COCO Members Hack the Diversity Gap

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Hack the Gap, a company dedicated to eliminating the gender gap in tech, was founded in 2015 by COCO members Jenna Pederson and Kristen Womack. Though the women also continue to work on other businesses and freelance projects, Hack the Gap is a passion project for both of them—and one that has led to impressive and substantial rewards for its participants.

Q: Where did Hack the Gap come from?

Kristen: Jenna and I had been running Hack Nights for women at COCO—kind of mini-hackathons—and at the end of every night, every team would say, “If we had more time, we’d do this and this.” We kept hearing about the “pipeline problem,” (as a reason for the lack of women in tech), but we were looking around and seeing all these women showing up and doing the work.

The experience was providing a natural networking opportunity for them. After the Hack Nights, women were staying in touch, helping with job referrals, etc. We wanted to give them even more time and space to explore their abilities. We thought Let’s do it big. In May, 2015, we had 50 people show up to our first Hack the Gap hackathon–a high-energy weekend where women from all backgrounds and experience levels can enjoy an accessible, approachable, positive experience—and Hack the Gap became an LLC in March 2016.

Jenna: We went the LLC route because we wanted to show you can have a for-profit social business. A lot of women founders default to the non-profit sector, so we thought if we can be successful at this, it can inspire other women entrepreneurs to start and run profitable businesses.

Q: How has COCO played into the life of the company?

Jenna: The COCO community has been really supportive and welcoming of us. Half the COCO leadership team has Hack the Gap t-shirts they wear, and the whole community is so willing to promote what we’re doing.

Kristen: At least 50 percent of our mentors have been COCO members, and at least half of our donors. When we walk into any of the locations, we see at least one Hack the Gap sticker on a computer, or someone wearing our shirt.

Jenna: I sometimes see people I’ve never met at COCO sporting Hack the Gap stickers on their computers! We were also able to film our video at COCO downtown, which was really cool and generous.

Q: What’s your favorite COCO location?

Jenna: I have a Flex 14 membership, though I’m always right on the verge of upgrading to 24/7. I flip back and forth between downtown and Uptown. I live downtown, so that’s my go-to, but I head to Uptown when I need to really focus because it’s a little quieter and I don’t know as many people there.

Kristen: I have a Flex 5 membership. I love Northeast (I also live there), but I know more people in Uptown, so I like to work there too. Both are favorites.

Q: What kind of advice would you give to a new founder or entrepreneur, someone who may be just sticking her toe in the waters of entrepreneurship?

Jenna: Stick it in further! Stop thinking about it, and just do it. Don’t be afraid to not do it right the first time…because you’re not going to.

Kristen: It’s important to know when to switch from “don’t give up” to “actually, go ahead and give up.” You need to persevere, but also know when to walk away. I’ve tried to start a bunch of different businesses since 2012, and only in November did I just launch Night Sky Web Co. [another company Kristen started with a different partner]. Other things didn’t work out, and that’s OK. Be unafraid to move on. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s in your DNA, and failure lies on the path to success.

Jenna: most people think success is a straight line, but it’s a giant squiggle.

Q: What’s the big goal on the horizon for Hack the Gap in 2017?

Kristen: We moved the hackathon up to January this year because we saw so many women over the past couple years wanting to take their idea to the next level, but the May hackathon was too tight on the MN CUP deadline and deadlines for other local tech and business events. So we got together with WEstartMN and mapped out the year of events, coordinated across different groups and took a broader community view so we could honor the natural trajectory of what’s coming out of Hack the Gap.

The next big goal for us it to attract more donors, bigger donors and more sustainable donors. Ideally, we’d love to move to hosting the hackathon twice a year or touring it nationally. It would also be great if we could get more investors to come and invest in some of these women and their ideas.

Jenna: We need to stop talking about this stuff (the lack of women in tech) and start doing something about it. We’d love to get more investors and companies in the room on demo day to show them that this isn’t a pipeline issue—these women are here right now. A lot of people are going to a lot of conferences on diversity in tech, but again, we need to stop dipping our toes in, and just put them all the way in.

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Hack the Gap’s next Hackathon is January 14th-15th at Target Plaza Commons. There are still spots available, as well as opportunities for volunteering, donating and sponsorship. For more information, click here.