Believe it or not, the tech and start-up world is booming here in the Queen City. With the biggest start-up competition in the world happening right downtown, there should be no surprise that tech and start-ups are influencing Buffalo’s economy in a big way. We owe a majority of this start-up renaissance to the 43North team at Seneca One Tower since they are responsible for the pitch competition that brings a lot of these businesses to Buffalo in the first place. The team works around the clock to break down myths surrounding start-ups and show that this work really is for everyone- especially for women!
In recent past years, the tech world proved to be a majority male-dominated industry, and according to data from CompTIA, “the composition of the tech sector workforce in 2019 consisted of 5.1 million men and 2.5 million women, translating to 67% and 33%, respectively,” but the face of tech seems to be changing according to these women in tech: Courtney Caldwell with ShearShare, Maura Duggan with ACV Auctions, and Renita DiStefano with Seneca Gaming Corporation. At a recent 43North Women in Tech panel discussions, each of these women discussed their unique journeys into the tech industry and how determination, perseverance, and recognition of their own strengths played a major role in their success.
Courtney and Dr. Tye Caldwell are changing the game when it comes to the community of beauty and barbering entrepreneurs with their app ShearShare. ShearShare is the first mobile marketplace to monetize underutilized assets in the beauty and barbering industry, starting with space to work. Stylists rent suites/stations by the day, week, or occasion with zero contract or commission, and salon, spa, and barbershop owners make money on empty space they already have. After humble beginnings that started as a side hustle, this business began to boom and even was awarded a $500,000 prize from the 43North pitch competition. While Courtney has no previous experience in the tech industry, she quickly learned that strengths she already possessed ultimately paved the way for the company’s growing success.
“The first thing I always want to make sure of, especially when I’m talking to other women who are thinking about jumping into tech or thinking about creating a startup or a tech company or whatever, is that we have to make sure we really lean in on our own strengths. So many times we discount ourselves out of a decision because we say, ‘well, I don’t have that type of experience’ or ‘oh, I don’t know how to do that,’ when in actuality we should be focusing on the strengths we already possess because that’s where the magic is. I don’t have to know how to code in order to run a tech company.”
Courtney attributes her success to her focus surrounding maintaining a healthy lifestyle and, “doing all the little, small baby steps that no one pays attention to in order to be ready to take that leap of faith and to do what you really want to do and set out to live your passion.”
Renita is no stranger to the tech world, and her dedication to the industry is something that comes as second nature to her. She attributes much of her success to mentors and teachers along the way and her passion for technology. This passion was the flame that ultimately paved the way for her accomplishments. Renita credits her fearless, self-starter attitude, and a dedication to lifetime learning that made it possible to be a master of her craft. Renita is a member of the Seneca Nation and became one of the first Native females to achieve the title of Chief Information Officer- the highest title acclaimed in her field.
“So much has changed in the 25 years that I’ve been in tech, specifically the face of technology. Just look around the conference table and the Board room and you will see unprecedented diversity. I was fortunate to start my career at a company where I rarely thought about the fact that I am a woman. I was treated with respect. I do have to say though, that I have had my share of, ‘okay, honey, let me talk to one of the techs’ or ‘Let me talk to one of the guys.’ I thought to myself, ‘I am one of the techs.’ I didn’t allow the condescension to slow me down; I didn’t let it marginalize me. Instead, it motivated me to prove to the world that I can achieve greatness in this thing called tech.”
She stressed that her key to success with over 25 years in the tech industry is due to surrounding herself with people who are inspiring — and by being fearless. “Leaders aren’t always the people with the fancy job titles at the top of the org chart. Some of the best advice that I’ve gotten has come from people that didn’t have an impressive job title. They are just good human beings; good people with wisdom and leadership qualities far beyond a title. For me, leadership is really about that – being kind and treating people with trust and respect. It’s about serving and giving everything you have to make sure that others are successful in whatever they do.
More than anything, be a student of your craft and take calculated risk; there is no telling how high you can go. Just take it from Renita.
While Maura’s expertise is not directly related to the tech industry, her communications background has landed her a position as Director of PR, Social and Communications for the region’s first software unicorn ACV Auctions. While she never imagined the start-up world would become part of her everyday life, it wasn’t until she returned to Buffalo from New York City that she really got the taste for the tech ecosystem and community.
“I have only had wonderfully positive experiences both within ACV and larger and although the automotive industry isn’t typically female dominated, I think because it’s a tech company within automotive, we have a more welcoming and open to new ideas approach because we are technology. We also have groups like Women of ACV that targets helping women navigate their career.”
Although it can seem intimidating to venture into a new avenue, especially a tech career, it may be just what you’re looking for, and Buffalo has just the support to do it.
“My advice is that all valued skills are transferable, and you can make an impact with those experiences in the tech world, and it’s a great way to flex those skills in a new way while adding real value to a new company.”
Whether tech comes as second nature or is something far out of your area of expertise, the face of this industry is changing, and it may just include you. To find out more about jobs in the startup and tech world visit or to get involved in the 43North community visit 43north.org