Sabrina Tucker-Barrett, President and Chief Executive Officer of Girls For Technology, co-founded the startup in 2015 to encourage girls ages 11 to 17 to explore opportunities to become tomorrow’s leaders in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Sabrina spoke to Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about the process of launching a nonprofit startup and the progress the organization has made over the past three years.
NAN PRICE: How did you develop the business concept Girls For Technology?
SABRINA TUCKER-BARRETT: When I launched Girls For Technology three years ago I noticed, as technology was rapidly advancing, our youth were not being prepared with the foundation of 21st century skills. Equity amongst schools across the state was not equal. At the time, there were very few STEM initiatives within the public school systems—particularly in the inner city of Hartford and more broadly the State of Connecticut that targeted youth of color.
As an African-American girl growing up in New London, CT, I was fortunate to attend a suburban school, where the quality of education and funding was better. I personally witnessed my peers at school who, at a very young age, had the opportunity to excel in sports and music, pursue hobbies and interests, and gain exposure to other cultures through international travel.
However, girls from my neighborhood who predominately looked like me did not have many of the same opportunities, resources, or support. The economic and educational disparity I observed between my school and my neighborhood inspired me to become a philanthropist and advocate for other girls. At a very young age, I realized certain opportunities weren’t available to meet my needs, I knew I wanted to focus on marginalized, under-represented girls.
NAN: When did you launch the startup?
SABRINA: I wrote a mock proposal about Girls For Technology back in 2011. I had a vision of offering opportunities to help girls learn how to code and do robotics. I wanted to see more marginalized girls get into the STEM fields and think about pursuing those types of careers. I wrote that in the proposal—and a lot of that has actually come to fruition.
I sat on the proposal for a while, at the time I was still working in corporate America. After I had my twins in 2012, I was deciding if I wanted to go back to work within the insurance field or stay home with the kids. And then my husband said: “Remember that proposal you wrote back in 2011? Let’s make it happen.”
We decided to officially launch Girls For Technology in 2015.
NAN: You co-founded the company with your husband, correct?
SABRINA: Yes, my husband, Anthony Barrett, was the Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Girls For Technology. He had many years of works experience within the nonprofit sector. We combines our passion and ideas for making a difference in youths lives and the rest was history. Although he has moved on and is now the Executive Director at the Wilson-Gray YMCA here in Hartford, he’s still very passionate about the mission.
NAN: Coming from a corporate background, did you have any business background?
SABRINA: I didn’t have any formal training. However, my father was an entrepreneur who owned and operated a heavy highway construction business for many years. He wanted me to follow his footsteps and become an entrepreneur focusing on civil engineering and highway construction. He always said the most rewarding thing is when you become your own boss. Unfortunately, at the time I did not personally see women like myself in that field, so I didn’t think that was possible. Instead, I earned a bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration degree and worked in the insurance industry for nearly eight years. But I feel like I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit!
NAN: What have you learned on your entrepreneurial journey? Any surprises?
SABRINA: I didn’t realize launching a nonprofit startup would be so complicated. I thought you could apply for grants, write grants, and if they liked what you had written, and foundations liked the work you were doing in your community, then you would receive funding
It’s not quite that simple. You have to show results, data, metrics, and impact—the list goes on.
Another point I’d like to mention, I’ve learned that perseverance and having a strong level of mental fortitude is very important, even when the future may not seem as bright. I trust the process and I continue to build my support network.
NAN: Let’s talk about the importance of focusing on STEM. Why is that close to your heart?
SABRINA: For the nation to meet the evolving workforce needs, it starts with our youth. Reports show that America will need to add 1 million more STEM professionals by 2022. We must welcome diversity within the STEM industries. It’s vital. As a nation, we must continue to support African-Americans and others who are underrepresented in these fields. When we look at the statistics for women of color going and staying in STEM professions, the numbers are grim.
Many of our youth, especially in urban school settings, aren’t prepared to meet the demanding needs for college and STEM professions. It’s important that girls as young as third grade start having positive interactions with role models so they can aspire to one day be the next Mae Jamison, mechanical engineer, venture capitalist to help change the trajectory of more girls later pursuing such careers.
NAN: In what ways are you encouraging future entrepreneurs?
SABRINA: Girls For Technology combines leadership with the STEM focus. We offer a variety of educational and career-oriented programs and leadership workshops where we are teaching young girls what it takes to be a leader and how to handle yourself in the work environment.
NAN: You also collaborate with other local organizations.
