One small step for female veterans, one giant leap for Silicon Valley

Vets in Tech invade Silicon Valley during nation’s first female veteran hackathon

One small step for female veterans, one giant leap for Silicon Valley

Caption: VetsinTech hackathon winner Kristi Erickson pitches her startup, Bohdi, to a panel of judges at Facebook’s Menlo Park, CA, headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Michael O'Donnell, Vets in Tech)

Military veterans are an anomaly in Silicon Valley. Women in the space are even more rare. But female veterans in the technology industry? Almost unheard of.

All of that changed Aug. 25, 2014, during the nation’s first ever hackathon for female veterans at Facebook’s Menlo Park, CA, Headquarters. The event, hosted by VetsinTech in partnership with V-WISE, was attended by more than 40 highly-skilled women veterans from around the nation.

I was pleased to attend the event as a participant, and to lead a team that placed among the top three.

However, I was even more enthusiastic about the pool of talent, capability, and creativity represented by the attendees. Entrepreneurs, coders, graphic designers, project managers, and user experience experts attended and pitched their ideas for new businesses during the full-day event.

This hackathon was conceptualized by VetsinTech Founder Katherine Webster, who created tremendous success in Silicon Valley during a time when women represented single digit percentages of tech stories.

“There’s so much opportunity for women to shape products and solutions for the world around us,” said Webster. “We need more women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), and this hackathon was a perfect opportunity for VetsinTech to support not only entrepreneurs, but also women who have an interest in learning more about the industry in general.”

The hackathon’s winning idea came from Kristi Erickson, a clinical psychologist and an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. Erickson’s startup, Bohdi, is developing an app and a virtual reality simulator that leverages Oculus Rift to provide treatment for people suffering from anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress.

An impressive lineup of keynote speakers included: Maria Contreras-Sweet, 24th Administrator of the U.S. SBA and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet; and Theresa W. Gerton, Deputy Assistant for Policy, U.S. Dept. of Labor-Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS).

Webster hopes the hackathon will inspire this trailblazing group to engage the more than 1.6 million female veterans in today’s workforce.

“It’s time we finally tap into this tremendous pool of talent,” said Webster.