Sacramento may not be at the top of most peoples’ lists of the best places to launch an innovative tech startup. But for those who doubt the California capital’s potential for serving aspiring founders, think again, because the City of Trees is quickly becoming one of the best places to start an impactful company.
And why is Sacramento one of the top growing startup hubs? Well, there are plenty of reasons - a large pool of tech talent, a growing demand for innovative solutions, federal initiatives to lure outside investors and major companies, etc. - but we at the Founder Institute believe that local startup luminary Mariah Lichtenstern is the one who’s really pushing the city to become California’s next Silicon Valley. As a founder, investor, and public speaker, Mariah is one of the most important entrepreneurial figures in the growing Sacramento startup ecosystem.
Currently, Mariah divides her efforts between a slew of various roles. As a self-described “activist entrepreneur”, Mariah spends time working with DiverseCity Ventures (a venture capital firm that she co-founded); managing Cineshares (a startup that she co-founded); leading Sacramento Founder Institute (of which she’s the Managing Director); mentoring with multiple organizations (including Draper University, Startup Weekend and Sacramento State); and serving on the Tech Advisory Committee for CleanTech Fund, CalSEED.
Of course, judging on her impressive background, it’s easy to see why she’s become such an important and active startup fixture in Sactown.
Mariah received her B.A. in Rhetoric, as well as minors in English and African Studies at U.C. Berkeley. She later went to University of Southern California to study Motion Picture Producing, an als studied Technology Entrepreneurship at Stanford University. And as if that weren’t enough, Mariah was also a finalist of the Kauffman Fellowship program, a a highly sought-after two-year program dedicated exclusively to the world of innovation investing. Clearly, Mariah isn’t the kind of person to rest on her laurels and call it a day.
In 2015, Mariah joined the Silicon Valley chapter of the Founder Institute, having already spent a year on her company, Cineshares, a platform that connects filmmakers and their stakeholders from script-to-screen, from compliant film finance to distribution - no doubt inspired by her interest and previous education in film. It was during the Founder Institute’s rigorous 4 month program that she got her first real crash course in entrepreneurship. According to Mariah:
In FI, I learned to focus not on validating my business, but rather invalidating it. I learned new tools to quantify and demonstrate what was hitherto instinctual. Conversely, I learned to trust my instinct when confronted with multiple views and conflicting feedback. There were times when mentors tested not only our coachability, but also our resolve. We all had to learn to commit to both.
Despite the Founder Institute’s challenging training and assignments, Mariah proved that she had what it takes to become an exemplary Founder; she was one of 12 Founders to graduate from that program - from a class that started with 50 Founders. And her company has gotten considerable attention over the past few years, recently profiled in Comstock’s article, “Startup of the Month: Cineshares”.
Having gone through the trials and tribulations of going through the Founder Institute and launching a tech company, it only made sense for Mariah to take on the role of Managing Director of FI’s Sacramento chapter, which has led to the creation of some of the region’s most promising tech startups. Earlier this year, the inaugural chapter’s graduation was covered in an article by Sacramento Startup News.
When you go through something this intense, it builds camaraderie, and founders need fellowship with others who understand the unique drive we share. That’s a very special part of FI – the local team, the support of headquarters in Silicon Valley, and the global network who all know what Graduates have endured. Now, I want to see our grads go out, participate in other startup activities, take advantage of our region’s resources, and contribute to the ecosystem.
Below are the Founders and their companies founders who survived the challenging experience of the Founder Institute under Mariah’s tutelage:
Creditrak: A credit and money management tool to plan your finances and prepare for future lending opportunities.
ProPlanr: A planning and collaboration task management platform for teams.
Humaxa: A workplace community builder that helps organizations maximize retention and engagement.
Croperr: An interactive mobile app that helps farmers meet the rising demand for food while reducing costs.
Fanalyze: A fantasy football analysis platform that reduces the time needed to do player research and analysis.
MultiCultural Press: Multilingual stories for kids of all backgrounds.
Like most seasoned experts, Mariah has accumulated considerable wisdom in the realm of innovation and tech startups, and offers her sage wisdom to budding founders:
We can develop the knowledge and skills to help us face challenges, but ultimately, our state of mind and belief system is what sets us apart and enables us to withstand the impossible odds - and perhaps even rise up from what looks like certain death. Only then can we ‘return with the elixir’ that allows others to benefit from our journey.