10 Innovative Women Making History in the Twin Cities’ Tech Space

10 Innovative Women Making History in the Twin Cities’ Tech Space


The Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence has compiled a list of 10 women within the Twin Cities who are advocating and influencing changes that are dismantling barriers for women and underrepresented people to gain fair and equitable access to education, careers and leadership roles in the information technology sector: 

Shawntera Hardy, Cofounder of Civic Eagle 

Shawntera Hardy is co-founder and chief of strategy for Civic Eagle, a national consulting firm that uses technology to promote better democratic outcomes for people and their communities.  She was formerly commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).  Prior to serving as DEED commissioner, Hardy was deputy chief of staff in the office of Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, where she worked on a wide range of policy and operational issues. She also helped lead the governor’s efforts to diversify state government and expand economic opportunity for Minnesotans of color and Minnesotans with disabilities. 

Because of her belief that the most effective leaders are learners first, she was awarded an 18-month Fellowship with the Bush Foundation in 2018. Shawntera is leveraging funding and resources made available through the fellowship to pursue advanced training in business administration, executive leadership and design thinking. She seeks to expand her understanding of the business ownership system and to study promising ideas and models that deliver practical and creative solutions. 


Source: Bush Foundation

Julie Gilbert, founder & CEO at The Julie Gilbert Group

Julie is recognized as an inventive global technology CEO, Fortune 50 Executive, CPA, Investor, Corporate Board Director, and Big 4 Strategy, Marketing, and a Financial Professional known for creating explosive growth-focused strategies, culturally engaging approaches, and digital and company-wide transformation.  She has a passion for building game-changing growth in business and globally elevating good humans simultaneously.

She has created and scaled 8 highly successful businesses and cultures and led transformations across global Fortune 50 and 500 organizations.  She is repeatedly tapped to architect and lead turnarounds, reinventions, and enterprise business transformations for B2C and B2B organizations.  She has impacted industries in financial services, consumer products and services, technology, retail, healthcare, entertainment, and manufacturing. She is a three-time TED speaker.

Gilbert is one of only 325 global Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellows in a 20-year span chosen for her values-based leadership and entrepreneurial skills.  She has been honored by The White House Project, Top 40 Women in Business, Huffington Post’s Innovator of the Year 2010, and multiple Fortune 50 top Innovation awards.

In the Twin Cities, Gilbert is recognized and respected for creating the Women’s Leadership Forum (WOLF) in 2003 to help women inside Best Buy network with each other and improve their leadership skills.  She was the 2nd woman to win the Grand Prize of the Minnesota Cup as well as the Technology division in 2012.  Julie is an artificial intelligence expert and routinely consults and coaches digital transformations in the AI and machine learning spaces — her strategic thought leadership has created significant financial growth for companies globally.


Source: The Julie Gilbert Group

Sharon Kennedy Vickers, Chief Information Officer, City of Saint Paul 

Sharon serves residents in the City of Saint Paul and the global civic technology community as Mayor Melvin Carter’s Chief Information Officer (CIO). As CIO, she helps the City of Saint Paul leverage data and technology as a strategic asset to create more equitable, innovative, and resilient communities.

Sharon began her career as a software engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University and the University of Minnesota. She served as a CIO for the Community Action Partnership, a national nonprofit organization providing social services to three southern metro counties in Minnesota. As someone intentionally focused on creating an inclusive innovation economy, Sharon is co-founder of Techquity, Co-Organizer of Code Switch (a civic hackathon) and Open Twin Cities, a civic technology group and Code for America brigade.

Sharon is a 2018 Bush Fellow, which expands her capacity to lead a “tech for good” movement, harnessing the power of inclusion, technology and community assets to drive equitable economic opportunity and growth for all Minnesotans. She aims to make Minnesota the best place in the country to launch and grow technology products that have a positive social impact.


Source: Minnebar

Mary Grove, Partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund

Grove is a Partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund where she leads some of the fund’s investments in a range of sectors. She also manages the portfolio engagement platform to support the Rise of the Rest portfolio companies across the pillars of technology & tools, education, and community.

Prior to joining Revolution, Mary spent 15 years at Google sites in Silicon Valley, New York City, and Zurich. She was the founding Director of Google for Entrepreneurs and led the company’s global efforts to support entrepreneurs and communities in over 100 countries. She also led New Business Development partnerships and worked on the company’s IPO deal team. 

Mary is also the co-founder of Silicon North Stars, a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire teenage Minnesotans from economically underserved communities toward futures in tech. She has served on the boards and advisory boards of the Techstars Foundation, Astia, UP Global, and the Stanford Alumni Association.


Source: Revolution Rise of the Rest Seed Fund

Shonnah Hughes, Global Product Growth & Innovation at Salesforce

The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industry is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide; it is also one of the least diverse. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, Black and Hispanic workers are underrepresented in the STEM workforce populations. Blacks comprise 11 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but only 9 percent of the STEM workforce; Hispanics comprise 16 percent of the U.S. workforce and only 7 percent of the STEM workforce.

