Celebrating Women Leaders San Diego Edition – 2024

Posted: March 28, 2024

By Ella Napata

Celebrating Women Leaders San Diego Edition

At the beginning of March, Startup San Diego celebrated International Women’s Month with a 1st Monday – Networking & Expert panel centered around funding women-owned startups and how to increase equity for underserved founders. We also hosted a virtual screening of Show Her the Money, an award-winning documentary highlighting the disparting of women-founded businesses and what investors are doing to support women founders.

As we wrap up International Women’s Month, we want to celebrate all the startup leaders, entrepreneurs, founders, supporters, board members, and volunteers we’ve had over the years! This is just the tip of the iceberg, but thank you to all the wonderful women who always give back to the San Diego Startup Community!

Lets Celebrate these Women Startup & Tech Leaders:

1) Oralia Alvarez, Director of Business Development, Mission Driven Finance

Prior to joining Mission Driven Finance, Oralia was the national director of business development who played a key role in the growth and expansion of one of the largest platforms for diverse-led, service-based businesses, providing accelerator programs, funding, and advisory support. Oralia is an ecosystem builder, mentor, advisor, and angel investor to small businesses and startups. She is an alumni of the board of directors at Startup San Diego.

2) Lisa Barnhouse, Executive Director, Startup San Diego

Lisa Barnhouse’s career spans strategic marketing, non-profit leadership, and entrepreneurship. She currently serves as a consultant offering fund development and growth strategy planning for non-profit organizations and foundations.

3) Rachel Lozano Castro, Director of Innovation, San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center

Rachel Lozano Castro serves as San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center’s (PIC) director of innovation, managing the PIC innovation team and its portfolio of cross-sector initiatives, partnerships and programs. A bilingual and bi-literate Spanish speaker, Rachel brings a unique set of experiences to her role at PIC, including the director of the Brink Small Business Development Center at the University of San Diego (USD), where she assisted over 1,000 entrepreneurs in growing their businesses. 

4)Maisha Cobb, CEO, Mpact International

In her nearly 20 years of experience Maisha has consulted with C-suite leader across some of world’s biggest brand in technology, finance, automotive, biotechnology and healthcare as well as national, state and local non-profit and organizations. In 2019 she published her first book, “Epiphany Marketing: The Heart of Marketing Starts at Your Core”.

5) Tara Falcone, Head of L/S Equity Content, Point72

Tara Falcone, CFA, CFP® is a Main Street-born, Wall Street-bred finance expert, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, and Head of L/S Equity Content at Point72. After graduating from Yale in 2011, she began her finance career as a hedge fund analyst in New York City. Years later, she became an entrepreneur to create financial solutions for people like her friends and family. Tara’s perspectives on retail investing have been featured on CNBC, WSJ, Barron’s, NBC News, Business Insider, Fortune, Katie Couric, and more.

6) Dayra Gamiño, Community Building Manager, Arkusnexus 

Dayra is a Business Development Executive within ArkusNexus. She is based in Tijuana and loves to travel the world. She is a dynamic and engaging professional with over seven years of experience in the tech industry, specializing in Field Marketing and Events. She is spearheading the growth of a tech community in SoCal designed explicitly for C-level experts. 

7) Erika Gastelum, Operations Manager, Startup San Diego

A consultant dedicated to fostering equitable innovation hubs. With over four years of experience organizing events & programs designed to serve the needs of startups in the San Diego-Baja region, Erika continues to lead collaborative initiatives with key startup ecosystem players across public & private sectors in my current role as Operations Manager at Startup San Diego.  A recent graduate from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy & Strategy with a Master of International Affairs.

8) Cheryl Goodman, Founder, & Vice Chair, Startup San Diego

As a former journalist, Cheryl is an expert at curating the conversation around polarizing technologies where privacy and perception intersect. Her area of focus is on AI, metaverse, media and the sensor-driven hardware that collects data. Cheryl has represented Fortune 50 companies global efforts in attaining and gaining recognition for how their technologies show up in ESG outcomes such as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, accessibility, and environmental concerns. Currently serves as Vice Chair to Startup San Diego.

