Don’t give up. So many amazing ideas are never discovered because we give up. We succumb to the challenges, and the naysayers. If you truly believe in what you are doing, no matter what don’t stop, don’t give up. Supplement your income and take care of yourself while you follow those dreams. Don’t be bashful about what you are looking to do. I can’t tell you how many times I have been punched in the gut with my business dealings. I’ve been bullied, belittled and intentionally misled. Maintain self-awareness and self-respect. Always, always, always act with integrity, honesty and competent determination and you will succeed.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tami Fitzpatrick.
Tami Fitzpatrick is founder and CEO of Entropy Technology Design. Entropy is a Florida certified Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) startup and government contractor that developed the NIMBUS™ threat detection technology. Their smart sensors and software platform create new and untapped data fields to provide advance warning and protection against severe weather, lightning and pre-tornado conditions as well as manmade threats such as invasive drones, infrastructure mapping, and other security and public safety threats.
Ms. Fitzpatrick’s professional background includes 25 years’ experience in small corporate management, international trade, advanced technology development, product conceptualization, global sales and marketing. She has served on state and local Advisory Boards and been featured in local and national media as a leader to watch.
Her background story is so intense, fascinating and astonishing that you’ll surely wonder if you’re reading a movie script. She moved to Beirut and ended up leaving the country and her marriage under dramatic circumstances. It was upon her return home to the United States that she started her company. But her life mission is more than just saving lives — it’s a movement to change the world and how we help one another.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had just evacuated in the back of a military helicopter with my three children with only one suitcase each. I had been living there since 1991 and working at the US Embassy in Beirut for the past several years. I was also working to come out of a traumatic and heartbreaking marriage. It was 2006 and Israel and Hizballah had gone to war. After helping support the evacuation efforts of the thousands of US citizens in Lebanon, which is a story in itself, I asked the Ambassador if I could be on the last chopper out. He granted my request and after what felt like an eternity, I found myself back home. I had almost the same amount of culture shock coming back as I did 15 years earlier after leaving my career, family, and life for love. A princess like life had been promised…but not delivered. That’s another story filled with love, deception, isolation, trauma, facades and rebirth.
Once back home I had less than two weeks to find a home, furniture, car and clothing and get my children in school. Next, I filed for divorce and with no child support or alimony I set out to find me and make a life for my children and me. It was around that time that I met a talented physicist and inventor of a handheld lightning detector. He offered me a job in sales. Not a course I anticipated, but it felt right. This turned into my founding a new business and taking on the role of CEO but learning the business from the ground up. Sales reached $3 million and opportunities to expand on the technology were developed but my creditor couldn’t see the opportunity we had built so we were starved out. After a year of devastated hardship, I made the decision to develop the same, but completely new technology capable of reading Mother Nature’s mind when she has an attitude but this time with a team of expert engineers who could support the vision and mission of me and my CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and inventor. Today, we’re working with the Pentagon and DoD to continue with the research and development of our VLF (Very Low Frequency) magnetic field sensors, software and hardware called NIMBUS for the early detection, tracking and nonlethal disablement of sUAS’s (small Unmanned Aerial Systems aka drones). We’ve also commercialized the detection of other manmade threats such as infrastructure mapping to provide proactive solutions and avoid catastrophes such as the wildfires in California and power outages that froze and killed so many in Texas with a groundbreaking tech. So here I am…initially a fish out of water who is now a big fish in a little pond and loving every moment of it!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Just one story? LOL, I have many. Don’t we all. Some are interesting and others traumatizing, but all stacked to form who I am today. Early on we had brought in small investors who wrote checks, took board seats and C-level positions and paychecks. I’m sure you can see the error there. When funds ran out,they began showing that they had “other plans”. This is where the intense bullying and belittlement began on me to the point I was near breakdown. Which of course was their intent. However, just as fast as I hit that emotional rock bottom place you do when you’re watching men work to oust you, I woke up one morning a different woman and I bounced back. I called a Board meeting. Voted them all off the board (with 87% in favor) and terminated them for cause. Mic drop. I’m not making light of the emotional impact this all had on me, but because I knew I had the ability to overcome the darkest of times twice before in my life, this too I knew I could do! It also prompted me to research alternatives to growing my company without the stereotypical private or VC (Venture Capital) funding…and that led me to apply for government contracting.