By Norris Krueger
Photography by Emma Thompson
Boise provides sanctuary and growth to such a diverse population of entrepreneurs and doers. We’ve been privileged to see women-led ventures evolve into powerhouses of their respective industries, find growth from personal hardships, and identify innovative solutions that serve the greater good of our community and the world at large. In this edition of ‘Meet the Mentor’, we’ll visit three remarkable women taking Idaho by storm with their brilliant impact and harmonious collision of personal and professional development.
Trillitye Paullin (Trill), Alexis Rankin, and Heather Messenger all participate in VentureCapital.org’s (VCO) powerful, yet deceptively simple, collaborative mentoring model. I’ve been privileged with a ringside seat to see the influence, the interaction, and ultimately the impact these female entrepreneurs have established. The recent VCO Annual Investors Choice Conference shed light into the innate skill housed in these professionals and the underlying emphasis they all have on growth, relationship building, and idea sharing.
Trillitye Paullin – Free to Feed
Trill suggested our “collision” theme. She is ex-military, has a PhD in molecular biology, and has a work history spanning cancer research, a career at Darigold, and eventually allergen detection. Her leap to entrepreneurship came from painful personal collision – two highly food-allergic children.
What could be more frustrating to an expert biologist than experiencing daily, even hourly, the awfulness of not being able to breastfeed because of unknown ingested allergens? Because of her experience, Trill is developing test mechanisms so mothers can detect food allergens in breast milk, plus technology to support them through the process. Up to 25% of babies and mothers are subject to the learning curve that comes along with motherhood and allergen detection and prevention. The only way to do this the right way? Launch a new venture, Free to Feed. (www.freetofeed.com)
Being an entrepreneur empowers her to continue learning and innovating. Moreover, Dr. Paullin points out, “vital mentors such as Heather Messenger have helped me close entrepreneurial knowledge gaps. Heather’s expertise and willingness to be a guide has been instrumental in Free to Feed’s progress over the past several months. I am incredibly appreciative of the time others have taken to help my journey and mission.” Talk about turning an awful experience into a way to help millions.
Alexis Rankin – Chillow
Alexis Rankin had her “aha” moment created from a “oh, bleeping no” moment. Her story starts with a young college-age woman who comes back from vacation to find that her roommate had run off to Vegas with the rent money, leaving only an eviction notice. The frustration of spending even more money to exit one rental and find another was capped by the question, ‘how do I find a trustworthy roommate?’
As Alexis puts it, “It’s hard enough searching for a home, but trying to find a real connection when you’re relying on archaic systems like Craigslist can make you can feel lost and uncomfortable. It really lacks the personal factor that’s key for many people when they’re looking for a new person to share their home with.” For most, the only option is Craigslist. Why isn’t there a way to review, rank and endorse roommates? Finding roommates is hard enough, finding the right one can feel impossible. Chillow (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the answer and is on track to revolutionize the shared housing market.”
When you see a need, it’s logical to fill that need. One part of what makes this venture impactful and powerful, is how extended its reach is. In normal lean startup customer discovery, there are traditionally 100 interviews with potential customers. Chillow completed 500. ‘Only’ 98% were interested, with most saying they’d pay for it – even if they were currently happy with their roommates.
Heather Messenger – Mentor Extraordinaire
One person who is continually teaching and sharing about mentoring is biotech wizard, Heather Messenger. We collided via VCO, where she mentored Alexis and Trill. Heather has worked in all the usual suspect tech hubs, NYC, Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, etc. but she found Boise to be home. Watching her work with entrepreneurs like Alexis and Trill was eye-opening.
As Heather put it, “Don’t get me wrong, landing in a place that spoke to me ‘as home’ and the places in which I grew my career expanded my thinking and capabilities. But they also taught me what not to do; what I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be the kind of person that ‘I’ would want to work with.” With all of VCO’s great mentors, she is definitely someone anyone would want to work with. You’re sure to learn something in every conversation.
Heather’s also perfect for Boise because she sees how our efforts can be “cooperative, valued, and shared – this is how we operate.” This is why she loves what she is able to do with eager and innovative entrepreneurs like Trill and Alexis.
The future is truly, truly bright for women in tech in Boise and around the world. Supportive, collaborative, mentorship and information sharing is the fulcrum of personal and professional development. When problems arise, the collision and synchronicity of solutions and people creates waves of impact that are felt everywhere.