Greater Than Tech co-founders Jasmine LeFlore and Brittany Wheeler have a lot in common. Both are engineers at Collins Aerospace. Both have MBAs. And both are Black women who are passionate about promoting tech entrepreneurship for other young Black women.
“We’re women of color who don’t see a lot of women of color in the STEM space, especially in leadership,” LeFlore said.
That lack of representation in STEM careers led LeFlore and Wheeler to found Greater Than Tech (GTT) – a nonprofit organization that exposes underserved and female students to engineering and business concepts and teaches them the values of self-sufficiency, self-efficacy and teamwork.
“And, most importantly, show them that girls rule – that girls can be in the C-suite spots, girls can be entrepreneurs,” Wheeler added.
The roots of GTT began when LeFlore and Wheeler were teaching robotics classes at Elementary Institute of Science and coaching middle school girls’ robotics teams. Around the same time, the pair entered a tech startup competition for their company MeeSee and its safety sensing technology that alerts women of potential predators and helps them get away.
“We had a friend who was impacted by that, and we wanted to do something about it,” LeFlore said.
Although MeeSee didn’t win the grand prize of the pitch competition, it did make it to the semifinals and that experience led to LeFlore and Wheeler to pursue starting a different venture – a STEM education nonprofit.
“That’s when it clicked for us that we can actually be entrepreneurs and we wanted our students to understand that, so we did a two-day launch camp where we were invited to do a seed of our idea and that’s where Greater Than Tech came to life,” LeFlore said.
GTT came to life in 2019 with its first program set to start in early 2020 – just before the COVID pandemic shutdowns. Last year was the organization’s first real schedule and its programs served around 200 students – more than double the combined years of 2020 and 2021.
Those programs now include three types. The first is the GTT Communities program serving boys and girls, teaching robotics after school and aiming to expand to include a four-week summer program this year. The Communities program teaches students to build, test and code robots to solve a social impact problem and includes preparing a business pitch. LeFlore pointed out that unlike other robotics programs where robots compete on a specific task, the GTT program’s goal is to teach students how to demonstrate their tech solution.
GTT also has a careers program for high school girls that focuses on emerging technologies and entrepreneurship.
“We focus on emerging trends because that has the most room for innovation growth and we want high school girls to have a head start in how to innovate in those different spaces tied with entrepreneurship,” LeFlore said.
Hands-On Tech Experience
Wheeler added that applied STEM is often overlooked by other nonprofits in the STEM education space. GTT focuses on the bridge between learning the latest technology and how it applies to modern tech careers.
“We’re teaching them hands-on technology experience, the emerging technologies that are out there like 3D printing and how it relates to the real world,” she said. “I think students are old enough, mature enough to actually work on technologies that we’re working on in the world.”
The GTT Alumni Club is the organization’s latest program, providing mentorship, college and tech industry tours, guest speakers and homework help to middle and high school girls. The program also provides opportunities for college students.
“Sometimes college students, during their early stages of freshman and sophomore year, they don’t have an internship or have the experience to get an internship so Greater Than Tech offers internships for college students where they go back and teach those middle school and high school girls. So it’s like a full circle,” Wheeler said.
“In a lot of ways, we’re mentoring the mentors,” LeFlore added.
As a young program, GTT is just now seeing its first wave of students from its program start to head off to college, including one woman who was recently accepted to Columbia University on a full ride scholarship for mechanical engineering.
“In terms of representation, she’ll be a first-generation college student and she didn’t have many mentors who looked like Dr. Wheeler and I to encourage her along the way in STEM,” LeFlore said.
The importance of that kind of representation is a lesson LeFlore and Wheeler learned themselves growing up in underserved communities in Flint, Michigan and Los Angeles, respectively.
“We can really speak to the experiences that some of these kids maybe are seeing and understanding,” LeFlore said. “We’ve walked in their shoes.”
Eventually, the founding duo would like to expand GTT with more program offerings and even grow into a national platform, starting with programs in their home neighborhoods. That kind of giving back is the cornerstone of GTT.
“We made Greater Than Tech so students can not only see themselves as engineers, but also as entrepreneurs and know that they can lead, know that they can create opportunities for others. That’s why it’s Great Than Tech – because it’s more than just the
STEM side of it,” LeFlore said.
Greater Than Tech
Executive Director: Jasmine LeFlore
Headquarters: San Diego
Business: Nonprofit promoting STEM entrepreneurship for students of color
Employees: Around 20, includes team, board of directors, advisors and part-time staff
Notable: GTT founders Jasmine LeFlore and Brittany Wheeler are both rocket scientists at Collins Aerospace.