The inspiring women behind the disruptive technologies of Liiingo and Silverdraft
Writer: McCale Ashenbrener
It generally takes five years to earn a black belt in karate. Aspiring students endure an eight-hour fitness test followed by hours of take downs, weapon disarms and board breaks. Andrea Sorensen, founder and CEO of the revolutionary marketing platform Liiingo, was the only adult in a class with her son when she started working on her black belt. She wanted to be an example, while challenging herself out of her comfort zone. “It was humbling to train with my son’s class. If you can fight a bunch of sixteen-year-old red belts, you are well prepared to be an entrepreneur,” Sorensen laughs. For Amy Gile, cofounder of the unique supercomputing firm Silverdraft, she learned discipline and perseverance while getting her black belt. “Business is tough and you need to be ready for whatever scenarios get thrown your way. You can’t be afraid to push through when things get really hard. The ability to breath, have patience, and stay calm also comes in handy!”
Janene Ellefson and Jess Fuhrman first bonded behind the glass nearly 20 years ago. Both women are captains in the men’s hockey league at what is now called the Idaho Central Arena. Their many years on the ice taught them when to go hard against an opponent to win the puck, and to skate with tenacity and heart to uplift the team. Fuhrman, Vice President of Business Development at Liiingo, found her tribe in the hockey community. “We are adrenaline junkies. Anyone who likes to fly around on knives, carrying sticks and slapping hard chunks of rubber at each other must be a little crazy, or very calculated risk takers!” Lessons from the ice translate seamlessly into both their professional experience. “In business you need to be okay with changing on the fly and improvising,” explains Ellefson, the Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Silverdraft. “Just like players moving quickly on the ice, you need to be able to anticipate and strategize your position to best serve your customers and ultimately score a huge goal for your business.”
These four women are Idaho business leaders, mothers, and athletes, uniquely bonded by their tenacious desire to push limits, and translate those skills into their business endeavors. A force to be reckoned with on the ice and on the mat, Andrea Sorensen, Jess Fuhrman, Janene Ellefson and Amy Gile are the face of female leadership in the Boise tech scene. As if Boise wasn’t already on the hot list, this pandemic has exposed just how desirable it is to live here. Women are critical to the growing state’s tech ecosystem, and Silverdraft and Liiingo are on the cutting edge of empowering people’s experience through disruptive technology.
Disruptive technology significantly alters how businesses operate and monetize by using a completely out of the box, innovative approach. Imagine you are opening a bottle of red wine amongst friends on your back patio. Looking over the bottle for a description of the wine, you notice a QR code with a clever call to action: “See where your grapes come from” and “Meet your winemaker.” With one tap you scan the colorful code and are immediately taken to a custom app to read tasting notes, videos and images of the winery, along with stories. Your friend explores another bottle’s QR code and the evening becomes an inspiring adventure learning about bold wine makers and their craft. The problem that Liiingo has cracked the code on, is eliminating sending customers to marketing platforms such as google, Facebook, or another app the customer is forced to download. “We are targeting a problem not an industry,” explains Fuhrman. “The problem is you can’t always be with your customer when they need information or have questions, Covid has even further reduced your ability to be with your audience.”
Silverdraft is a premiere visualization solutions company that is crafted around proprietary computing hardware, software and services. Silverdraft solutions are powering the Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Visual FX, and Artificial Intelligence revolution. Gile got her start in Media and Entertainment as an actor and producer. “I studied the workflow and quickly realized that artists were hindered by technology. I knew there was a better way and if we could speed up the workflow than we could save time and money in production costs and spur creativity.” Virtual production is essentially a green screen replacement and actors perform in front of large LED walls that project content like scenes or landscape. “The entire production is a delicate collaboration of software, game engines, cameras, and other components coming together to perform flawlessly,” explains Ellefson. “The engine powering it all is Silverdraft computing. Without high performance computing bringing those elements together the entire production fails.”
Hollywood was just the beginning for Silverdraft. “We’ve done things like power Madonna’s Augmented Reality performance at billboard music awards in 2019. Most recently our computer made it possible to put virtual fans in the stands with Fox Sports and MLB,” shares Ellefson. “We also enable the car industry to design and build complete cars in virtual reality well before they are even physically built.”
Not only are these women moving the Boise tech scene forward, they are investing in women as tech leaders. Fuhrman is the founding director of an organization (in partnership with the Idaho Technology Council and The Girl Scouts of Idaho) called iWIT (Idaho Women in Technology). “We leverage our leadership and influence to increase support for women led initiatives and organizations. Our goals are to keep more female and minority technology talent in Idaho by organically growing the talent pool through our mentorship ladder for tech professionals down to 4th graders. We exist to empower individuals to understand they can be successful leaders and remove barriers to career pathways currently underserved by women.”
Above her desk, Sorensen displays the first board she broke in her black belt training as a reminder to look past the goal, and to not pull back. “If you aim for the board, you won’t break it. And you’ll hurt your hand. If you aim past the board, then you have the momentum to succeed.” Andrea Sorensen, Jess Fuhrman, Janene Ellefson and Amy Gile embody the vision, commitment to community, and tenacity that will lead and innovative the tech scene in and beyond Boise.
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