Intrapreneurship with Stephanie Su

Stephanie Su is a 17-year-old rising senior from the Bay Area. She is the Lead Director of Superposition. Superposition is an international non-profit bridging the gender gap in STEM. Their mission is to empower women in STEM by creating educational opportunities and supportive environments in which they can develop their passions. Every year, they host the Bay Area's largest all-women and non-binary hackathon.

This February, they hosted 220 attendees at Uber HQ in San Francisco. Recently, they've expanded beyond a 24-hour hackathon to provide year-round opportunities for the community, such as a virtual webinar series and chapter program. With their events, content, and 23 chapters, they've reached 60,000+ individuals in 51+ countries.

What is it like organizing a hackathon that big? What are the different components? How long does it take?

Organizing Superposition IV was the largest task I've ever undertaken. Though the event was scheduled for the end of February, we started organizing late September, and even then, we should've started earlier. Similar to most high school hackathons, we had 4 teams: operations, sponsorship, outreach, and tech. Operations comprised the backbone of the event, like securing a venue, recruiting adult volunteers, sourcing prizes, creating the schedule, and most on-site logistics. Outreach was in charge of all things attendee-related: recruiting attendees, managing registration forms, and our ambassador program. Sponsorship secured funding and in-kind donations from companies, and Tech developed our website from scratch. I strongly believe an effective Lead Director should be able to fulfill the tasks of every team member, should one of them be unavailable one week. As such, I did a little bit of work for every time each week but was most hands-on for Operations and Outreach.

In the beginning, the biggest road-block is securing a venue. Once a venue is set, you're at least 50% of the way there. The next biggest challenge is securing enough funding. Given the extreme oversaturation of hackathons in the Bay Area, sponsorship was especially tough this year. As the date drew closer, I became more and more concerned about whether we'd be able to fund everything. After our venue was secured, our operations ramped up even more. Attendee applications were up, sponsorship was able to leverage our partnership with Uber, and operations began recruiting volunteers.

During January and February, I'd taken a huge workload on my own back, sleeping less than 6 hours every night, and less than 3 the week before. Even if I'd finished my work for the day early, I began working ahead so I could average the same amount of sleep, rather than getting 8 hours one and 3 the next.

The on-site logistics were also a challenge. We'd never dealt with hundreds of people under a single roof before, and our opening and closing ceremonies were rocky.

Overall, we were still able to deliver a positive attendee experience, which was our main priority.

Why is it important to get more women and minorities involved in high impact fields like tech? What does it mean for the world if we don’t have gender diversity?

Technology is truly driving our future. It's the reason why we can access millennia of information at the click of a button, and why we can connect with each other across once-insurmountable geographical distances.

As brilliant as technology can be, it is specially developed to serve those who created it, who for now, are typically men. Without taking the female perspective into consideration, we decrease the accessibility of technology and the power for it to impact the entire global population.

Moreover, there is no biological reason why women are less inclined to pursue STEM fields, so the divide must be a product of their environment. From birth, activities are classified as traditionally "masculine" and "feminine," so girls are more likely to be discouraged from pursuing subjects like STEM from early on. However, no one should ever feel discouraged from their passions for any factor outside of their control. It's time to bring more girls into STEM, and let them know that they belong.

Does anyone really need to be a founder in order to create something really impactful?

You certainly don't need to be a founder to create impact. Among high school students, I've noticed such an eagerness to have the title of "founder," even if the initiative contributes nothing new to their cause.

Founding an impactful initiative requires a demonstrated need. For example, I am, by all means, an advocate for more women in STEM, but I've seen too many organizations promoting women in STEM, without doing much to differentiate from one another. At that point, it can be even more impactful to join an existing organization and contribute your expertise, rather than compete for resources or an audience.

Within the organization, you can bring revolutionary ideas, and build upon their past experience. This dramatically increases the probability of genuinely contributing to the cause, because you have much less heavy-lifting to do yourself.

How can people start thinking entrepreneurially in order to grow and improve existing organizations? What has your experience been with taking Superposition into a new direction?

The most important step is making a detailed assessment of the existing organization, inside and out. Understand every program they're implementing, how they're interacting with their audience, how the team works together, what they aren't doing, and so much more. One technique I especially appreciate is the SWOT analysis-- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You can use your internal strengths to take advantage of your opportunities and minimize your threats. You can also take steps to counteract your weaknesses so they don't amplify your threats. One question I like to ask is, I'm in a great place right now, but how can I take this to the next level? I'm all about creating more impact, so usually what I think about is how I can bring my mission to as many people as possible.