Tech's Top Women Under 30

By shareen pathak

An iPhone app like WiseDame, which alerts loved ones of your location, would never have been dreamed up by a man, says Rachel Sklar, 38, the former corporate lawyer and Huffington Post projects editor-turned-media blogger. Created by 23-year-old Carnegie Mellon grad J'aime Ohm, WiseDame won TechCrunch's 2010 Disrupt Hackathon.

"When guys at a bar go away with someone, nobody thinks they should let their friends know in case they don't come back," says Sklar.

The following 11 women under 30, like Ohm, have either invented something innovative, broken traditional age and gender barriers at major organizations, or are changing the way people use technology. All of them have that elusive thing called "vision," the ability to discern the future.

FINS looked at women under 30 because, well, that's when many tech visionaries often first surface. Steve Jobs at Apple and Bill Gates at Microsoft were under 30 when they founded their companies.

To find these women, we talked to venture capitalists, media writers and recruitment experts. We looked at existing lists, like Fast Company's top women-run startups, the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders and TR35, MIT's in-house magazine's list of young innovators. And we polled established firms about their up-and-coming stars.

Here are our 11 women under 30 to watch in technology.

1. J'aime Ohm, 23, developer, WiseDame

Hacker-entrepreneur Ohm, a 2010 graduate of Carnegie Mellon with a B.S. in electrical and computer engineering, entered TechCrunch's annual Hackathon on a whim and won. She had been thinking of the product throughout her time at university because "when I walk down the street and it's a dark night, I call someone," she said.

Growing up north of San Francisco, she attended an all-girls high school and didn't encounter classes where the majority of attendees were men until Carnegie Mellon.

Although WiseDame has not officially launched yet, Ohm is already creating buzz among tech watchers as being one of the most talented young female developers to have surfaced in years. She plans to eventually reach out to investors to help fund development of her app. "I've got big plans for WiseDame," she said.

2. Lauren Leto, 24, co-founder of Texts From Last Night, Bnter

In 2009, girls at Leto's sorority, Alpha Phi at Michigan State, were in the habit of passing around text messages they had received, often from ex-boyfriends. Leto, along with her friend Ben Bator, got the idea to put them online -- letting anybody and everybody with something funny to share send in their favorites. The site launched in April 2009 and went viral almost immediately, getting a million hits within a week.

Those were the seeds of Texts from Last Night, Leto's online company that compiles shocking or scandalous texts sent in by users, organized by area code. According to the New York Times, TFLN is now worth millions. She's also put together two books: Texts From Last Night compiles the best texts the site ever got, and Judging a Book By Its Lover, to be published later this year by HarperCollins.

A liberal arts graduate with a law degree from Wayne State University, Leto moved to New York from Detroit in 2010. With partner Bator, she set up Bnter, a social networking site which posts online conversations from text messages or IMs. Bnter has funding from New York-based Founder Collective (clients include BuzzFeed and Skype), Ron Conway's SV Angel and New York-based High Line Venture Partners.

3. Alexa von Tobel, 27, CEO of LearnVest

Von Tobel came up with the idea for LearnVest, a money-management website for women, while working as an analyst at a trading desk at Morgan Stanley. She worked on the business plan while at Harvard Business School, noticing how bad women were at managing personal finances when the credit crunch sent the economy reeling.

In 2009, she raised $1.1 million in seed funding from executives at Goldman Sachs and launched LearnVest. "As a founder, you know what you know," said von Tobel. "I'm living and breathing what our product needs."

Within a month, 10,000 women signed up and by March 2010, von Tobel had raised $4.5 million from Accel Partners, which previously funded Facebook. The site has grown: In the first two months of 2011 alone, 50,000 women went through the personal finance bootcamp LearnVest offers its members. Von Tobel, who was one of the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leaders for 2011, said that the site's focus on women is what makes it different from other personal finance sites like Mint. Von Tobel has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Harvard.

4. Soraya Darabi, 27, co-founder, Foodspotting

Darabi was, from 2007 to 2009, manager of digital partnerships and social media marketing at the New York Times, raising the brand's profile from stodgy and old-fashioned to new-media savvy. She left the Gray Lady to work as a product lead with, the online file sharing service that was purchased by Facebook in 2010.

In 2009, along with co-founders Alexa Andrzejewski and Ted Grubb, she began working on Foodspotting, a location-based guide that helps you decide what to eat and where. Users take pictures of food and share them -- a "Foursquare for food" as Darabi describes it.

The site launched in 2010, the same year Darabi left Foodspotting has raised a total of $3.75 million so far, the majority from Menlo Park, Calif.-based BlueRun Ventures, which was an early investor in PayPal. Darabi, who holds a B.A. in English from Georgetown University, also has a considerable social media presence, with over 440,000 Twitter followers. She was No. 2 on Business Insider's 2009 Silicon Alley 100 list.

5. Rachel Sterne, 27, New York City's chief digital officer

Sterne is the first-ever chief digital officer for the city, possibly a sign of things to come as more metropolises look for new ways to reach their constituents. She holds Michael Bloomberg's ear and had over 16,000 Twitter followers at press time plus media mentions that range from scathing to glowing. But as they say, all publicity is good publicity and Sterne has made her mark as part of the city's digerati.