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Lesson #1: Thinking I had to be perfect, strong, and in charge! Lesson #2: Thinking I had to play by everyone else’s rules. I’ve been an entrepreneur all of my life. Starting with small modeling group projects, radio and television work, my own advertising agency and a leap to a third world country at the peak of my young career! I think the best answer here is to look at ALL of your mistakes and laugh! They were necessary. Learn. Laugh and move on!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are a team of technical experts doing something no one has done before…literally. That has its setbacks. We’re focused on low frequency magnetic fields and the detection of threats (both natural and manmade) that take place there giving the user early warning. The seed was planted over 30 years ago when my Chief Technology Officer, Edward Shaver read about a little boy who was struck and killed by lightning while playing second base during a Little League game. The story read “Act of God…nothing could have been done to prevent this death.” He knew there COULD be something done, and this sparked his brilliant mind to invent the first commercial use, handheld lightning detector. His goal was to give early warning with a device that was simple enough, even a child could use. Fast forward to today and we are on our fourth generation product, but with SO MUCH MORE to offer! We’re detecting and tracking storms, lightning, pre-tornadic conditions, transformer arching for infrastructure mapping and manmade threats such as malicious drones within a 1000-kilometer radius of the user. We provide them with real-time information for directionality, ETA, time to clear and much more. All with the goal of increasing your safety, productivity and decreasing liability…and all of our tech is developed for user ease in mind.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! 2021 is going to be an incredible year for my company. We have two large projects. One to protect our warfighter and the second to protect us against power outages. We’ve been working with the Pentagon and DoD to customize our NIMBUS technology to rapidly identify, alert and track, attack UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Systems aka drones) as well as nonlethally disable them in real-time. All you have to do is watch this clip of “Angel Has Fallen” to understand how important this technology will be to our government and country: https://youtu.be/aYywnZFPe6g and here is the short version https://youtu.be/pbGxYoxpPdI.
Our second focus is on infrastructure mapping. If you recall the two big events which drew global attention, the first were the wildfires in California that destroyed lives, countless homes, and wildlife and the second was in the summer (2021) with the power outages in Texas due to severe weather. Both of these could have potentially been avoided with our technology. Our sensors and software will monitor and alert our utility companies of failing transformers, arching or nearing end of life. This will give them unprecedented ability to take proactive action and avoid such events.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
It begins and ends with us. No change will happen by waiting for someone else to light that fire. Based on a report from the United States Census Bureau (Source 1), Women Are Nearly Half of U.S. Workforce but Only 27% of STEM Workers. Women in 2019 also made up nearly half of those in all math (47%) and life and physical science (45%) occupations.
However, women did not make as big gains in computer and engineering occupations, which made up the largest portion (80%) of the STEM workforce. That has my attention. I have a full team of engineers EE, mechanical, software, RF subject matter experts and specialists and not one of them is a woman. We’ve posted jobs on engineering sites and LinkedIn and to my knowledge not one applicant has been a woman. That needs to change!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Lack of confidence in themselves. Lack of interest due to perceptions. I know that little girls must dream of designing their own widget or spaceship to Mars but somewhere along the way that spark is missed or redirected. Is it their parents or teacher’s inability to help nurture their interest? I believe it starts that early. Perhaps we should listen and buy them a tool or soldering kit instead of a Barbie for their birthday. Ask. Honor their little minds. Don’t fill them with what YOU as a parent believe they should follow. That is a huge mistake I have seen parents do.
It’s also common knowledge that men will “fake it till they make it” when it comes to career choices and job seeking. A woman will spend more time soul searching for her passion and may miss her bliss because of negative perspectives associated with a career in STEM. I suggest we go boldly wherever we want. No more boundaries or hesitations. If you want it, go GET it. More and more, you’ll find women like me who have your back.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
It’s no different than any other career choice you make. If you LOVE it…LIVE it! We create boundaries. We can break them. Enough has occurred in the U.S. (and around the world) to start the movement forward. Men are more and more palatable and accepting of women in STEM and Tech. If they’re not…move through or around them. It’s a myth that we have blocks. If you don’t find what you’re looking for in one place, job, city or state…move. With the internet at your fingertips, you have the world at your feet. Diversity is no longer a block. Stop making it one!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Stay with it. Don’t give up. Don’t give in when you know what you want.
