Leading up to our second annual Innovation Awards event on Jan. 21, we’re sharing excerpts from interview Q&As with the 51 finalists, one category at a time. Today, we feature our three Innovation in Talent and Diversity honorees.
For information on the virtual awards event, presented in partnership by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, click here. Tickets are just $20.
Executive director, NPower Texas
ON INNOVATION: “Innovation is all about response. As more people turn online to establish and maintain routines during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increased need for trained cybersecurity professionals to keep our critical technology infrastructure safe. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the demand for information security analysts is continuing to grow faster than all other occupations across the country. AT&T has partnered with NPower Texas, a nonprofit that provides free tech training to veterans and military spouses, to expand the curriculum and include virtual cybersecurity training tailored to the immediate needs of top hiring companies.”
2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “Since March, we have pivoted our program to an entirely virtual classroom with great success. Being nimble and focused on student success during this time has helped us to adapt our programs, refine our curriculum, connect students with mentors, and change the lives of individuals in our program. I’m most proud of our staff, many of whom are veterans. Their work during these challenging times provides a steady hand to address the unique challenges veterans have in completing our program and securing a job in cybersecurity.”
LESSON LEARNED: “We’ve all learned to be a little more flexible and to embrace change. The lesson I learned is that while change is constant, the key is for everyone to know the goal...”
RATING DFW: “North Texas is the fifth-largest area for tech jobs in the country, and more companies and entrepreneurs are moving here every day.…”
LOOKING AHEAD: “Tech jobs are only going to grow in number. NPower and AT&T are working together to ensure unemployed or underemployed veterans aren’t left behind... The incredible potential for our veterans is what drives our work...”
CEO and founder, Work Shield
ON INNOVATION: “Innovation is disrupting the marketplace with a new idea, process, or product, with the end goal of changing lives for the better. Often, innovators who come up with a new idea are met with resistance because their idea has never been done before or the status quo works or appears to work, but just because the status quo is working doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be improved upon or questioned… For Work Shield, which is tackling tough issues surrounding how companies cultivate diversity and inclusion to create safer workplaces, it wasn’t simply about creating a different process, but realizing the current system, which appeared to work for years, was actually broken.”
2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “We had to evaluate and modify our existing onboarding process to better service clients whose employees transitioned to working remotely.
Normally, similar to insurance carriers, we mail ID Cards to clients for all of their employees. Given the remote workforce created by COVID-19, that process wasn’t feasible anymore. Our sales, marketing, and client success teams collaborated to create and implement an instant access reporting resource that employees can store on their mobile devices—customized digital ID cards in their Google and Apple Wallet on smartphone devices. ...
The pandemic has also required Work Shield teams to adapt the methodology of how processes are handled, particularly surrounding communication. Knowing the hardships that many Work Shield clients faced during the pandemic, we created ‘The Works,’ a monthly e-newsletter distributed to current clients, which synthesizes and condenses relevant articles and media spotlights highlighting our expertise on managing the challenges of COVID-19 and the workplace, while maintaining a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
Lastly, Work Shield implemented a new A.I. reporting tool that analyzes and tracks toxicity, sentiment, centrality, diversity and inclusion within an organization. This new, innovative tool allows our clients to have a deep understanding of what is happening underneath the surface, while also allowing for actionable insights into creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce...”
LESSON LEARNED: “I’ve always been a fan of ‘controlling what you can control’ and not worrying about anything else. It’s something that I learned selling books door-to-door for three summers while attending TCU. That being said, I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to trust my gut and intuition. Too many times we listen to naysayers as young adults and professionals, or think that another person’s perspective is golden while simultaneously squashing our own. Looking back over the past 20 years, I’ve had some creative ideas and perspectives and allowed naysayers to say ‘that won’t work,’ or ‘that’s a crazy idea, so-and-so company already has the stronghold on that position,’ only to see that same idea or solution implemented by someone else a few years later. The biggest inhibitors to innovation are not the ideas, but the willingness to act on those ideas and take them forward. Believing in your own capability and vision and listening to your inside voice is something that allows us, as a society, to move forward.”
