#StartupsEverywhere: Phoenix, A.Z.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Robyn Exton, Founder, HER Social App

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

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From the U.K. to the U.S.

There’s an active discussion in Washington, D.C. about immigration reform. Engine is currently drafting comments about proposed changes to the H-1B visa process. The Department of Homeland Security recently proposed a rule change to the H-1B visa lottery process that would allow companies to pre-register electronically with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and would change the selection process to benefit applicants with advanced degrees. This could effect immigration entrepreneurs like Robyn Exton, founder of HER. Robyn started her company in Europe and expanded to the United States, offering a unique perspective of the ecosystems. Robyn is supportive of policies that encourage more inclusive and diverse companies, from gender to country of origin.

Tell me about you. Why did you start Her?

I started HER because at the time there wasn’t a single app that had been built specifically with queer womxn in mind. There were hundreds of apps for gay men and straight people, but no one had looked at the unique experiences of womxn and what would make the perfect experience for our community.

What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to the startup ecosystem in the last year?

I think the revelations and accountability of the gender issues and sexual harrasment in Silicon Valley are having a serious impact. It’s still the start of making a large change that is much overdue and needed but the conversation is continuing and I hope we’ll carry on seeing better accountability and representation of women in the industry.

What was different about getting started in Europe as compared the United States? Why was Phoenix on your first expansion cities in the U.S.?

London is a much smaller tech scene but is much more supportive amongst peers as the network is really close knit. San Francisco is a huge ecosystem with more funding opportunities, more people to hire, but lacks the sense of community. We chose Phoenix because it had Pride coming up soon after our launch, we saw a huge number of LGBTQ meetup groups there that were really active, and it wasn’t too far from San Francisco.

Do you feel the U.S. is receptive to your efforts as an ecosystem?

Yes. absolutely. It’s our largest market by far and think some of the strongest LGBTQ movements are coming from the U.S. at the moment.

What is the biggest challenge that you still face?

We’re currently expanding internationally and understanding the nuances of each country’s LGBTQ culture, the vocabulary used in each community is really interesting but takes a lot of time to get up to speed.

How involved are your government representatives in your effort?

The British government had been very supportive of U.K. entrepreneurs moving to the U.S. and supporting investment in the U.K. with tax breaks the encourage more people to invest.

What’s next for you?

I plan to expand internationally across Europe and then South America.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is. Give us your feedback here.