- Don’t be afraid to be yourself. It’s a wonderful time to be a woman leader in STEM, Tech and LIFE!
- Find a mentor and create your support group (advisory board)
- Know your stuff and defend it.
- Act with the intention to be remarkable
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I’ve dodged bombs in Beirut, evacuated my family in the back of a military chopper with nothing more than one suitcase of belongings, I’ve dealt with bullies in the boardroom and dishonest men who claimed they were there to ‘help and support me” when all they wanted was to traumatize, polarize and then kick me out of the back of the bus. I’ve LEARNED how to see them coming and how to handle them. If you allow them to walk over you, of course they will. When that happens, that’s on You. Trust your gut. Listen to your inner wisdom. I can’t tell you how many times I have looked into someone’s eyes and sensed a darkness. For years I ignored it or brushed it off. Then I realized that those subtle back of the neck hair crawls were spot on. Every. Single. Time. I’ve been a leader all my life. Not the smartest one when I started out and that’s okay. But mistakes are great when you learn from them. I’ve lost everything, sold belongings, furniture and my car to keep food on the table and a home overhead for my children. I’ve gone thru hell, but that hell made me appreciate everything I had once I stood up and charged forward again. Don’t give up your dream. Don’t let any man or woman tell you what you feel in your heart is your true destiny and desire. Work smart. Work from a place of love. Connect with whatever source gives you inspiration and power and be bold.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. Stay in touch with what is happening, but trust those who you have given the responsibility to. Select well and with thought. It takes a village…it takes a woman.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes, and oddly the person who has helped me the most is a woman I met while on a panel speaking about bootstrapping our businesses. She held nothing back and spoke about overcoming bankruptcy, bullies, and incredible hardships. I was so impressed with her honesty and inspired by her strength. We became friends and her advice has always been priceless. And guess what…she’s an Engineer! Go figure.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Speaking out. Leading by example and mentoring. I also lead my company with honesty and integrity. We start our own business, career or job to do these things: Make money. Be happy. Save the world. This small-town Iowa girl who ended up in the Middle East who endured over a decade of daily heartache, isolation and trauma went on to accomplish anything I set my mind to. I’ve endured abuse, bullying and neglect, but all of it has made me who I am today. All of it has taught me how to be grateful for those lessons and to find love where there was once bitter resentment and anger. I’m living proof that no matter how bad it gets, how much you feel there is nothing left for you, your dreams are shattered, stolen or stomped on…YOU HOLD THE CARDS TO YOUR LIFE. YOU chose to walk away from pain and heartache. Walk away with your head held high because you are brilliant and beautiful. You are one of a kind. No one can do what you do. Own it. Honor yourself and go do what makes YOU vibrate with joy! If you don’t…who will?
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Embrace Mindfulness and our womanly ways. I want to talk with Dolly Parton about an idea I’ve had to create The POWdER Room. I got this idea when I was at an event hosted by my friend and the owner/founder of TBBW (Tampa Bay Business & Wealth) Magazine here in Tampa. Bridget booked one of her monthly CEO Connects to feature an interview with her cover business owner at a venue filled with exotic cars, bar, pool tables and pinup girl paraphernalia. I was especially offended by the coed bathroom. Next to the toilet which was across from the men’s urinal and signs that read “Ladies, remain seated for the entire program” I saw a coin vintage machine distributing condoms. Everything about this place screamed MAN CAVE WITH MONEY. Clearly you had to be wealthy to be in this boy’s club. It was the perfect place for the “boys” to go and boast about their expensive cars, deals and duds. Well, I want to open the She Shack for ladies to come and feel empowered. The PowDer Room will feature everything fabulous about being a woman! We’ll have a wall of designer/autographed shoes and bag, martinis, wines and refreshments to please every pallet. A place to hold meetings, meditations and more. And above the entrance door there will be one single sign that reads: LEAVE YOUR EGO HERE.