9) Melani Gordon, Executive Coach & Partner, Evolution

Melani Gordon, Partner at Evolution, is a serial entrepreneur and business coach who has dedicated the last decade to mentoring and coaching over 200 startup founders via Techstars and Founders First Capital.

10) Felena Hanson, Founder, Hera Hub

Felena is a long-time entrepreneur and marketing maven. Her latest venture, Hera Hub, is a spa-inspired shared workspace and community for female entrepreneurs. This as-needed, flexible work and meeting space provides a productive environment for growing businesses.

11) Paula Intravaia, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Cloud Club Collective 

A lifelong daydreamer, Paula strives to help K-20 educators and learners to realize their creative potential, as well as provide research-based tools and techniques for organizations to inclusively scale creativity, innovation, and well-being.

12) Rylie Jennings, Events Director, Stella Foundation & Thought Curator, Baddies Mean Business

Rylie Jennings is the Events Director for the Stella Foundation and lead thought curator and founder of, Baddies Mean Business, a media company focused on humanizing media valuing free-thinking, creativity, and innovation. The best story-tellers win.

13) Kimberly Davis King, Advisor, Spark Growth Ventures

Kimberly Davis King is a management lecturer at the Fowler College of Business and an entrepreneurship instructor for the ZIP LaunchPad and Lavin Program. A former venture capitalist, King is a partner at Launch Factory, a San Diego based venture studio.

14) MyPhuong Le, President & Cofounder, Aquillius

MyPhuong obtained her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutics and Translational Research from University of Florida. From her work at the University of Washington, Blue Heron Biotechnology, and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, she has over 20 years of experience in the life science field, including drug and device development.  In addition to research projects, MyPhuong developed and managed the quality management system under ISO 13485 for medical devices for Microtek. MyPhuong enjoys DIY projects and woodworking.

15) Jasmine LeFlore, Sr. Principal Engineer, Collins Aerospace & Co-founder of Greater Than Tech

Winner of the 2020 Women of Color STEM Community Service in Industry Award, Jasmine co-founded the non-profit Greater than Tech (GTT).  GTT offers workshops, development programs, competitions, training and STEM camps.  The STEM camps focus on robotics and computer science for ages 11 – 13. Jasmine is passionate about making the intersection of business and engineering concepts accessible to bright young minds. 

16) Silvia Mah, Director of Innovation, Biola University & Chairwoman & Founder, We are Stella Co

Silvia Mah is GP at Stella Impact Capital, a seed-stage venture fund, investing in diverse women founders with deep tech solutions and a redemptive entrepreneur and investor serving as the new Director of Innovation at Biola University.

17) Christie Marcella, COO, Connect

Highly motivated and self-directed non-profit leader with over 10 years of project management experience, including public sector work. My work focuses on building thriving communities by supporting strong innovation sectors that, with design, can create more inclusive, wealth-building futures for all. 

18) Maria-Nicole Marino, Co-founder, Panic Panties

Maria is the Co-founder of Panic Panties. Panic Panties are covenient panties for life on-the-go for all those times you’re at the gym, on a date, on your period, on a trip, out of laundry, or laugh just a little too hard and PANIC realizing you need a new pair of panties in a pinch. 

19) Neha Goel, AI at Microsoft 

AI Products Builder, passionate about helping businesses transform through optimal utilization of technology, with a particular focus on data and AI by building customer focussed products. Neha believes in the power of technology to positively impact the world, and she is dedicated to making that impact a reality.

20) Rebecca Owens, Chief Executive Officer, Cancer Help Desk

Passionate, focused, and driven healthcare leader who cares tremendously about impacting change in cancer care. Understanding the gaps in care delivery leads to innovative solutions. The global change we are experiencing calls for new ways in delivering optimized care to all patients; regardless of location, disease type, or demographics. 

21) Samantha Pantazopoulos, Co-Founder and CEO, Vizer

Sam is a brand strategist, connector of people and ideas, and accomplished speaker and writer. She is the recipient of multiple social entrepreneurship awards and was named the Rising Star Entrepreneur of the Year at the Women’s Venture Summit.

