Q&A with Executive Women in Technology Forum Member Eryka Gemma
We’d like to introduce you to Executive Women in Technology Forum Member and CEO of the Bitcoin Center Miami Eryka Gemma. Eryka shared with us how her interest in aeronautics eventually led to a career in the blockchain space, as well as some insightful tips for other women who may be interested in entering a male-dominated industry.
Q: Could you tell us a little about your background, please?
EG: Traditionally, I have worked in aviation—I have my private pilot license and a degree in aeronautics. I always knew I wanted to get into aviation. At 16 years old, I became accustomed to being the only girl in the classroom. I got my pilots license, but it was expensive to continue my education in that field, so I started working in aircraft leasing at a bank called CIT. When the bank sold all their airplanes, I started working for Aerolease, another aircraft leasing company, as the Director of Marketing.
At Aerolease, I told my coworkers about bitcoin and then this whole “blockchain” thing swept the nation. Blockchain can improve a lot of processes in aviation, so my company started sending me around to learn about blockchain and the technology behind it. I immediately saw an opportunity. I had already been hosting local meet-ups in Miami around bitcoin in my free time. The timing was right for me to start my entrepreneurial career and delve into blockchain.
At these local meet-ups, the focus was to bring the community together. The technology of blockchain is very global, so people meet online already. However, having a physical space to meet brought a lot of value. I had some internet personalities come out, as well as professors who teach at UM and other schools in the area. At first, it was a lot of younger people coming out, but then it grew to the point where the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce was in attendance
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a career in technology?
EG: Knowing that technology will shape the future, I fell in love with the social implications of blockchain. On a global scheme, bitcoin and blockchain can provide answers to issues we’ve been facing for years with centralized government.
Bitcoin was created for people that transact on the internet. It was a way to have a form of money that is not controlled by one entity and therefore cannot be corrupted by those in power. Every other currency in the world has been controlled by a government or huge stakeholders.
Q: Could you share a few examples of problems that blockchain could solve?
EG: Sure! It’s important to note that businesses have taken bitcoin, modified it to work for their systems, and called it blockchain. Not all of the qualities of bitcoin are applicable in blockchain. IBM, JP Morgan & Chase, Goldman Sachs, American Express—they all have a blockchain department. In the use case of money, blockchain allows for a ledger system that is more efficient, more transparent, and costs less.
Some other “low hanging fruit” that Blockchain can streamline is in supply chain management and healthcare.
For healthcare, Let’s say I live in Florida and am vacationing in Maine and am in a car accident. Medical professionals don’t know what blood type I am or what medications I’m on. Blockchain could provide one source of information where doctors could pull up vital data. You wouldn’t have to fill out a new form every doctors visit, constantly disclosing your personal information.
There is also the innovation built on top of blockchain called “smart contracts” that could help journalists and musicians receive automatic royalty payments for their work.
Q: Who were your role models/mentors?
EG: As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I haven’t had many female mentors. But one of my business partners, Nick Spanos, was always motivated to see the success of the next generation. I’m very thankful for his presence in my personal life. Another person who really shaped the way I do business is my previous employer at Aerolease. He demonstrated a great balance of having fun and getting work done and also had a great understanding of life and the importance of treating people well in business.
Q: What do you accredit your success to?
EG: Always having a desire to learn. I’m always reading, binge-watching YouTube videos, and I really enjoy listening to others stories. I’m constantly learning and absorbing new ideas.
Being organized, hard-working and bold. I’ve always been involved in a male-dominated industry. You have this stigma that women are underserved and need help to get a leg up. I’ve found that this isn’t true. Be bold and know that your thoughts are just as valuable, regardless of gender.
Treating people well in life has helped too, people like to do business with people they like.
Q: What has been one of your biggest challenges as a businesswoman?
EG: Challenges are learning opportunities to grow. One of the biggest things that myself and other women are in the process of overcoming is the ability to say “no.” As compassionate people, we want to help others. But positioning myself for success means saying “no” to helping other people so later down the road I have a greater capacity.
Q: What advice would you give to other women who may be starting their own business venture or are trying to get their foot in the door in the tech space?
EG: Women entering the tech space should know that we have a leg up over men. If interested in technology, go for it. Women should never buy into the idea that they’re the odd one out just because they’re the minority in the room. They have a unique advantage, especially in this day and age when businesses are looking to get more women in the space.
No one has ever stopped me or closed any doors. But if we, as women, play into this idea that we’re not capable, it becomes a problem. To get your foot in the door, understand that the technology space needs the qualities that females bring to the table—organization, communication, and feminine charm. There is so much value that we can add. Have confidence that the company you work for needs what you bring to the table in order to make it to the next level.
Q: How has being part of the Knight Foundation Funded Women in Technology Forum benefitted you, and how could an Executive Forum benefit other women?
EG: Having a community and being able to network with other powerful women has been amazing. The opportunity to get strategic advice from women who are already in the technology space is also beneficial.
The group includes teaching sessions, so you have these learning opportunities as well that are invaluable. It really is a mastermind group with experienced minds.
Q: How important is it for you to have a community where you can gather with like-minded women and exchange ideas?
EG: Being in a room full of powerful, tech-minded women is a luxury that I haven’t been afforded before, there’s a level of trust in the room. I have a board room of brilliant, successful women who want to see me succeed, and that’s invaluable. I encourage anyone who’s interested to get involved in a group like this, because the connections and advice you will receive will help you progress your business, self, and confidence.
Miami is a really great place to live with so many opportunities. There are many people wiling to work together—it’s not just the stereotypical beaches and bikinis—Miami really has a growing and collaborative tech community.