Starting up a company with your mother probably seems like a total recipe for disaster, but Mixtroz app co-founders Ashlee Ammons and Kerry Schraeder definitely seem to be making the mom and daughter dynamic work. The pair has successfully ventured in the tech sphere, launching an app that aims to take the networking and event game to the next level.
To shake up the networking experience and encourage more user interactivity, the Mixtroz app (free from iOS or Android store) allows clients to enhance networking events by merging engagement and interactivity together without any hangups. To use the app successfully, hosts are encouraged to download the app at the start of an event with 25 or more attendees. Then, hosts direct users to download the app, completing a virtual name tag, and a real time survey customized by the event organizer and or sponsor. This helps drive value to attendees via increased engagement and connection, all while capturing the data collected during those interactions.
However, the best part of the app is the interactivity aspect to it, as the tool provides a real time networking experience through the help of technology. The app typically groups three to ten attendees together, and even provides conversation starters to the group for a unique curated group networking experience.
Founders Ashlee and Kerry hope the app takes awkwardness out of events, as the app uses technology to drive real-time user engagement into the physical space.
Ashlee and Kerry
“We liken this experience to making it everyone’s first day of school instead of an uncomfortable experience for attendees that attended the event alone or for colleagues and can’t figure out a clever way to break apart from the group,” the founders say.
“Events are for connecting, and Mixtroz levels the playing field to support real connectivity.”
In addition to kickstarting an app venture, Kerry also wears the title of breast cancer survivor proudly, as she has successfully managed to be cancer free for up to a year now. And despite the many challenges associated with the diagnosis, her faith, unwavering familial support, and dedication to Mixtroz are what helped her stay strong when she was at her worst. Her advice to other female business owners undergoing cancer related treatments is to make sure your health and well being are your top priorities.
“My advice to all business owners and specifically women business owners (because historically we tend to the needs of others first) is to take the time to schedule and go to annual exams and pre-screenings because early detection is the key,” Kerry says.
Ashlee and Kerry
Revving up a startup business with your mother may seem nearly impossible, but it really has been a godsend for both Kerry and Ashlee, since they would not have it any other way. Not only has the business helped enhance their own personal relationship, but it has allowed them to learn things about each other they never knew before.
“We were very close before we started the business, but we reached new heights within our relationship growing a business together,” both founders agree. “It’s fascinating, to learn brand new things about someone you’ve known your entire life; you see their strengths and weaknesses, their ups and downs in the ultra violet light that is sometimes hidden behind the rose colored glasses of familial bonds.”
As successful businesswomen who aim to make the entrepreneurship environment more inclusive, Kerry and Ashlee hope to expand Mixtroz in the near future with the help of an angel investor. That way they can branch the company out even further, and help share the app’s connective message with the business world.
“Beyond growing Mixtroz into a successful women and minority owned business, we are working to support the mission of making entrepreneurship within the tech space a more diverse and inclusive environment for all,” the founders state. “With the partnership of an angel investor or group of angel investors we can more quickly realize this new dream and begin to scale our company (to self-service) and get this world connecting again.”
The Quick 10
1. What app do you use the most?
Kerry: Fitbit! Trying to check myself on my commitment to move about during the day.
2. What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Ashlee: Check my Fitbit to see how many hours of sleep I “actually” got. Entrepreneurship can make your mind race but I take my health and wellness seriously; the healthier and happier I am the more valuable my business becomes.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Ashlee: Sara Blakely, the inventor of Spanx.
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
5. What is your spirit animal?
Ashlee: Dolphin – There are human to dolphin communication devices in the works! Wow!
6. What is your life motto?
Both: “You can start late. Look different. Be uncertain. And still succeed."- Misty Copeland.
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
Kerry: Wine! Just kidding, when I'm making good choices: fruit or nuts.
8. What's something that's always in your bag?
Ashlee: Fresh Tinted Lip Treatment in Sugar Poppy, it adds a little pop to my weekday fresh-faced look.
9. What’s the most inspiring place you’ve traveled to?
Kerry: Although I've been blessed to travel to a few places, my hometown is where my heart is and where I am most inspired. It reminds me of the seeds my parents planted for me to succeed and because of it the things I've been able to do and see.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Ashlee: Kerry, iPhone (with extended battery), and case of wine
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.