As an entrepreneur, 27-year-old Noha Abousonna understood the importance of expressed cultural connectivity when she applied to the TechWomen program. Her plan was to record and take notes of her experiences and make them available for everyone to read through social media. But she was shy, reluctant and fearful. “Before I came to TechWomen, I had a stage phobia,” said Noha. “I couldn’t do a presentation in front of small groups of people or a large audience. I couldn’t express myself.”
In January 2009, prior to joining the TechWomen program, Noha developed a desire to build her own company. She craved an innovative space where she would have the freedom to turn her entrepreneurial ideas into reality. Her appetite for innovation helped her begin the journey that led her to the TechWomen program. At the time, she had secure employment. However, her drive to produce something new was stronger than her desire to fit in with the norm, so she left behind the known for the unknown and went to start her own company. “Everyone around me called me crazy and unrealistic to think about leaving my job,” she wrote in her TechWomen application. But Noha imagined being part of building and enabling an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt.
When Noha received her acceptance letter to participate in TechWomen, she was determined to use the program to enhance her expertise and develop tools to help other entrepreneurs start and grow their own companies. She wanted to learn more about mentorship, explore Silicon Valley companies, and connect with the vast networks of experts who would help her learn to transmit the skills and information she acquired to others.
Once she arrived in California, Noha began to realize that her dreams were attainable. As part of the TechWomen program, she attended a workshop led by Barbara Fittipaldi from Centers for New Futures. It was at this workshop that she reflected on the barriers that were keeping her from accomplishing her vision. “During the workshop, I realized that nothing is impossible,” said Noha. “I realized that I could do the things I didn’t dare to do before.” Barbara convinced Noha to reflect on her mental barriers. “It was a major transformation for me. I started to think, I am committed. I don’t know how Barbara convinced me to make such a major shift in my thinking, but she did.”
Barbara’s inspirational workshop was quickly coupled with Noha’s professional mentor’s determination to ensure that she made the most of her time in the United States. “One day, my mentor told me that you will be pitching your startup for a potential client, the CIO of Xerox Transportation,” said Noha. “I thought I would pitch it so badly; I thought I would get nervous, and I am a bad nervous… words cannot come out of my mouth. Then I remembered what Barbara had taught me and the encouraging words of my mentor, that when you are committed to delivering your message, it will come across. I thought, this challenge that I have now, it’s doable.”
Noha seized the opportunity with the CIO of Xerox Transportation and while doing so, used the occasion to build a cultural bridge. “I said, I have to show the CIO that in Egypt, we know cutting edge technology and open innovation,” said Noha. “I wanted him to know that I have done my research. I did not want him to have an image that I am coming from a third world country. I had to erase that. I was committed to the marketing for my start-up.” The presentation went well, and soon Noha’s twenty-minute pitch yielded additional, continued conversations with the Xerox European team.
When Noha returned home from the TechWomen program, her start-up quickly promoted her to Chief Technology Officer. “My company understood that I [now] have connections with investors. I have promoted my company well. They know I could do this.”
Noha is finally preparing the social media materials to tell the story of her journey. She conducted her first social media course in December 2012, and taught another in January. She is no longer afraid of public speaking, or of expressing herself. “I am thankful for the amazing, amazing journey TechWomen provided,” said Noha.
As a result of her TechWomen experience, Noha wants to mentor women in Egypt. “I am open to anyone who is willing to communicate with me; anyone who would want to sit with me. I would love to transfer the knowledge I have gained.”