Ann Arbor "Woman in Tech" award nominee discusses challenges of being a female tech leader

Two Ann Arbor companies, Warmilu and Workit Health, are finalists for Techweek Detroit's "Woman in Tech" award. Techweek events across the U.S. host "Elite Eight" awards celebrating the top leaders in tech for each community. Both Warmilu and Workit Health are finalists in the "Rising Startups" category for Michigan.


Workit Health is a private, online program for helping users beat addiction, from caffeine to workaholism to gambling addictions. The company was co-founded by Lisa McLaughlin and Robin McIntosh.


Warmilu creates non-electric warming technology intended to reduce deaths from hypothermia. The company's first product, a heating pack created with phase-change materials combined with a thermal buffer that creates safe and long-lasting heat, was designed for premature infants in resource-scarce regions. However, the technology can be used in other applications, including stadium seat warmers.


Warmilu founder and CEO Grace Hsia says dismissive attitudes towards herself and her female-led team actually prompted her decision to manufacture in-house. When she experimented with contracting out manufacturing, Hsia says it was sometimes difficult to convince suppliers that she was the head of Warmilu and that her company should be taken seriously.


"I'd be on a phone call with a supplier, and they'd say things like, 'Okay, little lady,' or call me honey or darling, or they'd even say, 'Let me talk to your CEO,'" she says.


Warmilu finished clinical trials in 2013 and the company was supposed to start filling an order for 1,000 packs in fall 2014. But the week before Thanksgiving, Warmilu's manufacturer said it would not be able to fulfill the order for another six months.


"They hadn't dedicated as many resources to our packs because they weren't convinced we'd succeed as a woman-owned company," Hsia says.


That manufacturer may regret that decision now. After making a small profit on the order of about $5,000 per year starting in 2013, the company is on track to make $300,000 in total sales in 2017.


Hsia says she is in good company with TechWeek's other finalists. Detroit corporate communications technology company Backstitch, cofounded by Stephanie Warzecha, is also nominated for Detroit's "Woman in Tech" award.


"The other female business founders inspire me," Hsia says. "They're pushing boundaries for gender equality and showing that women have the ability, with backgrounds in science, technology, and math, to make a difference and push for a better world. I love the women on this list. They are all people I look up to."

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at
Photos courtesy of Grace Hsia.
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