Clarity employees Brittany Vacchiano and Katy Franzen were selected to participate in the 2017 Chicago Innovation Women Mentoring Co-op, a program that connects female business leaders with women who demonstrate an interest in innovation and developing their careers or businesses.

The recently launched program, run by Chicago Innovation, is divided into two, six-month cohorts. In its efforts to support local women in the entrepreneurship and innovation communities at large, the co-op mentors include successful female innovators from a cross-section of industries.

In addition to a minimum commitment of eight hours of one-on-one mentoring, the co-op provides access to an expanded professional network with the LinkedIn participant group, personal connections and introductions through mentors, tickets to eight Chicago Innovation events, and more. One of this year’s events, Celebrating Women in Innovation, featured a two-panel discussion with public and private sector speakers including Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, and Mary Ellen Weber, Principal of Stellar Strategies and former NASA astronaut.

Applications for the first cohort of 2018 are currently being accepted through October 31st. The application requires a measurable project goal which, if accepted, is used to match mentees to mentors and serves as a starting point for the mentorship.

Both Clarity participants encourage women to take advantage of this opportunity with the Women Mentoring Co-op, and share their experiences below.

Brittany Vacchiano

Cohort: 1, January – June

Mentor: Shelley Stern-Grach, Director of Civic Engagement at Microsoft Chicago

Project: During the mentorship, Shelley and I discussed finer details about a technical project that I’d like to implement that would benefit the city of Chicago. For this project, I discussed starting a hackathon or technical incubator on the south/southwest side of the city, where I grew up and now live. I believe that there is great need for such events in that area, where access to the loop or downtown may be difficult. This hackathon or technical incubator would teach people of any age and skill level how to use and implement different technologies in their businesses and everyday lives.

Experience: Shelley introduced me to people and organizations that could help me move my project forward throughout the length of the mentorship program. While my 6-month program is over, I’m still currently working with people and organizations to figure out a plan to implement the project in the future. I feel like this mentorship program gave me the tools that I need to complete the project without fail and my mentor is still there to support me throughout the process, even after the program’s end.

Benefits: There were many major benefits of the program, the first being the awesome women-centered events that introduced all the mentees to other prominent women in the city. These women are really moving Chicago forward in many different disciplines including technology, law, and social services. Another major benefit that I received from the program was the ability to shoot ideas off Shelley even after the program ended. Finally, the last major benefit was being introduced to an awesome organization called Connect Chicago. I look forward to continuing to work on this project in the future and using the connections I’ve made from this program to advance the project forward.

Katy Franzen

Cohort: 2, July – December

Mentor: Paige Ponder, CEO at One Million Degrees

Project: My proposed project was to start a working database of educational opportunities in Chicago (fieldtrips) and develop a streamlined workflow to help educators get their students outside the classroom. This was a huge pain-point for me when I was in the classroom, and I feel like there is still an opportunity, especially for Chicago Public Schools, to aggregate data and make it accessible to busy educators.

Experience: Paige and I initially met at the program’s kickoff and she sent me some information to research regarding innovation that is currently happening in education. My project is continuing to develop, with the connections I’ve made through Paige, and I’m looking forward to combining efforts with groups already making an impact in this space.

Benefits: I’m really excited about the program’s networking opportunities and the openness of the women (mentors and mentees) to meet, share insights, and connect people to their own networks. Regardless of any tangible outcomes, I’m excited to be a part of this group of inspiring women and get to know Paige as a leader in the non-profit world.