22) Cathy Pucher, Executive Director, Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad

Cathy works with aspiring entrepreneurs at SDSU’s Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad. She brings 20+ years of experience in the high-tech industry across large and startup companies to her work at the Executive Director of the ZIP Launchpad. She helped create EvoNexus, an incubator dedicated to stimulating the growth of new high technology companies in San Diego, and served as their first Executive Director. Mrs. Pucher earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering at University California, San Diego.

23) Mysty Rusk, Executive Director of the Free Enterprise Institute

Mysty Rusk is the Executive Director of the Free Enterprise Institute. Having served 3 years as the Director of The Brink Small Business Development Center at the University of San Diego, Rusk helped establish USD’s role as a major contributor in San Diego’s innovation ecosystem.

24) Lauree Sahba, COO at San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation

At San Diego Regional EDC, with the support of 200 companies, agencies and nonprofits, we’re helping maximize economic prosperity through an inclusive growth agenda and raising the region’s global profile. 

25) Nelle Sacknoff , Global Marketing & Product Growth Leader

Creative, strategic, and data-driven marketing and product management leader who gets things done. Fractional CMO / GTM leader and global digital transformation advisor to small to medium size businesses and organizations in growth mode.

26) Lena Skliarova-Mordvinova, Co-Founder, CTO @ Good Face Project

Former Ukrainian Space Research Institute Scientist. Creator of proprietary DataMining packages for large scientific data sets, used at numerous research institutions. Published author of multiple Image Recognition Algorithms.

27) Kristin Tillquist, Government Relations / Business Consultant

Kristin Tillquist’s expertise in business spans politics, the law, and internationalism. She was the chief of staff to the mayor of the City of Riverside, the capital city of one of the largest, fastest-growing counties in America. Currently she provides consultancy and government relations services for a wide variety of Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) entrepreneurs and businesses.

28) Elizabeth Tishchenko, Co-Founder at Nevemind

Elizabeth has designed multiple digital products, managed software development teams, built a few communities, and hosted several workshops and a hackathon. Elizabeth is also the Co-founder of Nevemind, the rolodex of the 21st century which is created for professionals to automatically handle professional communications across multiple platforms distractions-free.

29) Pree Walia, Founder and CEO of Preemadonna.

Pree Walia is the founder and CEO of Preemadonna. Preemadonna builds AI powered nail and body art experiences. Our flagship AI product, the Nailbot, prints art and photos on nails in five seconds. Along with the hardware comes an art platform and a community of creators – particularly Gen Z & Gen A young women.

30) Caitlin Wege, Pharmaceutical Executive, Ecosystem Builder, Investor and Advisor

Caitlin is an experienced executive and investor fostering growth, connecting ventures, and driving innovation in diverse industries. As a seasoned executive leader serving as the Executive Chair at Contract Pharmaceuticals Limited, she drives strategic initiatives, operations, culture and supports management.  

31) Margaret Yoo, Founder, ReliaCare

Margaret Yoo is the Founder of ReliaCare, a mobile application that uses an intuitive and interactive interface to effectively guide patients through their pre- and post-op process, leading to improved patient outcomes and enhanced patient satisfaction. When no one’s there, ReliaCare.

32) Lizbeth Zatarain, Community Builder, Arkusnexus

Thriving on curating spaces where like-minded professionals can share insights, spark ideas, and drive innovation within the local tech landscape. Currently part of ArkusNexus, a leading nearshore software development company with a strong focus on collaboration and fostering meaningful connections. 

33) Sharon Zhang , Co-founder & CTO @ Personal AI

Sharon is a scientist, creator, and a builde she believes in data, innovation, and humans. Passionate about people and about technologies that evolve alongside humanity. She has pursued expertise in artificial intelligence for over the past decade, building NLP products that impact the lives of patients, employees, and everyday people.

34) Ashley Van Zeeland, VP of Corporate and Business Development 

Ashley Van Zeeland is an American neuroscientist, focusing on genomics, genetics, and biotechnology in the fields of autism and anorexia nervosa.

35) Rachel Hommel, Strategic Initiatives Manager, San Diego Community Power

Great relationships are at the heart of what I do. As the Strategic Initiatives Manager for San Diego Community Power, my work helps to advance society – fostering and managing key partnerships, while scaling equitable and environmentally sustainable solutions.