A little more than a decade ago, Gloria Bell decided to take a leap in a new direction.
She already had a background in tech and startups, but was staring at a new challenge — nonprofit work — to support the Women in Tech Summit and youth tech education org TechGirlz as events and marketing manager. She told Technical.ly last year that the decision to make that change felt like jumping headfirst into the unknown, a scary but overall rewarding experience.
Now, Bell is ready to jump again.
‘A new direction’ for the Women in Tech Summit
For the past three years, the Women in Tech Summit and TechGirlz have operated under Chicago-based Creating IT Futures, a nonprofit arm of IT trade organization CompTIA. TechGirlz founder Tracey Welson-Rossman said at the time of its 2019 acquisition that the move was an indication the Philly-based org’s work was valued by the larger organization.
As of this week, Bell has launched her own nonprofit, tentatively called the Inspiring Tech Foundation, which will run the Women in Tech Summit and eventually other programs. The move comes after Creating IT Futures began shifting its programming to focus more on youth, which the org has moved toward because of its work with TechGirlz, Bell said. (CompTIA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on this shift.)
That left the WITS, which focuses on adult training, education and professional development, with an opportunity to “look in a new direction,” Bell said.
“I wanted to explore running my own nonprofit, and they were wonderful in working with me in how could we look at the direction I wanted to go, and where Women in Tech Summit might fit into that,” Bell said.
She ultimately decided to try her hand in a role she has yet to hold: executive director. Her last day with the Chicago org was June 17.
Though the change in leadership is coming, expect the usual rundown for WITS for at least the next year, Bell said. The org will throw the fall 2022 virtual summit on Oct. 20 and 21, and the regional WITS conferences will happen across 2023 in Philadelphia, DC, Chicago, Denver and Raleigh. The conferences will continue to cover all aspects of a tech career, with speakers, education and networking for folks who are students through experienced technologists. Bell said the org will also be exploring additional programming, though she’s not yet sure what that will look like.
“One of the reasons for forming it was to have umbrella organization for those opportunities, whether it’s event opportunities, education opportunities … really, the sky’s the limit,” Bell said.
TechGirlz will stay under Creating IT Futures as it continues to grow, fulfilling the goals of the acquisition, Welson-Rossman told Technical.ly.
“I am excited by the future paths of TechGirlz and Women in Tech Summit,” Welson-Rossman said in an email. “The acquisition of both organizations by Creating IT Futures in 2019 was meant to take them to their next level of growth.”
Running a nonprofit with a ‘startup mentality’
Though Bell has run companies and sat in leadership positions of nonprofits — her LinkedIn boasts names like O3 World, Philly Startup Leaders and her own consultancies — she’s not yet held an executive director role. But through her time at TechGirlz and in watching other local nonprofits, she knows she’s entering this next chapter with her past experience as a founder guiding her.
“I will make sure I am running this nonprofit with some of the startup mentality,” Bell said. “If I run it lean, on a shoestring, I’m much more likely to be successful. You also have to remember that nonprofit is very much about service, but there’s a lot of great lessons from startup culture that translate really well into running a nonprofit.”
Her focus now is on the planning of the fall virtual summit and returning to in-person events next year. Though the Inspiring Tech Foundation and the position are new, Bell isn’t starting from ground zero. She has 11 years of WITS’ history to lean on.
“It’s a very exciting and a little bit scary,” she said. “I’m the right amount of scared, though. If anyone that tells you they’re not scared about starting something new, they probably shouldn’t be starting it.”
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