverse, but until last year, no one had any idea just how dominated by white and Asian men the tech industry here is.

In May 2014, Google disclosed that 30% of its workers are female and in the U.S. 2% of its workers are African American and 3% are Hispanic.

By the end of the summer, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and other major tech companies had followed with their own statistics, all of which showed the same lack of diversity.

“Releasing our numbers last year was a really important first step, and we were really happy to see other companies do that as well,” says John Lyman, head of partnerships for Google for Entrepreneurs. “This is an issue that Google really cares about. We really believe that better products are created by a workforce as diverse as the people who use them.”

That said, “a lot of the conversation is happening in Silicon Valley, which is great. But we also want to get it out to different parts of the country,” Lyman says.

So Google is putting money and resources behind the new CODE2040 Residency. CODE2040 received $775,000 in grants from Google in February to work on bringing more African Americans and Hispanics into tech.

Beyond getting the free office space in tech hubs in Chicago, Austin and Durham for one year and $40,000 in seed funding for their start-ups, the three entrepreneurs also get a trip to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as well as face time with investors, mentoring from entrepreneurs through Google For Entrepreneurs and CODE2040’s network and support from CODE2040 on building their diversity programs.

There will be one entrepreneur each at Capital Factory in Austin, 1871 in Chicago and American Underground in Durham, N.C.

Riana Lynn, 29, is founder of FoodTrace, a year-old tech start-up making new software tools to connect consumers, restaurants and distributors with local farmers.

Lynn graduated with a degree in biology and African American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she taught herself to code.

From spending summers planting vegetables with her grandmother to working in first lady Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden as a White House intern, Lynn says technology has given her a way to combine her interests in science and public health and the ability to fulfill her ambition of changing what people eat. The CODE2040 Residency will give her more of an opportunity to help others tap the power of technology, she says.

“It’s the perfect opportunity to take my company to the next level and continue some of the activities I am doing now,” Lynn says.

Joel Rojo, a 25-year-old Harvard-educated software developer in Austin hails from a small town in southern Texas five minutes from the border.

The son of Mexican immigrants, he goes back there to talk with young people about the opportunities that a college education and a career in technology can provide.

Rojo started an online real estate firm when he was 18, worked at Google’s Creative Lab and built products at job search engine Indeed. Now the avid music fan is co-founder of TicketKarma, a marketplace “for good people” to find or sell reasonably priced tickets to concerts.

“Knowledge is power,” Rojo says. “Mentors in my life showed me what I could do with my life. If I didn’t have that, who knows where I would be?”

Talib Graves-Manns, 34, is a third-generation entrepreneur. He says “Blue Blood Hustle” runs in his DNA. Passionate about education and diversity, he’s co-founder of RainbowMe, which is building an online television network for kids of color.

Adam Klein, chief strategist for American Underground, says Graves-Manns will boost the Durham tech hub’s ambitions to become the nation’s most diverse tech hub by 2016.

American Underground houses 225 companies, 23% of which are led by women and 36% are led by women or minorities.

“I feel optimistic we are going to see a major shift,” Klein says. “There is a huge business opportunity being missed. How many ideas are not coming to market because of biases that are preventing people from being full and active participants in the innovation economy?”

A March Event Not to be Missed!




We’re always excited for March to come around, not only for the (hopefully) warmer weather, but also for the Good Food Festival and Conference hosted each year by! The three-day conference, held at the UIC Forum March 19th-21st, will feature tons of speakers, food industry experts, and people passionate about growing the local food movement.

Check out the schedule!

Thursday: Good Food Financing and Innovation Conference (March 19th, 2015) PRESENTATION BY RIANA LYNN

Highlights: The Financing Fair in the afternoon provides a great opportunity for innovative farms and businesses seeking capital to pitch their plans, build partnerships, and engage with funders.

Friday: Good Food Trade, School, Producer, and Policy (March 20th, 2015)

Highlights: Workshops based on the tracks listed above will take place all day, led by national leaders in food policy, production, and advocacy.

Saturday: Good Food Festival (March 21st, 2015)

Highlights: Inspiring speakers, DIY workshops, chef demos, and more!

Tickets are on sale now! 

