When she was in her mid-twenties, Amu Fowler left Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, where she was born and raised, and took her design agency with her.
She moved to to the U.S. with her husband in order to grow her business, which became Akai Technologies, a web product development studio based in Reston. That was her first introduction to the D.C. tech scene and there were definitely some things she had to change about the way she did business.
“The culture in Japan is very different – you don’t self-promote and it’s better to be humble,” Fowler, 32, wrote in an email. “I found here that you must aggressively self-promote and ‘Fake it till you make it,’ which was hard initially.”
Now she’s running Startups Ignite, a consultancy for startups she founded in 2015 that focuses on entrepreneurs in the Fairfax and Loudoun area. The company offers support in three ways, she told us: a community of mentors, a ten-week startup ideation course and Entrepreneur NightConf, “a mini conference designed with the evening startup warrior in mind.” Startups Ignite held their second NightConf event this month, and the third one is scheduled for Oct. 19.
Startups Ignite originally started as the Coders and Startups Meetup in 2014, born from Fowler’s realization of the lack of support for startup founders in the Reston area and the problems she saw when she worked with early-stage startups.
“With Akai Technologies, I worked with startups and quite often they were building the wrong features for the stage of their company,” Fowler said to us in a phone interview earlier this month. “It was hard to tell them what not to build and the right things to do because all they wanted from us was to build the features they wanted.” Founders, she learned, can be stubborn. At Startups Ignite, she helps entrepreneurs figure out what they do need.
Startups Ignite is currently working with startups like wearable device company ErgonometriX, which was part of the inaugural class for Relevant Health’s health-tech accelerator program, and Reciprocare, the idea that won last year’s Startup Weekend DC “Flip the Ratio” hackathon that aimed to engage more women participants.
Fowler has long been self-taught. She went to a private school in Japan but didn’t attend university, which meant a lot of studying on her own. As someone who gets “easily bored,” she ended up teaching herself photography, coding, design and search engine optimization.
“Ever since I was a kid I liked to take things apart and learn what’s on the inside,” she said. “So learning the basics — not just the tools but the underlying reasons why — is important so you know how to accelerate from your foundation.”
These days, she’s not taking things apart so much as building — she recently took up woodworking and builds little tables and shelves in her garage. She also tries to spend as much time as she can with her eight-year-old son, who’s turning out to be quite the thinker himself. The Loudoun school system is one of the things she said she loves about the area. Now she’s just gotta get the NoVa startup scene moving.
— Amu Fowler (@AmuFowler) March 9, 2015