Q&A with Co-Founder & CEO of Ms.Tech – Nicole Yeary

In this edition of Catalyst, we talk with Nicole Yeary, Co-Founder & CEO of Ms.Tech, to discuss her co-facilitation of WiSTEM,1871’s premier female entrepreneurial boot-camp and Chicago’s strengths for female-entrepreneurship. WiSTEM’s Cohort 7 is now accepting applications, encourage female founders or co-founders to apply here.


Tell us about your background and how you became interested in entrepreneurship.

I had spent over fifteen years in leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies in various capacities such as Direct Sales, Marketing Services, and Learning Development—including my last few years in a role helping build a startup within a corporation to sell health insurance directly online. However, entrepreneurship came to me in an unexpected way. I was laid off in 2009 after the market crashed in 2008. It was difficult to find a role in marketing or sales again so I found myself learning new technical skills and marketing those skills as an independent consultant while trying to build a healthcare startup that I needed venture capital to scale. 


In 2014 you founded Ms.Tech which helps women start and scale technology and tech-enabled companies. What made you want to start Ms.Tech and how has it evolved over the past few years?  

After being laid off I had started a Facebook group in 2010 where I added women I would meet along my journey who were facing similar challenges. I saw an opportunity where we could be activating each other by hiring each other and propel what we were doing in a larger way. The group grew so quickly (even though it was a private, invite-only group) because of the value the women were bringing around technology and business. In 2014 I had to make the decision to let it go or build something of it.  We became an official entity that year building out a membership business model and inviting current members to elevate their involvement as First Class members. In 2015 we saw an opportunity to partner with 1871 and activate our learning modules into a partnership with the newly announced WiSTEM program—which helps accelerate female founders building high growth technology startups. Ms.Tech has served as convener of women entrepreneurs and women in technology in Chicago. Because of our focus on empowering women in business, Chicago was named the #1 city in the US for women to build a business. We have the highest number of female founders among all top twenty tech hubs globally with 30% of Chicago’s startup founders being women (the global average is 18%).


You’ve developed a strong partnership with 1871 as cofacilitator of the WiSTEM program, which connects women to capital, community, and technology resources.  Could you elaborate more about the partnership, and how did you decide that WiSTEM was the right program to promote women in entrepreneurship?

We have created a tailored experience—a rigorous, yet flexible program structured around the challenges and opportunities faced by women entrepreneurs. This partnership was a great opportunity for us to work together  with an organization who wanted a women’s program yet didn’t have a starting point, content, or a facilitator. We were able to build that for 1871. Together this was empowering for all involved by selecting Ms.Tech, we knew we would be the most committed to developing out a program that was truly based on the needs of the women in our community. Each cohort is unique, and every cohort provides feedback before, during, and after the 12-week program. Both seeking insight, listening, and applying feedback as quickly as possible is an essential part of the success of the program. The ecosystem and tech industry change quickly, and we have to be equally as adaptable—frankly, that happens to be my favorite part of the work we do.


How does WiSTEM’s curriculum and entrepreneurial community work to catalyze early stage, female-founded businesses?  What results have you seen from the program so far?

The customized program is designed to accelerate and cultivate opportunities for women founders building high growth technology companies. Over the twelve weeks together, we cover topics designed to increase business acumen and foster relationships within the startup ecosystem. We facilitate a program where founders who come from various industries and expertise, are different enough yet are on similar journeys and experiencing similar struggles. We create the time and appropriate space for those conversations and discussions to take place. Collectively among our six cohorts (64 women-founded companies and 72 female founders), these companies have; created over 200 new jobs, raised more than $7 million in funding, and generated more than $1.5 million in gross revenues.  Companies have secured client relationships with companies including; Wrigley, Takeda, Disney, P&G, the City of Chicago, the City of Anchorage, BBX Capital, Purina, the top 20 MBA programs in the country, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, CapitalOne, Petsmart, General Mills, Hyatt, Salesforce, Discover Financial, Johnson & Johnson, Hefty, BMO Harris Bank, and After School Matters. Companies have also been accepted into top accelerators such as Ycombinator, Techstars, 500 Startups, DreamIt Ventures, and CivicX Accelerator.


Recent data shows that just 17 percent of funded startups have a female founder and 8 percent of VC firms have at least one female partner. In your view, what steps can be taken to increase the representation of women in entrepreneurship and venture capital? 
We have to see more women placing bets on women. This includes seeing more women investing, but not exclusively at the venture capital level. We can start as small as making our own investments financially as well as our time. For example, investing small amounts in early-stage female-founded startups through platforms like Republic or truCrowd Illinois as well as supporting organizations like DyMynd Angels, InvestHer Ventures, and Ms.Tech! We can start with where we place our bets—we have to start placing more bets on each other.




12 weeks of hard work, grit, and passion culminate in one unforgettable evening as the sixth WiSTEM cohort takes the stage to present their businesses to the Chicago community. Join #1 ranked business incubator, 1871, as they celebrate these twelve amazing companies over pitches, networking, and delicious food and drink from a few of 1871’s favorite diverse caterers. RSVP today.


What We’re Reading