Only about 24% of motor vehicle industry positions were held by women in 2019, and the Petersen Automotive Museum stepped in this year to create more opportunities for female-led startups. Petersen executive director Terry Karges and team came up with an incubator program that would support women at the helm of early-stage automotive-related companies with a three-month mentorship.
The firm chosen will receive up to $25,000 to grow its business. While the money can help (a lot), the key gift of this program is the access to mentorship from six industry leaders, including Sarah Lassek with Omaze; Alex Parker, Redline Detection, LLC; Diane Parker, Historic Vehicle Association; Dr. Sabrina Kay, Fremont Private Investments; Nikki Riedmiller, Kahn Media; and Jasmine Gonzalez, Petersen Automotive Museum. As anyone breaking into a business knows, having connections and networking along with solid advice to help you avoid costly mistakes comprises a big head start.
Omaze Senior Vice President Lassek says she’s passionate about cars and getting more women in and around cars.
“The automotive and motorsport industry is so male-dominated that it’s hard to break in,” Lassek told me in an interview. “It’s not leveling the playing field so much as opening the doors to let women come in. Men are chosen more easily [for jobs in automotive], so how do you give women that equal chance to show what they can do?”
Alex Parker works with car brands every day as the CMO and principal of diagnostic leak detection equipment manufacturer Redline Detection, which was named SEMA manufacturer of the year in 2020. She spends quite a bit of time in the engineering garages working on Redline products, which, as she puts it, “encompasses anything performance-based or high pressure–turbo, diesel, boosted–to get improved fuel economy and efficiency.” She's also a prolific mentor and has offered her help to more than 100 interns so far.
Parker is a mother, too, and sees the chance to create change for her two daughters and other women coming up through the professional world.
“I think the Petersen is visionary in what they’re doing and driving toward reaching parity in the automotive industry,” Parker says. “There are a lot of women out there who are creative, innovative, smart, and scrappy and have everything they need to make huge contributions except for financial backing. Only two percent of all venture capital goes to women-owned businesses, so there is a gap. It was nudging up slightly, and in 2020 it dropped and started heading the wrong direction, partly because women took the brunt of the home-based challenges.”
The committee is accepting applications until July 31, and includes not just the financial backing and mentorship but an office inside the Petersen and access to all the contacts and resources the Petersen has to offer. Applicants can own a business that touches automotive in wide ways, like aftermarket vehicle accessories, driving-related apparel, transport and delivery. Potential mentees must be a southern California-based company for 2021, although Lassek says they hope to grow the program nationwide.
"Having access to those who have paved the path and are further along is really remarkably valuable," Parker says. "This is a game changer."
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