RATING DFW: “North Texas has a global reputation as a metropolitan area rich in innovation and growth. While the DFW area has historically been associated with energy and oil industries, that is definitely not the case now as other sectors have flourished in recent years, such as finance, manufacturing, business services, technology, and healthcare. DFW’s favorable business climate and lower tax rates have also been a draw for many larger out-of-state companies who have recently moved their headquarters to North Texas. The influx of these new companies brings new talent, human creativity, diversity, and fresh perspectives to our market, which I see as huge potential for innovation.
DFW also has over 59,000 small businesses, and many of them are able to grow and innovate through startup capital. It is inspiring as an entrepreneur to grow Work Shield in a dynamic environment and to learn and collaborate with other businesses in North Texas. As the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country, it’s no surprise to me that DFW ranks high in the cultivation of innovation and growth. I went to undergraduate and law school in North Texas, and stayed upon graduation because of the immense opportunity afforded to entrepreneurs and small businesses.”
LOOKING AHEAD: “Despite the challenges 2020 brought, I am inspired by how companies around the globe continue to adapt their businesses in clever and innovative ways. Last year, we collectively faced a COVID-19 crisis, an economic crisis, and a racial injustice crisis. Companies, cultures, and communities are hurting. To come out on the other side of these crises stronger and more resilient, we all need to take a new approach to provide safer workplaces where employees can bring their best selves to work and know that their voices matter, and that they are heard...
What truly excites our team at Work Shield are our client success stories—learning that one of our clients who historically had high turnover prior to implementing the Work Shield solution now enjoys higher retention and a safer workplace for their employees, or learning that employees feel their company is supporting them by providing an avenue where their voices are heard by someone who is listening and responding as well. We are climbing that proverbial mountain one step, one client, one innovation at a time.”
CEO and co-founder, Kanarys
ON INNOVATION: “Innovation means creating unique systems to open up new possibilities in an industry, changing it for the better. Innovation also means working smarter, not harder, and it can help solve problems that people didn’t know existed before. It’s bringing together ideas that will improve our society. At Kanarys, we use the power of innovation to build a unique approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through data, transparency, and accountability to better inform workplaces on their DEI initiatives.”
2020 HIGHLIGHTS: “My co-founder, Star Carter, and I are among only 50 Black women in the United States who have raised over $1 million in venture capital funding. We’ve raised over $1.6 million in our pre-seed funding round and are in active negotiations with investors for their seed round. We recently received an investment from Google, and Kanarys was accepted into their Google for Startups Accelerator Black Founders program this past summer.
Since our launch in 2019, we’ve grown from an idea to a true technology company that has major customers, including Fortune 500 companies, and strategic partnerships with major advocacy organizations, such as the National Urban League and Prospanica. We’ve solidified our importance in the Dallas tech scene, growing our full team to 20 and building a robust board and advisors including executives from Coca Cola, Essence, and PepsiCo.
LESSON LEARNED: “I have been a leader many times during my career and my life, but the demands of being a leader in a startup environment are in a league of their own. It has been even more challenging given the difficulties of leading a business during a pandemic. I have a greater appreciation now than ever before for how important it is to be responsive to my team’s mental health and how, as a leader, it’s up to me to make sure mental health is prioritized. We are a mission-driven company, and I’m so fortunate to have a team full of people so personally devoted to that mission; however, at the end of the day, it is my job to check in with folks on my team, which ultimately gives the team permission to share concerns and feel comfortable taking full advantage of all of the resources we have available. For my team to be at their best, I have had to make sure they are taken care of holistically.”
RATING DFW: “North Texas has been a great environment for us to build Kanarys. The majority of our team, investors, and partners are based here, so we would not be able to have had the success we’re experiencing without the support of our fellow North Texans who are dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, technology, and innovation. We’ve had the opportunity to connect with many other tech founders who have been cultivating the tech space here for many years and feel very grateful to have been welcomed into this tight-knit community.”
LOOKING AHEAD: “I’m excited about helping to shape the future of workplaces where everyone can work where they belong. I hope to see a world where the next generation feels empowered and included to be themselves in the workplace. I hope to see companies step up and create change from within, leading to a more diverse and inclusive society overall. Additionally, as a mother, I hope to see a world where, when my children enter the workplace, they enter a much more equitable and inclusive workplace. I am excited to be part of that change.”
Click here for more information on The Innovation Awards.