Erica Peterson is a mother of 2, entrepreneur, and TEDx speaker living in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the Founder & CEO of Moms Can: Code, a membership-based community for moms learning to code. Erica is very passionate about exposing women and children to STEM. This past summer, Erica was selected as a member of The Incline’s Who’s Next: Education class for her work as Founder & Board President of Science Tots, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects families with the tools and instruction to power early childhood STEAM learning. Most recently, Erica won first prize at the 2017 Pittsburgh Invest in Her Pitch Competition and was selected as a 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch finalist for Moms Can: Code. Erica holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science & Nutrition from West Virginia University.
How did you get to where you are today?
It's been quite an incredible journey. There have been many ups and downs! Over the past 6 months, I have worked harder than I ever have in my entire life. I feel more driven than ever.
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
I think my toughest obstacle thus far has been overcoming self-doubt and insecurity. When I was 16, I wasn't doing well in high school due to personal reasons and an eating disorder. I asked my Assistant Principal if I could take the GED. For a long time, I felt ashamed that I didn't finish high school. My friends all went on to graduate and attended really good colleges and universities and I felt like this one decision would negatively impact me for the rest of my life. Now I know that it's not true but at the time, I felt it was. It took more than a few years for me to regain the confidence I had in my early teens. I took classes at a community college and online. It wasn't until I was 21 that I transferred as a nontraditional student to West Virginia University. It was there that I really grew and found myself again.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
For me, it's my children. I want them to know what a being a successful mother and businesswoman looks like. It looks like hard work and sleepless nights sometimes.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
I remember in 6th grade I was beginning to become really concerned with what the boys thought of my appearance and I started getting manicures like the other girls. One day my teacher who was a powerhouse of a woman, by the way, came over to me, leaned over and whispered, "Keep your nails short and get to work."
I will never forget that moment. I was in the middle of writing an essay and instead of focusing on my essay, I was looking around the room to see if a boy I liked would make eye contact with me. She was telling me to quit caring about my appearance and get back to my essay.
Years later, in my teens, I had a serious eating disorder. I didn't finish high school because I was so consumed by Anorexia and Bulimia. I regret the years I spent inside because I felt I didn't look thin enough or pretty enough to go to class.
Whenever I start feeling those old negative feelings, I just think back to that moment in 6th grade and get back to work.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
Don't be afraid to share your idea with others. Perfect it. Fine tune it as you go. As long as it's only an idea inside of your head, it has no chance of succeeding. You need feedback from your audience and users to grow.
How do we get more women leaders?
We get more women leaders by educating women about what the possibilities are. It starts in the home when a parent suggests their daughter can be a President or CEO. It starts in schools when students start to explore different careers. Teachers and counselors should discuss paths to leadership, not just the entry-level positions one can obtain if you go to college.