Empowering Women: Tricia Martinez from SHIFT

Chicago has a wealth of small business owners that contribute towards the warmth of our local social fabric. These companies often flourish into larger businesses through the entrepreneur’s hard work and dedicated efforts, fueled by the desire to contribute to ethical and organic change. This month, we chat with Tricia Martinez, who is not a stranger to businesses that foster social good.  A social entrepreneur, Tricia has founded SHIFT, a peer-to-peer web and mobile platform sending cash transfers directly to women living in extreme poverty around the world while also tracking impact overtime. Once a contribution comes through the SHIFT platform, 85% goes directly to a woman in the form of a cash transfer and the other 15% goes to SHIFT’s operation and expansion expenses.

Tricia received her Masters of Public Policy from the University of Chicago’s Irving B. Harris School with a concentration in Development and Behavioral Economics. “It was there that I began learning how small scale improvements could make lasting impacts through methods of microfinance and cash transfers”. Tricia is a true believer that technology is what can drive large scale, global impacts and she has since dedicated her career to driving innovative technology solutions to the underserved around the world.  Growing up the youngest in an immigrant family full of determined women, Tricia experienced and observed real world problems from a different lens. As an American, Tricia was privileged to have access to her basic necessities- education, quality healthcare, and economic opportunity, but as a Mexican she was exposed to the disparities and hardships many immigrants, especially women, face every day— prejudice, gender violence, and financial insecurity. We are proud to present to you Tricia, her wonderful start up and future plans in encouraging social good throughout the world.


Who is Tricia?
I was born in Texas, but grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My father is an immigrant from Mexico and came to the states to go to graduate school where he met my mother. He got a job in Chicago and my parents decided the suburbs was the best place to raise a family with three girls because they had the best public schools.

I have been living in Chicago for nearly eight years and every winter I promise myself I am moving to California. It is a love hate with Chicago. As most people know, the winters are brutal, but the summer makes up for it.

What got you into the tech-world? 

While completing my Masters of Public Policy at the University of Chicago I began taking many classes at Booth in the entrepreneurship program and everything clicked. I instantly fell in love with entrepreneurship and understood it more than anything before.

My entire life I wanted to solve real world problems like poverty, corruption, human trafficking, etc and I thought the best way to do it was through policy. But I was wrong. The public sector is slow to change, scared to innovate and not willing to ever take a risk. Moreover, I have always believed that true global impact will come from innovative technologies and I knew that social entrepreneurship was the only thing to scale impact through technology.

Additionally, from the day 1871 opened, I have been very involved in the tech community. From working on multiple startups to supporting other companies I have figured out a way to be a part of this community and help it grow. My passion is impact entrepreneurship and I will forever be

What’s it like to be in the tech-scene as a woman, considering that the majority of players are men?

I would sadly say I am a rare entrepreneur in Chicago: a Latina impact entrepreneur. When 1871 opened I was hands down one of the only women Founders in the space. I am happy to say there are now many more women Founders getting acknowledged, getting resources, and getting support. But we still are not getting funding like men Founders. People don’t like t talk about it, but a lot of investors are stuck in a pattern matching investment strategy. You support what you know and because only white men founders who are building another social media app come through the door that is generally what they invest in. It is extremely disappointing. In the tech world, Chicago’s investment community is extremely risk averse and not many investors are willing to move outside of the norm.

Moreover, it saddens me that there are not more Latino or Black women entrepreneurs in the Chicago tech scene.

Research indicates (and many VCs will agree) that women make the best CEO’s and Founders. We don’t take shit and we have obstacles beyond obstacles compared to men Founders.

The next step is to start building out the female investor community so we can get some more women led companies backed.

Your take on Chicago’s tech scene? 

Chicago’s tech scene is definitely growing, but there are still so many things that need to improve. We are seeing more and more startups coming into the scene, but not nearly as many investors, VCs or different forms of institutional funding. There is a significant demand for funding, but not a good supply for investors, which is why so many early stage companies leave for the coast. In order for Chicago to continue to grow we need resources from all angles to come in and participate. Startups cannot grow by themselves they need the entire community to support them.

And what got you into micro-finance? 

I became fascinated with innovative financial solutions at the University of Chicago, which is how I ended up in microfinance. Microfinance was the first impact investing vehicle and what started to turn people on to creating impact and profit. I was fed up with the public sector and all its corruption and inability to drive impact and even more upset with the nonprofit sector and its inability to scale impact solutions.

Microfinance opened the door to so many world-changing solutions because people realized that a for-profit impact company is what will really making lasting impact. Eliminate inefficiencies and corruption and allow a market driven solution to drive change. This is what intrigued me about microfinance and why I am a true believer of it. Of course microfinance and other solutions can come with some negatives or mess-ups, but it is a learning process. If your mission is to create impact and provide support to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it then that is all that matters.

How does SHIFT work? 

SHIFT is a peer-to-peer web and mobile platform that sends direct cash transfers to women living in extreme poverty around the world and tracks impact overtime. Through the web platform, SHIFT raises microdonations and redirect those funds in the form of cash transfers directly to women. SHIFT sets up group savings accounts paired with a savings tool for basic mobile phones in order to bring financial empowerment to the most vulnerable women around the world.

SHIFT is a web and mobile platform connecting contributors to women in need around  the world. Rather than making a blind charitable contribution, individuals can send money directly to women living in extreme poverty. This transparent peer-to-peer platform lets contributors decide who their money goes to and what impact it is having. SHIFT raises $200 per woman and sends it directly to a new savings account. And since 85% of individuals in the developing world have access to a basic mobile phone, SHIFT is also developing a digital savings tool to help women save and budget their expenses. These tools enable SHIFT to track cash transfers, monitor spending and saving habits, and provide credit histories for all women.

shift desktop and phone

Have you partnered or collaborated with any other companies to spread the message? 

SHIFT is building corporate partnerships to spread the word and drive in more contributors, but we also have a marketing firm supporting us with acquisition efforts. Additionally, as an Impact Engine alum we work in partnership to spread the word.


Where do you see SHIFT in the next 10 years? OR what’s your long term plan? 

In the next 10 years, I definitely see SHIFT in over 50 countries reaching over 5 million women. Ling term plan is to reach millions of women around the world. We want to get a cash transfer in every woman’s hands who lives in extreme poverty. Cash transfers are the only proven solution to get people from extreme poverty to poverty and SHIFT is taking it to scale.


How has Chicago helped develop your career/success?

I owe everything to Chicago. From my Masters to nonprofit work to failed startups, it has take me some time to get here, but everything in my path has led me to this. I have really built up a strong support network in Chicago and I wouldn’t be where I am and SHIFT wouldn’t have gained so much traction with out all of them. I am forever grateful.

A quote you live by?

I don’t live by a quote, but instead my experiences and the people that surround me:

Women are the solution: Words that I live by. There is a clear image in my mind when I think of a woman: hopeful, resilient, and unstoppable. I’ve been surrounded by these women my entire life. From my mother and sisters to the SHIFT women around the world, I see nothing but determination in their eyes, which is the inspiration that drives me forward.

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