Women leaders in STEM: Cristal Glangchai, founder and CEO of VentureLab
As a woman with years of experience both working in and teaching tech, engineering, and entrepreneurship, Cristal Glangchai is all too familiar with the scarcity of women in these male-dominated fields.
“As the only female engineer in my division [at 3M] and as the only female CEO in a room of CEO’s, angel investors, and VC’s, I have been constantly reminded of the lack of women in my field. Then, as a university professor [at Trinity University], I noticed how hard it was to get girls involved in technology and entrepreneurship courses.”
Consistently observing this gender gap in these fields, she could not help but wonder why more women were not present. During her time teaching, however, she recognized the biggest issues behind women’s reluctance to get involved in fields like tech or entrepreneurship was a lack of confidence or strong feelings of intimidation. As she tried to get girls involved in tech and entrepreneurship programs and events, like a Three Day Startup “bootcamp,” she found her efforts to be as arduous as “pulling teeth.”
It was this culmination of experiences that inspired Glangchai to make a change.
“I realized that girls need to learn that they can succeed in these fields even before they enter school and are shown what girls ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t do.’ Early social cues, whether it be gender roles observed at home, cultural iconography, or classroom gender bias shape girls’ views beginning at a very early age,” Glangchai says about what she realized the more she saw university-age young women questioning their abilities. “Furthermore, scientific studies of the brain show that specific neural pathways are created at young ages and affect the way a child learns or perceives the world. That is why we need to give girls the confidence to believe that they can do anything; they can 3D print an engine, create software, or start a company.”
Driven by this realization, Glangchai launched VentureLab, an entrepreneurship, tech, and innovation academy that develops collaborative, project-based curricula to prepare K-12 students with the skills they need to excel in 21st century careers. With programs that focus on topics like film production, 3D printing, robotics, and the basics of launching a startup, the primary goal of VentureLab is essentially to create next generation innovators and entrepreneurs through education, mentorship, and inspiration.
“Our programs allow students to take what they learn in their classes and apply them to real-world problems or needs that they see,” Glangchai says about the unique classes and programs run by VentureLab. “By learning entrepreneurial skills students gain the ability to shape and realize their future.”
VentureLab’s mission is one that young boys and girls can benefit from equally. While VentureLab currently runs both girls-only programs and coed programs, the primary focus when it was launched was to target girls specifically. Having been inspired to launch the company by her own experiences as a woman in STEM and her frustration with the lack of women in these fields, Glangchai’s main goal in starting VentureLab was to change the reality surrounding females in STEM.
“I felt that it was important to give girls an environment where they felt comfortable to be themselves and to speak up,” Glangchai says about her initial focus on building VentureLab as an academy that specialized in tech and entrepreneurship programs for young girls.
“I developed the camps to be a fun and friendly environment where it was safe for students to try new things, and to fail, but to learn from their failures. With girls in particular I wanted to show them that they could do 3D modeling, or make a website, or build a product based off of an idea. I wanted to teach them to be able to stand up and present themselves and their products in front of people. Overall, I wanted to give girls the confidence to believe that they could do anything. So when they are in junior high and are exposed to peer pressure, they can look back and say, ‘Hey, I did 3D modeling or I made a website or sold a product when I was 5 or 7, so there is nothing I can’t do!’ It is really about giving them this confidence early on, and instilling in them a growth mindset.”
As VentureLab’s programs gained popularity and Glangchai began receiving phone calls from parents interested in programs for their sons, the decision was made to introduce coed programs into the curriculum. However, even with the rising interest and involvement of young boys in VentureLab’s programs, Glangchai has not lost sight of her initial mission, and she has kept many girls-only programs intact, like “Girl Startup.” This is primarily because she has learned, from her own experience, that girls tend to flourish in these classes more so than they may in the coed classes.
“I feel like in the girl only classes, the girls are so much more talkative and creative, and will speak up more,” Glangchai says. “They really get into their projects and are fearless. In many of the coed courses, the boys are more boisterous and the girls tend to be a bit more subdued. I think for young girls, and especially ones who may be shy, the girl only programs feels like a more comfortable environment for them to let loose.”
Check back next week as Glangchai discusses VentureLab’s unique STEM curriculum based on their ESTEAM framework, as well as the value in starting entrepreneurial education at a young age.