#7: Impact Boss™ Profiles with Katy Lynch of Codeverse
This is the first of my series of Impact Boss™ Profile interviews I am officially launching in 2018 to show various case studies of how passionate individuals all over the place have found opportunity to integrate social impact into both their personal and professional lives.
Introducing Katy Lynch
Hailing from Scotland but based in Chicago, Katy Lynch is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Codeverse, the world's first fully interactive coding school and educational tech platform that teaches kids to code. A seasoned entrepreneur and investor, Katy has cemented her spot as a leader in the Chicagoland tech community as well as an advocate for women in tech. I wanted to talk to her a bit about how she came to find impact opportunity with Codeverse, as well as her general leadership around getting women more voice and equity in the startup and tech communities . . . and starting not one but two companies with serial entrepreneur, Craig Ulliott (who is also her husband!).
Hannah: Ok, let's get started. What was interesting to you when you were growing up? How do you think that influenced what you’re up to today?
Katy: I was born and raised in Scotland, but because of my dad's job, I spent most of my childhood (and late teenage years) bouncing back and forth between the U.K and the U.S.
One of the things I learned, from re-locating so much, was that I had to get used to adapting to new situations very quickly. I constantly had to push myself out of my comfort zone to make friends in unfamiliar places. In every place I've lived, I've found that meeting people from all different backgrounds is fascinating and fun.
In fact, when I 22 years old and applying for my first job in Chicago, one of the requirements of the position was to talk to influential travel bloggers and travel companies from all around the globe. This was a dream position for me, as it allowed me to fully utilize my interpersonal skills, which led to start my first company, SocialKaty.
You have since become a big voice (and success story) in Chicago for women in tech. Tell me why this issue is something you care about, and what steps along your career path you’ve taken to become a voice and advocate in this space?
When I first moved to Chicago back in 2007, I could count on one hand the number of women that attended networking events. It was extremely disappointing and disheartening to see such a lack of women in the tech community. I’d continue to attend events on my own, and every time I saw a woman, I’d make sure I introduced myself and invited them to other social gatherings around the city.
Fast forward to 2017, and things have changed immensely. There has been a lot of media spotlight on Chicago over the past ten years because of the rise of tech companies here: Groupon, Grubhub, Outcome Health, to name a few. We’ve also seen the rise of coworking spaces, VC firms and angel investors, incubators, and tech conferences and tech award shows. The support of the Mayor and city officials has been extremely helpful, too. Now, we are seeing more women-led companies more than ever due to all of these significant changes.
Throughout my career, I’ve been a huge advocate for women in tech (and now, girls in tech with Codeverse). I speak publicly about my experiences as an entrepreneur, and how companies can attract more women in tech. Additionally, I currently take part in Chicago Innovation’s Women’s Mentoring Co-Op. I feel that it is my duty to help women and “pay it forward” since so many bright women helped me when I launched my first business (SocialKaty) back in 2010.
Ok, so you're super involved, which is awesome. How have you helped advance a social issue you care deeply about without feeling like you’re giving away too much of either your talent or your time?
I am doing this now with Codeverse. Every child should learn how to code – no matter who they are, where they are from, and what they want to do in the future. Right now, I am working with various non-profits, schools, and other organizations to bring the Codeverse experience to kids in underrepresented areas.
I personally do not teach children to code. My incredible team of K-12 certified teachers do, using the awesome curriculum that we’ve built. My time is spent working with parents, and having meaningful conversations with companies and orgs that want to work with us to achieve our mission. At Codeverse we found an opportunity to provide access to our expertise to those who may not have it through what we already do best – teaching kids to code!
What opportunity did you see when co-founding Codeverse and how did that turn into the current business model? How has it gone so far?
The opportunity is crystal clear. Technology is advancing at such a fast pace and it is disrupting every industry. It’s critical that kids are set up with the proper tech skills to be able to succeed in this digital day and age. Those that can’t code will get left behind, especially when it comes to finding a job in the future. This is why we really are dedicated to the partnerships we have with nonprofits, because it allows us to expand our impact even further.
All companies will require candidates to have basic coding skills. Even if a child wants to become an artist, a musician, or a comedian when they are older, having the skill of coding is a big asset! Learning to code teaches you how to think and prepares you to interface with the people and the world of tomorrow.
Codeverse exists to teach every kid to code in a fun, engaging, interactive environment. We’re making coding very approachable for kids as young as 6 years old. Our goal is to expand our beautiful studios across the nation (and eventually internationally). We will also be launching SaaS in the near future, which will allow kids to use our software everywhere - at home, in school, at the library, etc.
Was Codeverse in part an opportunity to help advance long term opportunity for women in tech? How are you connecting the dots between the kids you serve today and eventual social change you may want to seek?
Definitely. There is still a lack of women in STEM today, and we are working to change that by exposing girls to the wonderful world of coding at a young age.
As I mentioned earlier, our mission is to teach a billion kids to code. We are partnering with numerous organizations, parent groups, schools, and non-profits to achieve this mission and to ensure that all kids of all backgrounds have the proper tech skills to prepare them for future jobs – and this definitely (and strategically) includes partnerships with organizations that focus on girls.
Codeverse is your and your husband’s second business venture together. What advice would you have for others considering going into something with their significant other and wanting to be sane, solid partners, both in business and at home?
Working with Craig every day is amazing. Our skillsets really compliment each other. I'm extremely extroverted, excitable, and energetic. I love sales, marketing, brand and PR. Craig is wicked smart, analytical, pragmatic. He's the best technologist I've ever met, but he is also creative. We love the people we work with, and we like to roll our sleeves up and lead from the front.
This is important when launching a company. Whether your business partner is your spouse or not, it's crucial to work with someone who compliments your skills, and is as passionate about your business as you are. Starting a business with someone is a lot like marriage, actually. You have to be honest and open-minded, able to work through disagreements, communicate effectively, and be empathetic and understanding.
To stay sane, Craig and I "switch off" and do a lot of fun activities together. We love to travel, and work out together, go out on dates (every Tuesday!), and visit family once a year back home in Scotland.
Let’s get tactical: Where can families in Chicagoland find out more about Codeverse and how do they get their kiddos enrolled?
Excellent question! Parents can learn more about our classes and camps by going to www.codeverse.com. We have a monthly membership, which gets kids access into our state-of-the-art space on a weekly basis. The membership also grants children access to use our software, KidScript, at home. The first class that a child takes at our Lincoln Park location is free!
What about families outside of Chicago or who may not be able to access Codeverse right now for whatever reason? What can they do to help prepare their kids for future economic opportunities - both the boys and the girls?
First and foremost, our own software, KidScript, will be available to the masses in the future, so kids can use that wherever and whenever they wish. Stay tuned for that update!
For parents that want to get their kids involved in coding now, there are all sorts of awesome apps and games to get young ones interested in STEM. Check out Dash and Dot by Wonder Workshop, Cubetto by Primo Toys, and Sphero. I'm also a fan of the book Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas.
Thank you to Katy! Stay tuned in 2018 as I continue to dive into more Intention Driven Impact with more rock stars who have seized their own personal and professional opportunities for impact.