How a Young African Co-founder Landed in Silicon Valley: 3 Questions with TechWomen’s Amanda Gicharu-Kemoli

Dec 08, 2017
Amanda Gicharu-Kemoli at the Golden Gate Bridge
Amanda Gicharu-Kemoli at the Golden Gate Bridge

TechWomen is a five-week program, which brings emerging women leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East together with their professional counterparts in the United States for a mentorship and exchange program. Participants engage in project-based mentorships at leading companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, as well as participate in professional development workshops and networking events. To conclude the program, fellows travel to Washington, D.C. The fellowship includes: round-trip international airfare from participant home country to the U.S., domestic airfare from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., housing and hotel stays during the mentorship, meals and incidentals, and local transportation to the participant’s host company and group program events.

Eligible participants are women from Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East with at least two years of professional experience, who are engaged in professional careers that require expertise in the STEM fields, and who are (or have the potential to become) role models for women and girls.

To learn more about this unique fellowship opportunity, we spoke with Amanda Gicharu-Kemoli, a 2016 TechWomen Fellow alumna from Kenya.

1. What inspired you to apply for the TechWomen Fellowship?

I’m a Kenyan-born Afro-optimist who believes that African youth must come up with homegrown solutions to Africa’s problems. I am a strong believer in leading by example and have strived to practically demonstrate that Africans are innovators in their own right. I co-founded Tech Republic Africa (TRA), a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education provider dedicated to increasing capacity, engagement and innovation in technology.

I was inspired to apply for the TechWomen fellowship as it brings the best and the brightest women from across the world together to exchange ideas and perspectives. Being part of a network of strong and accomplished women not only opened up business opportunities and genuine friendships for me, it also provided a source of encouragement. The women I met during the program are superheroes – they are amazing mothers, professionals, entrepreneurs and scientists. They challenged the norms within their societies, overcoming immense barriers to become success stories.

Additionally, knowing that any entrepreneur cannot succeed alone, the mentorship opportunities offered by the TechWomen fellowship were highly beneficial to my initiative. Having only recently started my education program, the fellowship was an introspective journey of discovery, in which I learned how to build sustainable solutions, while receiving support to manage the personal challenges that come along with being a social impact leader.

With Dr. Mary Ellen Weber, a consultant for STELLAR Strategies, LLC and a retired NASA astronaut
With Dr. Mary Ellen Weber, a consultant for STELLAR Strategies, LLC and a retired NASA astronaut

2. What are the benefits of the fellowship?

The TechWomen fellowship is an opportunity to unleash your true potential. This unique program is heavily focused on mentorship and leadership training geared at refining both your technical and professional skills.

I was hosted at Disney, where my dedicated mentors helped me understand the Disney Interactive mobile game development strategy and production pipeline, from concept to post-release. This entailed exposure to critical digital consumer product teams including: design, engineering, art, product management, business development, user acquisition, marketing, analytics and studio heads, alongside senior execs at director and VP level.

Various Silicon Valley-based companies including LinkedIn, Symantec, Synopsis, Microsoft and Google hosted the entire TechWomen cohort, facilitating professional workshops on topics such as leadership, innovation and pitching skills.
Additionally, each country team was assigned impact coaches who guided us through the process of formulating action plans for community projects to be implemented after we returned home. Our project was centered on providing learning equipment to marginalized rural schools in Kenya. We successfully pitched our idea at the TechWomen showcase and won seed funding to execute a pilot.

The TechWomen program also organized exciting cultural experiences such as visits to historical sites around San Francisco, a scavenger hunt around Washington D.C.’s popular attractions and a visit to the White House. The combination of both professional and leisure activities deepened authentic connections while enabling us to engage in the best of American work and culture.

Impact Design Workshop at Autodesk (1)
Amanda at the Impact Design Workshop at Autodesk

3. What tips would you give others applying to the TechWomen Fellowship?

The TechWomen fellowship is highly selective with a 4% acceptance rate. In 2016, I was excited to be one of the 100 women from 20 countries selected from a pool of over 2,300 applicants. The TechWomen application process is one of the most rigorous that I have ever completed. With several essays and an in-person interview, it calls for a deep reflection on one’s professional goals, leadership contributions, commitment to innovation, community building and entrepreneurial traits.

Through the application process, I had to will myself to be bold and enthusiastically demonstrate my accomplishments and what value I would add to the TechWomen network. In my responses, I narrowed my focus, letting my passion for STEAM education in Africa shine through. Being specific about my service-based vision made it easier to address the questions, making my submission more clear and distinct.

Interested in applying? Bookmark TechWomen to your ProFellow account.

Amanda Gicharu-Kemoli had a career in marketing at Google and the United Nations, but her passion for community development led her to education. She is the co-founder of Tech Republic Africa, a social enterprise that creates technology-driven education experiences for African youth, to increase capacity and innovation within the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) fields. Amanda is an UNLEASH SDG Talent, Anita Borg Change Agent Award Winner, American Express Ashoka Emerging Innovator, Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellow and Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Fellow. A respected thought leader in entrepreneurship and innovation, Amanda contributes to several African media outlets and speaks at regional entrepreneurial and tech events.

© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved.