SmartLogic's 2018 Baltimore Women in Tech Micro Grant Program: A Look Back

Program Overview

We originally designed the Baltimore Women in Tech (BWiT) MicroGrant program to help women get more involved with the local Baltimore tech scene. This year’s plan was to provide $7,000 in funding to help get some women-led grassroots ideas off the ground. We were able to increase this year’s budget by $2,000 thanks to a generous sponsorship from Bold Yellow.

We really wanted these grassroots programs to be organized by women, for women. Like last year, almost everyone involved in the program was a woman. Our seven-woman selection committee included Olivia Brundage of MapBox and charmCityJS, Kayla Tullis of Philips, Qubilah Huddleston of Code in the Schools, Dianne Eramo of Allovue, Lauren Olasov of Under Armour, Paige Finkelstein of SmartLogic, and myself.

When looking at the applications, the selection committee focused on a couple of different things. We looked at each program’s creativity, sustainability, potential for completion, and intended audience. These focuses are quite similar to last year’s, but we took a bit of a harder look at the programs since this was the second year. We wanted to ensure that these programs would make the impact that we and the applicants expected.

After reviewing all of the applications, the selection committee decided to grant $7,795 to eight projects:

By the end of the program, we had dispersed $7,595.68 of the of the $7,795 approved. This year saw all eight projects being completed, but not all of the projects used all of their budgets. Three projects came in slightly under budget, and one project came in slightly over budget. The other four projects came in right on budget.

Impact Overview

The projects we funded succeeded in making a sizeable impact on our community, and ranged from a soldering workshop at a local library to raising awareness around the blight issue in Baltimore. What follows is an extremely high-level overview; more details, including project details, are provided in the 2018 Baltimore Women in Tech Micro Grants Program Impact Report.

Overall, the program impacted over 1,900 people in Baltimore and beyond, a 46% increase over last year’s impact of roughly 1,300 people. This includes BWiT applicants, BWiT grantees, the selection committee, BWiT sponsors, program attendees, and virtual program attendees. Of that 1,900 number, 57.9% of the people impacted were impacted via in-person programming; the other 39% were impacted via virtual programming.

Save it with Soldering!

Photo Courtesy of Liz Sundermann-Zinger

During the course of the Baltimore Women in Tech Micro Grants program, there were 18 BWiT related events ranging from a drone workshop to a panel conversation on the state of Black Women in Tech in Baltimore. Grant funding was used to support these events through direct sponsorship, training, facilities, and equipment purchase.

The events had great feedback this year, and several grantees made it a point to get comments from participants. Some of this feedback includes:

  • “This was a powerful event on so many levels, to include diversity, visibility, and information sharing. I would just like to see more of this type of dynamic interaction across the state.”
  • “This is my first soldering class, and I have to say it was awesome and I learned a lot.”

In addition to having great feedback, one of the events, We the Rosies, was attended and promoted by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame.
Photo Courtesy of Jen Schachter

Photo Courtesy of Jen Schachter

Lessons Learned

When SmartLogic decided to host the Baltimore Women in Tech (BWiT) Micro Grant program for the second time, I knew there would be some changes, but I didn’t expect much to be different from the first year.

Like last year, I learned a lot. I’ll break down the lessons learned, to give any aspiring micro grant program organizers guidance, and to give this year’s applicants a look behind the scenes. Feel free to comment with any advice or feedback on how the BWiT Micro Grant Program can do better; I’m always looking for constructive criticism.

  1. Expectation: People would be relatively interested in funding the program.
    Realization: It was quite complicated to actually get sponsors because we are not a non-profit. This meant that some organizations who were interested in sponsoring us couldn’t do so because of our tax classification.

  2. Expectation: More women would attend in-person informational sessions as opposed to last year’s virtual sessions.
    Realization: The in-person interview sessions were far more successful than last year’s virtual information sessions because we were able to host an informational session at Open Works Baltimore. Open Works was able to schedule the informational session to coincide with the Moms As Entrepreneurs Moms Maker Academy. Several of the mom makers were interested in learning more about the program, so we had a full informational session. Had the session not coincided with the Moms Maker Academy, I don’t think it would have been successful.

  3. Expectation: Most of the applications would be for existing initiatives, rather than new initiatives.
    Realization: In reality, the application was probably split 50/50 with half of the projects being new while the other half were existing. I was quite happy with the split as I feel like the new projects show that the Baltimore tech landscape is expanding while the existing programs are still being supported by the community.

  4. Expectation: Most applicants would submit right before the deadline.
    Realization: Last year, most of the applications came right before the deadline. I expected this year to be the same, but it wasn’t. The applications were fairly spread out, and there wasn’t one big rush of applications. Instead, they started to come in fairly consistently starting about two weeks before the deadline.

  5. Expectation: About 75% of the projects would be completed.
    Realization: Going off of last year’s program, I thought that only about 75% of the projects would be completed. However, we had a 100% completion rate! I would love to take credit for that, but I don’t think the completion rate could be attributed to anything we did or didn’t do. I believe we were able to award the micro grants to people who were at a point in their lives where they could focus on their micro grant projects.

Moving Forward

I was ecstatic with this year’s program. The program constantly met and outperformed my expectations. It seems like the community has really embraced the idea, and I hope to see the program continue to evolve.

If we host the program in 2019, I would like to see a few changes:

  • Secure more funding. I am very thankful for Bold Yellow’s support, and I would love to see more funding for the program.
  • Award grants on a rolling basis. While this might be more work, I would love to be able to award grants on a quarterly basis as opposed to once a year. I think this would be interesting to implement and see the different projects throughout the year.
  • Open the program to additional minorities in tech. While I am devoted to increasing women in technology, I’m also aware that there are other groups that are minorities in the tech industry, and I would love to provide them an opportunity to apply for a micro grant.
  • Get more women from math and science careers to apply. I would like to see this micro grant program become more STEM centered as opposed to being predominantly technology and engineering related. I believe the program has room for every woman under the STEM umbrella.

As of right now, we haven’t made any decisions about the 2019 program. I would love to hear any thoughts, ideas, or comments you have about the program; feel free to get in touch with any and every question you have! I can be reached at [email protected].

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