We designed the Baltimore Women in Tech (BWiT) Micro Grant program to help women get more involved with the local Baltimore tech scene. Our original plan was to provide $5,000 in funding to help get grassroots ideas off the ground.
These grassroots programs were organized by women, for women. With the exception of SmartLogic's president, who signed the checks, everyone involved in the program was a woman. Our seven-woman selection committee included Claudia Jolin-Freeland of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, Valerie Walters of emocha Mobile Health, Jacqueline Albright of the ETC, Ellen Ambrose of Protenus, and Ashley Jean of mdlogix. Two of us represented SmartLogic, Paige Bolduc and myself.
Together, we looked at the potential impact each project would have on the city, and the project's creativity, innovativeness, and capacity to grow. The selection committee wanted to fund programs that would be able to grow and really make a deep impact on women within the city.
We were successful in that endeavor with the eight projects we sponsored: Moms Who Tech, Rosie's List (now known as Queer Women's Network), B-360, Baltimore's Gifted: Art & E-commerce, the Wearable Electronics Workshop, Decode Me Space, Internet Intelligence, and Girls in Tech Day.
We originally planned to provide $5,000 in funding with a maximum of $1,000 for any single project. After all the applications were reviewed, the selection committee requested an additional $950 for funding, bringing the total to $5,950. The recipients were permitted to use the grant money for almost any expenses associated with their projects.
By the end of the program, we had dispersed $4,041 of the $5,950 approved. Three of the eight projects weren't completed. Of the five programs that were completed, two were slightly under budget, and the fifth came in right at budget.
Each of the projects we funded succeeded in making a sizable impact on our community. What follows is a high-level overview; more details are provided in the Baltimore Women in Tech Micro Grants Program Impact Report.
Overall, the program affected over 1,300 people in the Baltimore area, who ranged in age from 3 to 50+. They included elementary and high school students, college students, moms, queer women in tech, professional women, and event the State's Attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, who spoke at Decode Me Space's inaugural event.
During the 18 BWiT-sponsored events, grantees provided 145.75 hours of programming. These programming hours were spent teaching moms valuable technology skills for their businesses; female high school students how to program Arduino necklaces; young adults and children important STEM skills via dirt bikes; and young adults how to deal with emotions that stem from bullying.
Photo from Facebook
Websites were created for Decode Me Space and Queer Women's Network, the latter still in beta testing. The recipients formed nine new partnerships with various Baltimore institutions as a result of the program with other organizations such as Year Up, Liberty Rec Center, GLCCB, and the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland.
Expectations and Realizations
When SmartLogic decided to host the Baltimore Women in Tech (BWiT) Micro Grant Program, I knew I would have a lot to learn about organizing and running a micro grant program - and boy was I right about that.
Paige Bolduc and I both learned a lot. I'll break down the lessons we learned, to give any aspiring micro grant program organizers guidance, and to give applicants a look behind the scenes. Feel free to comment with any advice or feedback on how the BWiT Micro Grant Program can do better.
Paige and I had expectations about what might happen. Some expectations were met, others weren't.
- Chelsea's Expectation: Angry men on social media would call the program sexist.
Realization: Almost all of the mentions on social media and the internet were positive. Most people seemed to understand this program was coming from a good place. In fact, there was only one negative mention on one Reddit post, and other people quickly shut it down.
- Chelsea's Expectation: It would be difficult to find women for the selection committee, since this was the first year for the program.
Realization: Every women who was invited quickly said yes, and they were all excited to be a part of something new.
- Paige and Chelsea's Expectation: We would only receive about 20 applications.
Realization: By the time the April 21st deadline rolled around, we had received 32 applications. Everyone was thrilled about this number since we did the bare minimum with marketing. We were also pleasantly surprised that most of the applications came in well before the deadline, so the majority could go to the selection committee before the first selection meeting. The pace of submissions streamlined the review process, and we were able to read all of the applications well before the final selection committee meeting.
- Chelsea's Expectation: Lots of women would attend the virtual information sessions.
Realization: We scheduled two different virtual information sessions. For the first session, no one showed up to the hangout. I would be lying if I said I wasn't slightly discouraged at that point, but it was still early in the program, which made me feel a little better. For the second session, we had one person apart from Paige and me on the hangout, but we answered a ton of questions from that one person.
- Paige and Chelsea's Expectation: There would be some impressive project proposals.
Realization: Almost all of the applications received were impressively crafted and presented creative and inspiring plans for action. Neither Paige nor I anticipated how difficult it would be to select the grantees. In fact, it was so difficult that SmartLogic ended up awarding more grant money than originally planned.
- Paige's Expectation: Most of the applications would be for new ideas, rather than existing initiatives.
Realization: we received many applications for starting new projects, but also quite a few focusing on expanding existing projects. It was inspiring and eye-opening to learn about some of the women-led initiatives already thriving in Baltimore.
- Paige and Chelsea's Expectations: Once the grantees were announced, we wouldn't hear much about the projects until reading their final reports.
Realization: Maybe it's just a case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but it seemed like the names of the BWiT recipients and news of their projects were popping up all around last summer and fall. For example, Brittany Young & C. Harvey were selected to be part of the US Red Bull Amaphiko Academy a few weeks after they were awarded a BWiT micro grant. Paige even noticed Tammira Lucas' name on Baltimore Star Walk. We probably wouldn't have really noticed those things if it wasn't for the BWiT program. Additionally, we were able to go see a few of the projects underway in person, and it was even cooler than we imagined.
- Chelsea's Expectation: Once the grantees were selected, I would have almost constant communication with the recipients.
Realization: All of these women, myself included, are extremely busy, so the communication was not constant. We did communicate more or less monthly, which struck a great balance of keeping each other in the loop without drowning one another in emails.
- Chelsea's Expectation: The recipients wouls submit receipts for reimbursement as they spent the money.
Realization: Most of the recipients sent their reimbursements in one or two batches. They would typically wait until they had spent half of the micro grant before they submitted any receipts. I expected to constantly receive receipts for various amounts, but in reality, I received only two batches of receipts for every recipient.
- Chelsea's Expectation: Only about a quarter of the projects would be completed.
Realization By the time the program finished, 5 of the 8 recipients had completed their projects, and the program wrapped up about 2 months after the original October 31st deadline.
I am really happy with the outcomes of the program. I felt like we went through a thoughtful process of selecting both the selection committee and recipients. I made a lot of new friends and great connections, and I was happy to be a part of a program that worked to empower women in tech.
I would like to see us host the program again in 2018 with some changes:
- Secure more funding. In a perfect world, I would like us to be able to double the amount of funding we make available.
- Partner with other organizations. I think we could have made a greater impact on the recipients - and their projects and the people their projects impacted - if we had partnered with other progressive organizations in town.
- Do a better job of getting the word out. In its first year, the program was promoted almost exclusively through Facebook and word of mouth. If we had done a better job of promoting the program we probably would have received more applicants.
- Update the application. I would like to see the application updated to allow applicants to provide more project details that would help the selection committee make more informed decisions.
- Create a more concrete set of guidelines. The selection committee didn't have any concrete guidelines for selecting the projects. It would be useful to create something more concrete to use.
As of right now we are debating internally whether or not to host the program again in 2018. We are actively interested in hearing your thoughts. What did you think about the program? If we ran the program again in 2018 (with some modifications) would you be interested in helping organize? Get in touch!