SABRINA: Yes. We subcontract with Hartford Public Schools to provide after-school enrichment programs. Aetna supports us by allowing our girls to visit and tour their worksite. Through the company’s Women in Tech initiative, Aetna has talked to the young ladies about serious career options—not just at Aetna but within the STEM fields. They’ve discussed what those career options look like and what types of classes the girls need to take to prepare for those roles.
Our youth have also visited the HAI Group in Cheshire where they learned about data protection in an age of cyber security threats and breaches. High school students were able to apply creative and critical thinking to develop case study solutions.
In 2017 Girls For Technology took a group of 25 girls on a field trip to YouTube and Google in New York. Also, through the White House Council on Women and Girls initiative, Girls For Technology was invited to visit the White House in 2016 along with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Most recently we were invited to the U.S. Department of Defense in Virginia.
NAN: How have you been getting on the radar—especially with the White House and some of these larger companies?
SABRINA: LinkedIn is one of my best tools, and basic networking to reach out to different companies. Some companies are finding us, too. Actually, the White House found us—I was shocked. It was amazing.
NAN: You’ve received some accolades in the short time since you’ve launched the startup.
SABRINA: Yes, it’s been great! I was nominated for a Connecticut Entrepreneur Award and won second place in the Education category. The event recognizes entrepreneurs throughout Connecticut. It was an honor to be nominated and receive that award.
I also received a 100 Women of Color award in March 2017. The annual event celebrates 100 women from the Greater Hartford area who are positive role models and committed to bettering the community. I sit on the Board of Advisors for National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) for the State of Connecticut and was recently asked to sit on the Board of Directors for Innovation Places, an initiative of CTNext.
Most recently, I was chosen by The Network Journal “40 under 40” to recognize young African-Americans across the United States who have proven to be exceptional performers in their industry.
NAN: Let’s talk about the importance of mentoring—which is noted in your bio on your website.
SABRINA: I am a true supporter of mentoring; I know the power it holds especially for marginalized youth. It’s important for the girls we work with to find positive mentors at an early age. Mentors provide encouragement and give them hope for their future.
One way we blend innovation and mentoring together is every Monday during our after-school program we incorporate our #WomenWhoSTEMSeries into the lesson. Girls can virtually interact with women from across the United States who currently work in STEM fields. We ask each guest speaker to share their journey into STEM and words of encouragement.
NAN: How are you finding those mentors for the girls?
SABRINA: I find mentors through local colleges and universities, various women infinity groups in corporations, LinkedIn, social media, and word of mouth. Mentors have not only mentored girls, but also volunteer their services in various ways to push the Girls For Technology mission forward.
NAN: You have an entire board of directors. How did you build that support network?
SABRINA: A few of the board member are friends I’ve known for many years—their backgrounds aligned with our mission. So, I had a network, but I feel it grew much larger after I started the organization. Other board members my husband knew, and then others were intrigued by the organization and want to give back to the community. It’s a small board. As the organization grows, I plan on growing it.
NAN: How are you getting the word out about what you’re doing?
SABRINA: I’m constantly pushing the mission near and far, so people understand the importance of what we do. I use a lot of social media and I send virtual newsletters. It’s also a lot of word of mouth from parents.
The Hartford Public Schools is a huge supporter—they funded our organization with $40K this year to support our after-school program. One of the state representatives has allocated funding for us through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Another huge supporter is the The Prosperity Foundation.
NAN: What you’re doing is obviously making a social impact.
SABRINA: When I think about social impact—especially for the North Hartford region, where poverty is so high—it’s really about helping these girls realize they’re capable of doing many things. When we take field trips and they’re introduced to women who look just like them, it gives them hope that they can also do those types of jobs.
I find many of these young girls have the interest, but the direction of how to get to where they want to go is not provided or afforded to them. Girls For Technology helps spearhead that direction.
NAN: You’re making such a huge impact on these girls’ lives. That’s got to make you feel incredible.
SABRINA: It really does. I amaze myself sometimes by the impact and opportunities I have personally had since forming Girls For Technology, I’m truly pleased in the direction in which the organization is going and planning for the future.
NAN: Looking to the future, where do you see the startup in the next few years?
SABRINA: I see us becoming a national organization within urban areas across the Northeast. I would say probably three to five years from now. We’re still very new and grassroots.
While I don’t personally own Girls For Technology, as it is a nonprofit and there are no owners, I’m 100% vested and committed to its mission and hold significant legal and ethical duties to the organization. Girls For Technology is my baby I continue to nurture and see it grow from a little seed. I just love all the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur, and seeing my vision come to life!