That is why Minneapolis native Shonnah Hughes teamed with Selina Suarez, Rebe de la Paz, and Stephanie Herrera to launch PepUp Tech in 2016. The New York-based nonprofit works to bridge the technical divide by introducing and training young people in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industries. PepUp’s primary goal is to ensure students of color are prepared and available for career opportunities in a specialized field that might not otherwise be available to them.

In addition to PepUp Tech, Hughes travels the world helping enterprises augment their workforce as a SalesForcee DreamForce Admin. As one of the early adopters of the SaaS leader, she attributes her success to the company’s community approach to training. 


Source:  Spokesman Recorder

Lisa Scholsser, Executive Director at Technovation[MN]

Schlosser has over 30 years of experience in information technology.

She fell in love with mathematics at the same age as the students in the Technovation[MN]  program she serves as the organization’s first Executive Director. Lisa was the Interim Chief Executive Officer and President of the Minnesota High Tech Association. Before that, she was Chief Technology Officer for the FindLaw business of Thomson Reuters.

She has continued to apply her strong problem-solving skills with the mechanics of computer science to stay ahead in this rapidly changing technology first world country.

Lisa believes strongly in volunteerism and currently serves on the Minnesota High Tech Association board and the Science Museum of Minnesota. She was also a member of the AnitaB.org board, which recently hosted over 25,000 (mostly) women in technology at their annual Grace Hopper Celebration. She is involved in many efforts in the community to promote students in STEM careers and women in technology.


Source: Technovation[MN]

Jasmine RuKim, Cofounder at Monicat Data

Jasmine RuKim is a creative strategist working to elevate creative processes, project execution and business strategy for the creative economy.

She holds 10 years of strategic and creative expertise within: R&D, marketing implementation, digital analytics and technology design. Her discipline has been practiced across creative markets of: retail, consumer products, art institutions, entertainment, non-profits, and publication industries. 

RuKim is co-founder and CEO of Monicat Data, a data and technology consultancy for the creative industry—with a mission for creative teams to spend less time planning and more time creating. And co-founder of The Fourth Wall MSP: A platform solution, helping artists find local spaces to create, rehearse, collaborate and perform. 

In her local community, Jasmine teaches as an adjunct professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and serves as a Board Member of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation.


Source: Jasmine RuKim Official Website

Casey Shultz, Executive Director at BETA.MN

Shultz is the new Executive Director for BETA, a nonprofit whose mission is to accelerate the success of Minnesota-based startups. Casey is the first woman to lead the organization.

Casey joins BETA from the Bay Area with a host of relevant startup and accelerator experience. She was one of the original employees of CouchSurfing International – the precursor to AirBnB – where she helped the company raise its $7.9M A-round. She then moved into the capital side of the equation as a lead of the Citrix Startup Accelerator. Most recently, Casey was the head of Business Operations at Serverless, Inc.

As the Director of Program Management at BETA, Casey oversees the logistics and strategic partnerships for Startup Week.


Source: BETA.MN

Caroline Karanja, Founder of 26Letters 

Through 26Letters, Caroline and her team are working to help organizations incorporate diversity and inclusion through the company’s SaaS e-learning platform. 

Karanja was in her early teens when her family moved to Madison from Kenya. She taught herself to code while completing a degree in American studies and English literature at Macalester College and leveraged digital products and her e-commerce experience gained at Best Buy and other companies to develop 26 Letters’ platform.

26 Letters assesses how employees feel about an organization’s growth opportunities, inclusiveness and community involvement. The company then offers insights and strategies for making improvements and later evaluates progress.

Aside from being a self-taught developer and entrepreneur, Caroline is also an author.  She published a book titled , “From Ada to Zuckerberg: A Cultural History of Tech” — based on her presentation tracing technology from 19th-century mathematician Ada Lovelace through Facebook’s co-founder.


Source: Startribune

Maria Ploessl, Executive Director at Minnestar

Ploessl serves as the first Executive Director of Minnestar, a nonprofit organization committed to building, nurturing and engaging those interested in technology through meaningful connection. In her role, she works to promote the strategic vision and growth of the organization, while developing events and experiences that bring the MN tech community together.

Maria has over 10 years of program management, administration, and community engagement experience in the nonprofit and education sector. She is a former educator with Minneapolis Public Schools and was selected as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Bragança, Brazil where she developed university-level educational programming and events.

She is also the Operations Chair for the TechnovationMN board of directors, supporting the great work in inspiring girls and nonbinary youth to make an impact in their community using technology. She also serves as a member of the Tech Steering Committee for Make. It. MSP, working on attraction and retention of tech talent to the region and served as the Interim Board Co-Chair for Forge North, a coalition dedicated to making MN the problem-solving capital of the new economy.___

Source: Minnestar


The Minnesota Aspirations in Computing (MNAiC) Award Program collaborates with businesses, organizations and schools to inhttp://mailtospire, support, and empower young women in high school to become our next, best Minnesota-grown technology talent. To learn how your organization can support the computing interests of young women in Minnesota and lead the movement to disrupt gender equality in tech, contact Russell Fraenkel, Director of IT Career Pathways and Partnerships, Minnesota State – IT Center of Excellence, at boern.vang@metrostate.edu, call (612) 659-7224.