A dues-free organization focused on supporting women in technology careers and those looking to start or accelerate businesses is opening a St. Petersburg chapter, just over four months after its launch.
According to a February report by Harvard Business Review, companies founded solely by women receive less than 3% of venture capital investments – while less than 15% write those checks. Raechel Canipe decided to help make a difference and founded Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship (WTE) in late December 2022.
While based in Tampa, crossing the bridge to St. Pete was an immediate goal for Canipe. The bootstrapped, decentralized “labor of love” will officially launch in the Sunshine City May 11.
“I feel humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and, frankly, the women who have rolled up their sleeves to help make this possible,” Canipe said. “We’re all volunteers at this point. While this has been in the roadmap, it wouldn’t be possible without those women.”
According to its mission statement, WTE is a community of high-performing and non-conforming women working in tech, startups, venture capital, entrepreneurship, economic development and business support organizations. The goal is to provide mentorship, educational opportunities and a support network to help offset gender discrepancies.
The movement is growing.
WTE now features 149 active members throughout Tampa Bay. Over 400 women have attended its events, which Canipe funds out-of-pocket.
She credited Sarah Hartman, people and culture business partner for Appspace, and Rebecca Paone, founder of Care Collective, for “carrying the torch” in St. Pete and securing free space from Red Mesa Cantina for the inaugural event.
Canipe said statistics illustrate the need for her organization. In addition to the “tiny percentage” of venture funding, she noted the lack of gender equity on Fortune 500 tech company boards and management positions.
“If I can just lower those barriers and those obstacles an inch to level the playing field, to make opportunities in tech and entrepreneurship more sustainable and attainable for women who are bringing a lot of value into the space – I want to do that,” she added.
Canipe explained that WTE provides a community of people who understand women’s ambitions and challenges. She described the group’s educational value and said, “If you’re out there drifting on your own and you don’t know the resources exist, they’re very hard to find.”
She also remains resolute about her decision to keep membership free. Canipe recalls professional organizations charging hundreds of dollars for participation, something untenable when she began her career and struggled to pay bills.
Her vision is to provide an “inclusive, accessible organization for women, no matter what their circumstances are.”
“I personally don’t believe that financial obstacles should ever limit the opportunities for these women to connect with their peers, to connect with educational resources,” Canipe added. “And I’m really fortunate to have this kind of lean operation and lean growth background. I’ve been able to leverage that to continue doing most of what we do at very little cost.”
Canipe relayed that she lives frugally to ensure she can support the group. She called herself “smart and scrappy,” and determined to find other ways of funding WTE’s mission.
While she doesn’t accept sponsorship money, companies have offered support. Maserati of St. Petersburg is hosting a June 17 event and providing food, drinks and airconditioned meeting space.
After spending over three years as Synapse Florida’s community engagement director, Canipe is no stranger to helping the local tech community flourish. The Tampa-based nonprofit promotes and connects innovators with investors, policymakers and other stakeholders.
However, she is starting a new professional venture. Canipe submitted her resignation from Synapse earlier this week to support a growth-stage software development company.
“I think it’s clear that I link to spend my time and resources supporting these initiatives in the community,” she explained. “But I also want to have an opportunity to build a business.”
Canipe will continue growing WTE and remains committed to providing a statewide network. A member referred the organization to Michelle N. Moore, who began traveling from her home in Orlando to attend events.
She is now helping launch an Orlando chapter, and Canipe said the city’s first event is May 19.
Canipe also credited Molly Levinson, director of operations for Cope Notes and part of WTE’s steering committee, for her operational impact on the new chapters. “These ladies have really taken the ball and run with it,” she said.
While Canipe had confidence in her vision of a decentralized, member-led support organization, she noted, “I had never done something like that before.”
“So, to see it take off and thrive and create this empowering opportunity for other women in the community to resource each other has been just awesome,” Canipe added. “Totally humbling.”
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