Kylie Toh and Morgan Moe are two ambitious ladies. Between them, they have skills in hi-tech, communications, entrepreneurship, community building and startups. You could say they are both kind of geeky, a label they’d both consider a huge compliment!

After attending various startup events, they realized their was an under-representation of women like themselves. They did some research and discovered only 25 per cent of the ICT workforce are women, and only 5 per cent of tech startups are female owned. Both came to conclusion they needed to do something about these numbers, and so became the Chic Geek, an organization striving to increase diversity in the hi-tech and startup communities by educating, engaging and empowering women.

I got the chance to chat with Kylie in detail about the Chic Geek’s creation, and its future within the tech startup community.

Tell us about the Chic Geek’s mission?

The Chic Geek is building diversity in Calgary’s startup community by educating, engaging and empowering more women. Having a diverse startup community is so important because it helps the ecosystem grow and keeps Calgary competitive with other emerging centres.

When did you first realize there was an under-representation of women in Calgary’s startup community?

We were searching for other likeminded women to connect with, who were as passionate and driven about startups, hi-tech, entrepreneurship and innovation as we were.  We were going to a lot of startup events, and looking around the room, it didn’t take long to realize how few women there were. When we found out there was nothing in the community to address this unique problem, we decided to fill the gap and the Chic Geek was born.

Can men be involved?

Yes! We want to engage women AND men. That’s really important to us. We’re never going to change this male-dominated industry if the only ones advocating for change are women. Having the men in our community support this initiative is so important. They’re welcome at all of our events and we encourage them to get involved!

How long did it take to get the idea off the ground?

It took two months for the Chic Geek to get off the ground. Morgan and I met at an event, had instant co-founder chemistry and it snowballed from there. We wanted to share the Chic Geek with the community as fast as possible so we wouldn’t waste time perfecting a concept that wasn’t needed. We’re modifying and tweaking the Chic Geek based on real target audience feedback because that’s the best way for us to serve the community.

How did your kick-off event go?

The kick-off event helped launch the Chic Geek in the community. “IT Factor,” was the theme and it was about the one thing that helped the speakers get to where they are today. Almost 90 people came out to show their support (more than double what we were expecting) and the speakers were amazing – truly inspirational.

Morgan explaining what the Chic Geek does

Kylie explaining the “IT Factor”

Tell us about Ladies Learning Code?

Ladies Learning Code is a non-profit that teaches women and girls basic programming skills. They began in Toronto two years ago and since then, have expanded to chapters in Vancouver, Waterloo, Ottawa, London and Halifax. It uses a mentor approach to teaching, meaning there’s one mentor assigned to every four workshop participants. This builds a customized, collaborative and supportive learning environment that makes women feel comfortable.

The Chic Geek is the driving force behind bringing a Ladies Learning Code chapter to Calgary. Education is such a strong part of the Chic Geek mantra, so the partnership came easily. As Chic Geek co-founders, Morgan and I will also be the Chapter Leads for Ladies Learning Code in Calgary. The close connection helps the two organizations work together to achieve their goals.

Are there any events we can look forward to in the future?

Our next big event is the Ladies Learning Code workshop on Saturday, May 4th. The full-day course covers HTML and CSS, which are two languages used to build websites. The course is geared for women (and men) who have no prior experience programming but want to learn more about it. For more information about our upcoming events, visit www.thechicgeek.ca/events

What is a piece of advice you would give any women thinking of joining a startup?

By nature, startups are ambiguous and require you to wear lots of different hats. Don’t be afraid to jump in and get your feet wet. Be confident in your abilities, be willing to speak your mind and always, always be ready to learn. That sense of curiosity and thirst for knowledge will go a long way.

What does success look like to you?

For us, success comes in many ways – from going to a startup event and no longer being the only woman, to seeing more women excited about learning technical skills. A year from now, I hope the Chic Geek will be a staple in the Calgary startup community that women (and men) are excited to engage with.

What is the most awesome part about doing business in Calgary?

We’ve met so many brilliant, passionate men and women who want to be a part of the Chic Geek. We’re humbled and honoured that they’re as excited about what we’re doing in the community as we are.

What has been your biggest challenge in starting the Chic Geek so far?

Right now, the Chic Geek is a total labour of love for us. Morgan and I both work full-time jobs and we do Chic Geek in the evenings and on the weekends. One of our biggest challenges is finding sponsors to help fund our Ladies Learning Code workshops and Chic Geek events. We’re looking for companies and individuals with similar values to help us expand our reach and hold meaningful events. If this is you or someone you know, please contact Kylie Toh at kytoh4@gmail.com

For more information about the Chic Geek, visit www.thechicgeek.ca or follow them on twitter @chicgeekyyc