My evening with Startup Grind at Spark Baltimore

By: Aly Martin, PR/Marketing Lead, Girls in Tech, D.C.

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of sitting front row for a chat on startups, entrepreneurship and how to balance life with it all (…does that exist?!). This event was sponsored by Startup Grind in partnership with Google and was hosted at Spark Baltimore, a super cool collaborative co-working space. It featured a fireside chat with husband and wife team: Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore City Health commissioner and Delali Dzirasa, president of Fearless.

I haven’t attended a tech event since leaving San Diego in 2018. I could never quite find my groove here and I thought, honestly, that there were no tech organizations for women to join. I WAS WRONG, so wrong. I was still highly socially awkward me BUT in one night I networked, listened and found my home. Well I think you get the idea, so let me get right to the points and questions asked by the audience that made an impact on myself and others in the room!

Question: How did or do you handle balancing work and life?

Letitia took the lead on the work-life balance conversation, although both agreed they work all the time. To them, at that time, this was their idea of fun and work, building this business. After about nine to 10 months at Fearless, their son was born. Letitia was adamant that we as women embrace the “I can do it all” mantra  and we don’t “ask for help!” I could not agree more. I suffer from this complex often; it has gotten me into sticky situations and ultimately burnout.

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Tip #1

D.C. Girls in Tech

Startup Grind

Tip #1

ASK FOR HELP!

Women around the room nodded in agreement. If you’re a woman, you’re probably familiar with taking on too much, saying “Yes” to too much and completely reaching your wits end with all of it! Let’s say “No” more, so we can be a “Yes” to more important and focused things, ladies!

Question: What would you have done differently?

Delali, as the founder and president of Fearless, took the lead on this one. His answers were short and sweet. Following my favorite guideline of KISS, he briefly discussed wondering where he would be now had he started earlier and not questioned himself. He also went on to say that you need to be YOU, no one else. If someone doesn’t jive with you, tell them “sorry” and move on. Staying true to your cause and yourself really stuck out to me personally. How often are we told to be a certain way based on what makes someone else comfortable even when you are doing no harm? *Chants of women everywhere* OFTEN!

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Tip #2

D.C. Girls in Tech

Startup Grind

Tip #2

START NOW! START SOONER.

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Tip #3

D.C. Girls in Tech

Startup Grind

Tip #3

BE YOURSELF!

Be authentic, be passionate!

The couple co-answered on the next question which led to amazing insight from both a male and female perspective.

Question: How can we be conscious about having more women in leadership roles?

Be intentional, call it out, be alert to proper representation, have an actual strategy, and culture (Can we connect with the community we serve?).

Let’s elaborate a little. Being intentional about inclusion is HUGE. If we allow companies to continue to have the same prejudices and the same antiquated hiring processes, we will all continue to see great minds go NOWHERE! This is where calling it out comes into play. We have to call these actions out. Could the real HR leaders please stand up? (If you’re too young to understand this Slim Shady reference, I’m sorry.) By calling out old and outdated processes, we can begin to see TRUE representation. You know, diverse, like the actual world. This is a part of connecting with who you serve. To do this companies have to have an actual strategy in place. A way to ensure that  diverse AND qualified candidates are vetted and chosen. This is where the sudden burst of positions for diversity& inclusion *insert title here* have come in.

I refuse to buy from companies that do not showcase a diverse group of employees, models, or causes they support. The more conscious we become about what and who we support, the closer we can get to true inclusion.

Question (mine): How did you all handle Delali being the creative and you, Letitia, being more of the medical analytical side? I am more of the creative type in my relationship and he is more of the medical analytical type. How did you find understanding?

Both Delali and Letitia laughed after I asked this, so I knew I was onto some gold. My intuition was right. Letitia mentioned how she had a lot of questions, being a different kind of detail-oriented, she needed answers. Delali had a plan for how to get this company going and off the ground. Once he received agreement from his wife, he started packing up their home. YES, you heard that right, he started packing them up to move out of their house. This was one of the funniest moments of the evening. Letitia, while laughing, enlightened us that she was initially very unaware that she was going to be moving in with Delali’s mama for close to a year. They both agreed that communication is key, KEY, in relationships, business and beyond.

 

After the fireside chat with Dr. and Mr. Dzirasa, we were able to ask questions to a panel of ambassadors for the Baltimore chapter that represented several tech and entrepreneur organizations, including:

Code In The Schools
Lesbians Who Tech + Allies
Moms As Entrepreneurs
Women In Bio
Ladies Get Paid
Women Tech Makers
Baltimore Women In Tech

Here  are the Top 5 (plus 1) bits of advice I took from these amazing women!

1. Believe in yourself! Go for it.
2. Stay in your lane and ask for help!
3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
4. Don’t be afraid to be first!
5. Be confident!
6. Call out toxic behavior! Male or female.

Ladies, take these tips, go forth and take names. Start today, start small if you have to, but START! There is absolutely no time like the present to live your best life, your dream life, your only life!