When it comes to your business, don’t be afraid to stand your ground and show a little fang. And don’t fall for the old mind game others will play of intimidation that your reactions result in you being called a bitch or feeling as though you have to back down. Educate yourself. Be smart. Get more than one opinion from your mentors and listen to your instincts. Protect what you’ve created. Our businesses are much like our children or a loved one. If it is threatened, we go into protection mode and that’s OK.
I also encourage you to seek forms of investment to grow your company that don’t result in giving away ownership to others. Look for joint partnerships, grants and funding that are non-dilutive. Learn about SBIRs and STTR funding. There is a world of supportive collaborations, funding from our government and universities available that may be a better solution then that of a VC. I’m not against Venture Capital firms, I am simply pointing out that there are other options. As entrepreneurism continues to grow and flourish, don’t assume the only way to grow your company is to seek working capital from Angel investors and VC firms. I’ve personally experience and watched many individuals (the majority of them were women) inevitably get boxed out, bullied out or kicked to the curb when the business became a success. There are other options. Of course, if you don’t mind this and your goal is to grow and exit quickly, then that option may be perfect for you. My point is that there are other ways. Be creative. Be smart.
Gone are the days the founder should be expected to starve while they build their company. One of the issues I have with working with investors of your startup is that they often have a problem paying the founder. The founder is the core of the business and must be able to support themselves while they build the business. Period.
Lastly, don’t give up. So many amazing ideas are never discovered because we give up. We succumb to the challenges, and the naysayers. If you truly believe in what you are doing, no matter what don’t stop, don’t give up. Supplement your income and take care of yourself while you follow those dreams. Don’t be bashful about what you are looking to do. I can’t tell you how many times I have been punched in the gut with my business dealings. I’ve been bullied, belittled and intentionally misled. Maintain self-awareness and self-respect. Always, always, always act with integrity, honesty and competent determination and you will succeed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
- “The rewards for working through obstacles define who we are and make the success of our persistence even sweeter”. — Tami Fitzpatrick (I wrote this after overcoming great obstacles and realizing that it’s all well worth it. Don’t give up on your dreams.)
- Stay sassy, classy and a little badassy — Unknown — This isn’t really a quote but more of a mindset. Approximately eighty percent of your thoughts today are the same that you had yesterday. We waste our time rehashing things over and over again. Don’t dwell on past mistakes… dwell on the joy you’re attracting when or if someone is trying to pull you down. Don’t give unpleasantries permission — simply refuse to let them in your thoughts and actions. Have compassion and set clear boundaries. This is a way to love yourself more. As I’ve said before, maintain self-awareness and self-respect. Always, always, always act with class, integrity, honesty and competent determination and you will succeed.
- “No matter where you go…there you are.” -Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. My decisions have taken me to other countries, dismal situations and deep hardship. But no matter where you go, there You are….your mind is in charge. You can overcome even the darkest hour. When trouble comes…shift your focus on something positive that takes you forward. Stop dwelling on the negative or the past. It is over. Focus forward and stay calm. You’ve got this. Look fear in the face and smile. Give it a wink and turn your attention to making that situation better. Believe in it and believe in yourself. There is no one like you in this universe. You are something special.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d like to have breakfast with Deepak Chopra and Oprah. After that, I’d like to have lunch with a lady I admire greatly, Condoleezza Rice. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting her as she stopped by the US Embassy in Beirut years ago. Next, I’d like to have mid afternoon tea with Amal Clooney, Barbara Streisand and Shonda Rhimes to talk about turning the book I’m writing into a movie (what a combination). It would be interesting to meet Marilyn Hewson, chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin. Dinner with Dolly Pardon because I’ve been hearing so much about her incredible life lately that I never knew. And finally an after-dinner drink with Miuccia Prada because I adore Prada and need help with my wardrobe and image! Come to think of it, I should have started with her so I would know how to dress for everyone else!