Rachel Muir - Fast 50 2003

Picture a camp full of kids building Web pages and programming robots. You probably see a bunch of boys. That's why Rachel Muir started the first technology center for girls in Texas.

Rachel Muir
Founder and executive director, Girlstart
Austin, Texas


Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
Girlstart is a hip, girl-friendly non-profit organization empowering girls in math, science and technology. Why these subjects? Well, at Girlstart we know that embracing math and science literally opens up a world of imagination, invention and skills that greatly improve self-esteem and every other aspect of a girl's life. There is really something to be said for accomplishing something that you always thought was out of your league.

For some girls, math and science seems scary, and unapproachable. But at Girlstart we teach girls the fun part of academic achievement: how to build web pages, program robots, solve mysteries using forensics, and more. Although we only have 5 full-time employees, we serve thousands of girls a year and have a ground force of over 100 volunteers. Our after-school programs at underserved low income schools, free Saturday camps and summer camps at our Girlstart Tech Center in Austin, Texas and free online courses in html and graphic design at http://www.girlstart.com open up isolated male dominated fields to girls.

What was your moment of truth?
My defining moment of leadership was getting up in front of 360 high level executives at a conference and selling them on Girlstart. It was the Austin360 conference and the primarily male audience and roster of participants and speakers, like Michael Dell, intimidated me. I was a lunch speaker who was terrified of public speaking. It took countless relaxation techniques and even some mild anti-anxiety medication, but I made a decision to go for it and ask for something no one was expecting that I desperately needed: money. I started a bidding war to raise money to build the first technology center for girls in Texas. Within 5 minutes I had raised over $130,000 form top executives and etched my triumph in the mind of every person there. It's a hard thing to do, asking for what you want, especially in such a public way. But I did it and I did it in a way that was funny and that made people cheer for me. The results were that I began to get national publicity, I raised money and public awareness and I put my company and myself on the map. Years later, people still talk about it. (The exact date? 1/26/2000)

What were the results?
Two months later, Girlstart opened up the first Technology Center for girls in Texas. At this state-of-the-art facility Girlstart provides an unparalleled setting for Saturday camps and Summer camps with programs like web design, robotics, spy gadgets, desktop publishing, movie making, simulated space missions, archeological digs, solving crimes, parent/daughter workshops, a Virtual Take Our Daughters to Work Day and more! Girlstart was recently selected by Child magazine as one of the top five programs for girls across the country. Girlstart has also been featured on Oprah and CNN, and been in CosmoGirl, Glamour, Working Mother, Southern Living and countless other publications.

What's your parting tip?
Be afraid and do it anyway!

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