Working Their Way Around Male VC Dominance / Broadway Angels is 26 early-stage investors that ‘just happen to be women’

Working Their Way Around Male VC Dominance / Broadway Angels is 26 early-stage investors that ‘just happen to be women’ By Jonathan Krim, March 1, 2015 7:44 p.m. ET, WSJ

group Screenshot 2015-03-07 02.57.59

It’s hard to believe, but the number of women at venture capital firms—the primary financial engines of Silicon Valley—is going from terrible to worse. Here’s what should not be a surprise: A handful of resourceful female investors and entrepreneurs are finding creative ways around the roadblocks. During a recent lunch hour in a borrowed conference room in downtown San Francisco, a dozen women with the wherewithal to make early-stage investments listened to pitches from entrepreneurs (of both genders). Those seeking funding were given a rigid 20-minute time limit, which Sonja Hoel Perkins enforced with a large plastic timer borrowed from home, where she uses it to help manage her young childrens’ time. Ms. Perkins is co-founder of Broadway Angels, a unique confederation of investors who, in Ms. Perkins’ words, “just happen to be women.” Unlike typical VC firms, funding syndicates or even investment clubs, Broadway Angels doesn’t raise investment funds nor invest as a group. Instead, it uses its collective networking power to attract entrepreneurs with interesting projects into the room. If any of the members likes what she hears, she can follow up individually with the entrepreneur to make a deal. After they invest, the women play active advisory roles. The group’s members currently have early-stage investments in 35 companies, ranging from $25,000 to $1.2 million. Past investments have been acquired by companies such as Oracle Corp. and Equifax Inc. Broadway’s 26 members are or have been venture capitalists, angel investors or tech executives. Ms. Perkins, for example, became the youngest general partner ever at Menlo Ventures in the late 1990s, at age 29. She remains affiliated with the firm. Other prominent members include co-founder Jennifer Scott Fonstad and Theresia Gouw, who recently split off from their respective VC firms to form a new one, Aspect Ventures. In the complex language of gender politics in Silicon Valley, group members avoid harping on the overwhelmingly male dominance of Valley financing. (According to a Babson College study, the representation of women partners in 2014 was 6%, down from 10% in 1999. Perhaps more damning, only 2.7% of the companies that received venture funding between 2011 and 2013 had female CEOs). Instead, they prefer to let their individual résumés and their actions do the talking. Occasionally, though, their shared experiences spill out. In an ironic moment, the group heard a pitch from a company using data-driven analytics to eliminate unconscious bias in recruiting, hiring and promotions of employees in the workplace. “Can we give this to VC firms for free?” quipped Aileen Lee, a prominent venture capitalist who two years ago left her full time work at Kleiner Perkins to co-found her own VC firm, Cowboy Ventures. Privately, the women talk about the opportunities that can be lost when a VC firm is all or nearly all male: If an entrepreneur’s target market is females, for example, no one in the room may instinctively appreciate the size of the business opportunity. As VCs look to find great leaders, some men may have trouble believing that a female entrepreneur can make the kind of 24/7, full-on commitment as men. As a result, women are under pressure to be “quadrupally awesome,” said one Broadway member. Another dynamic: Most VC firms require unanimity in their investment decisions; one dissenting voice kills potential funding. It’s easier to reach that consensus when everyone in the room has a similar perspective on life and technology. In the words of Joanna Drake Earl, who advises entrepreneurs and is a partner in Core Ventures group, an early stage VC firm: “VCs are all about pattern recognition,” she said. They look for analogies, such as how a new company might be “like an Uber” for some new category. And they identify with certain founder personality traits. Without a diversity of views and experiences in the room, it is harder to break through the groupthink. Mark Suster, a Los Angeles-based venture capitalist, basically agrees. “When you lack diversity as a decision making group,” opportunities are lost, he said. “There’s no doubt that there is a gender diversity problem in venture, and venture needs to fix it.” Danielle Applestone, CEO of The Other Machine Co., which makes a 3-D milling machine, said that pitching to women investors “is a whole different atmosphere.” Having received money from Broadway Angels investors, she said she has found them “the most efficient, professional, and supportive group of investors I have ever met.” Other women have found different paths. Joanna Weidenmiller is a former advertising, marketing and luxury retail executive with deep experience in China and even a stint at the FBI. She is now the founder and CEO of 1-Page Ltd. , which uses software to challenge job applicants to solve some of the company’s problems or achieve its objectives. She raised some early rounds from VCs, but when it came time to seek larger funding she started getting a lot of rejections—complete with occasional doses of sexism—despite having several Fortune 500 companies pledged as clients. Finally, she made a bold move: She went public—on the Australian stock market. It turns out that tech is in high demand Down Under. Stable and highly respected, the Australian financial markets proved the perfect way to raise money. She has used some of the proceeds to pay off her early investors. She has never looked back. Regarding many VCs, she said: “They treat you a little bit like a girl wanting to play pro football.”