Navigating Tech Sector as a Female Founder
Ashley Jennings is currently serving as the Managing Director for the Texas Innovation Center at the The University of Texas.
One of our initiatives at Turing Tech is to expose our team to different perspectives and experiences. This includes meetings, mentorship sessions, and talks by technology executives, senior engineers, and entrepreneurs. Last week, our female crew had an insightful webinar session with Ashley Jennings.
Ashley is currently serving as the Managing Director for the Texas Innovation Center at the The University of Texas. In the past, she has served as the producer of the Al-Jazeera Media Network, America.
She started her career in network news, after two years left her job and then went in-house with Al-Jazeera, and helped them launch their American network. She worked there for four years in New York, and then moved back to Texas. She has also traveled to India, the Middle East, and Europe.
She took off for four months to immerse herself in different cultures and learn about people. Then came back to Austin to launch her own company out of a co-working space with a video production company. That was when she got recruited to help launch the first diversity-focused accelerator for women representing tech founders. She remained an entrepreneur for almost four years before moving into academia. She runs an interest for faculty and graduate students at the Hub to spend their intellectual property in the company through the market.
During the webinar, Ashley talked about her passion for unlocking the potential in entrepreneurial ecosystems where women can take leads and celebrate their ideas. The webinar ended on a high note with an interactive Q & A session, in which Ashley answered questions asked by our team members.
TRAVEL EXPERIENCES AND FINDING HERSELF
Ashley started the webinar by sharing her travel experiences to South East Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia. These journeys were to experience different cultures and people. She traveled to India to figure out “her story”; since her entire life has been around telling other people’s stories. As her entire life was spent in front of the camera, she decided to pursue photography. She did freelance photography while traveling so that she could have a look at what the world looks like from behind the camera. After returning from her travels she moved back to Texas and started her education in tech ecosystems.
EARLY CAREER HARDSHIPS
She shared early career experiences when she was freelancing. She had to rent different apartments every other day. There were days when she slept on an air mattress for three to four months while she was figuring out her career choices.
Covering e-sports was her earliest gig as a journalist. Along with that she hustled on Monday mornings from 5:00 am - 8:00 am to make some extra money for her video production company. Later she shared her role in launching Al-Jazeera's American Network in June 2013.
MOVING INTO TECH ECOSYSTEMS AND DIVERSITY INCLUSION
After moving to New York and working on her entrepreneurial setup, she met many tech enthusiasts and then she realized that’s what she would love to do for the rest of her life. She realized how much she loved working with founders. She found the spirit of tech founders to solve a problem to be very fascinating. Ashley spoke about her tech and co-working space start-ups that she helped launch, DivInc, and Spero Labs, Inc in Texas.
In 2018, she joined academia with a strong focus on ecosystems for marginalized communities. The most interesting idea for her has always been diversity in tech.
HOW CAN ONE AVOID GENDER BIAS IN A CORPORATE SETUP?
Ashley talked about how one can avoid gender bias by letting quality work speak for itself. She doesn’t believe that hard work can ever diminish just because of your gender or race. A good staple for a cultural fit for any organization is what you are contributing towards - in a positive way. If it ever does, then it's important to start a conversation around it, then and there. She also commented on the co-existence of a rising career and a perfect married life for women. Ashley mentioned that this balance can be made with a healthy work-life ratio for both women and men.
At the end of the Q&A session, Ashley thanked the management of Turing Tech for organizing such an inspiring webinar with young women in tech who love to code and design.