A native New Yorker, Sterne has a B.A. in history from New York University and is the founder of citizen journalism website Ground Report. "In both capacities I also helped to create strategic partnerships and this experience will be useful in helping build public-private partnerships that support City goals," Sterne said in an email. Her high-profile appointment has set the stage for how important digital skills -- and people -- are in today's economy.

Related: Rachel Sterne Emails It in

6. Leslie Bradshaw, 28, president and COO of JESS3

Washington, D.C.-based JESS3 is an interactive and data visualization marketing specialist. It was nominated for a Webby Award for its work on social media outreach for C-Span in 2009, worked on an infographic on SxSW and has partnered with Mashable for an iPhone app. Clients include the Washington Post, Intel and Samsung. It works with cutting-edge technology solutions for brands that include animation, UI/UX and infographics and employs over 300 people worldwide.

Bradshaw is the brains behind the agency. A 2004 graduate of the University of Chicago with a B.A. in gender studies and economics, she is an old social media hand, having worked for companies on Facebook monitoring when the networking site was in its infancy.

As marketing tries to grapple with all that is digital, JESS3 is one of the few agencies that seems to have transitioned effectively. "I hope to inspire other women to do the same; especially those who grew up outside of the urban epicenters of innovation, but who know what a long day of honest work feels like and could apply their skills to new frontiers," said Bradshaw, who grew up on a farm in Oregon. Bradshaw was also one of Fast Company's 2011 most influential women in technology.

7. Randi Zuckerberg, 29, director of market development, Facebook

Randi Zuckerberg certainly has the right last name. The sister of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is director of market development and acts as the public face of Facebook. She also headed Facebook's coverage of the 2008 presidential debates, when television network ABC used Facebook as a platform for reaching younger voters. She manages the company's relationships with media and politics and is the author of Spark Your Career in Advertising, published in 2007.

Zuckerberg previously worked at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather and as an account executive at Forbes. She joined Facebook in October 2005. As Facebook grows -- eMarketer forecasts it will have $4 billion in ad revenue this year -- anybody in marketing there is worth watching. Facebook holds the keys to terabytes of consumer data coveted by brand marketers. Zuckerberg, who has a degree in psychology from Harvard, has almost 150,000 "likes" on her fan page.

8. Elizabeth Hamon Reid, 29, director of engineering at Google

Reid, who was Google's first female engineer in New York City, developed the earliest version of Google Maps. She leads all Maps coverage, which runs out of the Big Apple, for the search giant.

Reid switched into computer science halfway through her time at Dartmouth University, graduating with that degree in 2003 and joining Google right after that as a programmer. She has also held an internship at Microsoft. In 2005, she became the tech lead for Maps' front end technology and then became manager of the Maps team in mid-2006.

She is one of the most senior engineers at Google's office in New York.

9. Alice Chen, 29, Ph.D., MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology

Chen is the 2011 winner of the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's highest award for student inventors. She won the award for her "creativity in solving bio-medical problems," where she has used micro- and nano-technology methods to create innovations for drug development and disease modeling. One of her inventions includes a humanized mouse with a tissue-engineered human liver.

Chen, who said she "fell in love" with biology in high school, graduated from UC Berkeley in 2003 with a bio-engineering degree. Under the wing of a "strong, single mother," Chen said that growing up, "I was under the impression that strong women could do anything." Today, she said, she feels the challenges of being a woman in the engineering sector more than she ever did growing up.

After graduation, Chen worked at a research lab for two years and entered the Harvard-MIT joint Ph.D. program in 2005. She received her diploma in March, the same month her startup, Sienna Labs, which develops patent-pending technology to improve laser medicine, emerged.

10. Surmi Chatterjee, 29, software engineer, Cisco

Growing up in India, Chatterjee said she never really had a choice of whether to be an engineer or not. "I knew from the beginning," she said. Chatterjee was named by her managers at Cisco as a young woman they'll definitely be watching.

Chatterjee is the member of the Cisco team that is working on Nexus 7000, a data switch that can hold and transfer data at the fastest speeds possible. It can, for example, copy the entire Wikipedia database in 10 milliseconds and pass 94,000 Netflix movies in half a minute. The switch, which is used by banks, e-commerce sites, social media and many other businesses, is part of Cisco's data center portfolio that the company is using to compete against its rivals like Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent. "It's not just about speed, it's also about security," said Chatterjee.

Chatterjee holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from UC Davis and a master's in computer engineering from San Jose State. Next on her list: "I'd like to be a project lead on the next big thing Cisco does."

11. Sandy Jen, 30, co-founder, Meebo

We know Jen is past the cut-off age -- but her birthday was in January and we couldn't resist having her on his list. Jen is the vice president of engineering and the co-founder of Meebo, a Mountain View, Calif.-based social platform that can support multiple instant-messaging services.

She has a bachelor's degree in computer science from Stanford and recently received the Founders Fund TechFellows Award for Engineering Leadership, which honors innovation at startups. Before starting Meebo in 2005, she worked as a software developer at Xilinx, the semiconductor company in San Jose.

"Coming out of school into my first job, I was put in a cube with four walls. I'm a short person so the walls felt pretty tall," she said. She saw friends starting their own companies and thought, "If they could do it, why couldn't I?"

Jen started Meebo, a familiar site at the bottom of many news sites these days, with co-founders Seth Sternberg and Elaine Wherry because they wanted a one-stop shop to connect everyone that was online at one time. The company, which has $70 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, is used at over 8,000 websites today and now has more than 170 million users.

Write to Shareen Pathak

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