How Women in Tech is elevating West Michigan’s tech scene

Stacy Paul and Ashlea Souffrou are strong leaders in the women tech movement in West Michigan.

Paul’s firm, Array of Engineers, was named a 2024 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch Distinguished Alumni - Great Place to Work Award and Women-Owned Small Business Award." And Souffrou, founder and CEO of SxanPro, was named an EY Finalist for Entrepreneur Of The Year Michigan and Northwest Ohio.

The women are core members of Women in Tech, part of the Technology Council of West Michigan. They go out of their way to support each other, from partnering on projects to just being accountable and sharing best practices and opportunities for growth.

“They're both great examples of women who started very small with startup organizations that have escalated over the past few years,” says Jennifer Wangler, The Right Place’s vice president of technology. “They're also a great example of how women can come together in the community to support and elevate each other.”

Experience shaped new goals

When Paul attended Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Florida campus near the Kennedy Space Center, she was the only female student in many of her aerospace engineering classes.

The Right PlaceMore than 80 women took part in Go Beyond on May 9.

After graduation, she went to work at NASA in Houston working on the manned spaceflight program. When she and her husband began their family, they relocated to West Michigan to be closer to relatives. During this transition period, Paul stepped back from her career and did some nonprofit work, teaching college math courses and consulting work.

The experience showed her what worked and didn’t work in organizations.

“I wanted to try to create a space in our community so people didn't have to necessarily leave to work in highly innovative jobs,” says Paul, who also wants to make the field more accessible to women and people of color. “I've been in an industry for 30 years and it hasn't changed enough. I wanted to create a space to allow the younger generation to see how they could be in that space eventually.”

In 2018, she launched Array of Engineers, which offers automated testing solutions, software expertise, and develops embedded hardware. From safety critical aerospace and defense vehicles to agriculture applications, the firm’s engineering solutions enhance the way its customers do business in numerous fields.

Courtesy of Stacy PaulStacy Paul is the founder and CEO of Array of Engineers.

The certified woman-owned small business has garnered praise as one of the best workplaces in the state.

Innovation springs from necessity

In 2018, Souffrou created SxanPro, a mobile app that uses barcode scanning technology to capture manufacturer data on medical supplies and devices.

“It started because I needed a better way to inventory supplies for hospital closures, because writing down product information like expiration date and lot number took a lot of time,” says Souffrou.

After learning about UDI, a universal barcoding system that was being integrated into health care manufacturing, she took her beta app that scanned with UDI into these hospitals to help with inventorying.

Rapid Growth During her keynote, Shannon Cohen spoke about building up community and belonging. 

“People in the supply chain saw what I was able to do and were amazed by how fast and accurately I was able to capture this information,” says Souffrou. “From there, I knew that what I had created could have a larger impact on the health care supply chain. Now we have supply chain leaders in hospitals across the country using the data our technology captures to make better decisions that improve efficiency, recover costs, and enhance patient safety.”

Souffrou’s most recent accolade is providing greater visibility and credibility for the firm and opening doors to new partnerships and opportunities.

“I bootstrapped this company to get it off the ground because I wanted to help solve some problems that health care faced. I never would have expected to be recognized at this level for being an entrepreneur,” she says.

Go Beyond

In May, both Paul and Souffrou took part in Go Beyond, a daylong event that provided a platform for women in tech to talk about challenges they face.

“We were able to do peer-to-peer mentorship and build a group that you can count on if you've got a question or are having a struggle. You can bounce something off them and it makes it not feel so lonely,” Paul said. 

The Right PlaceGo Beyond included a workshop led by Ag Collaborative.

The Right Place’s Wangler describes the event as an opportunity to highlight “all the amazing women that we have leading tech companies and initiatives in Grand Rapids, but also a day dedicated to women and talking about the challenges that they're facing in their particular industries.”

The day is also filled with conversations about best practices and ways this community can come together, support each other, and then “create what we call an accountability partner or that trusted network for women to be able to build a plan in their careers and in their particular focus.”

More than 80 women participated in the inaugural event that included a workshop led by Ag Collaborative, focusing on redefining leadership, particularly for women and minorities in the workplace. After a networking lunch, Shannon Cohen, an author, podcaster, business owner, and consultant, spoke about building up community and belonging. 

“We broke the women up into groups and we talked about the challenges that they're facing, again to build that circle of trust they can continue to meet with and work with far beyond the day,” Wangler said. 

Tech Week GR

Next up is Tech Week Grand Rapids in September.

“Tech Week is another place where people in our community can connect and hear about the different work that people are doing,” Paul said. “We don't always do a good job of sharing all those cool projects and innovative stuff that we're working on.”

Less than a third of the workforce in science, tech and engineering and math are women.

“We have a ways to go to not only recruit more women STEM graduates, but also to make sure that the ones who are here are finding opportunities and that we're keeping them,” says Wangler. “Our tech strategy called for another 20,000 jobs right over the next 10 years. And we need to make sure that we are not only creating tech jobs, but creating a diverse population.”

This year’s Tech Week will have some events focused on diversity, she adds.

Souffrou describes West Michigan's tech scene as collaborative and full of potential.

“I’ve been able to connect with incredible local tech entrepreneurs and innovators through the many opportunities for networking, learning, and growth that this community provides,” says Souffrou. “The region has a mix of technology companies, startups, and innovation hubs, making it a great place for new ideas and technological advancements.”

The Right PlaceShannon Cohen delivers the keynote at Go Beyond on May 9.

She’s looking forward to being able to surround herself with other innovators to share ideas, and to learn from the speakers and participants and Tech Week Grand Rapids provides. Souffrou says it is a great event for showcasing new technology, exploring ideas, and fostering collaborations.

“It’s amazing to see how this week is able to bring together thought leaders and brilliant minds, many who have built successful businesses here in our own West Michigan backyard, with students and community members who are all passionate about driving growth and advancements in technology,” says Souffrou.
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