Attention tech entrepreneurs: If you’ve never heard of Kathryn Finney before, then pay attention; she is someone you should know. In fact, more importantly, if she knows you, she can be the best friend you’ve never had.
Known across the blogosphere as The Budget Fashionista, Finney is famous for teaching the fashion-conscious, but financially-challenged among us, how to look runway-ready for a fifth of the cost. The Yale epidemiology graduate started the blog in 2003, before the invention of WordPress, and after her husband, a web-developer at Victoria’s Secret, pointed out that her shopping was putting a crimp in their pocketbooks.
“When I started doing the Budget Fashionista I was newly married, living in Philadelphia. Knew no one, but my husband [who] worked a lot. I was shopping. I was bored. I was spending a lot of money,” says Finney, who previously worked as a research scientist, specializing in HIV/AIDS in women. “I’ve always been the flyest scientist. I went to India and didn’t bring any clothes in my suitcase so I could bring back fabrics.”
Budget Fashionista’s popularity grew tremendously. Finney scored a position as editor-at-large for BlogHer, was tapped as a regular fashion contributor for NBC’s Today show; became the first fashion blogger to receive a book deal from Random House, penning How To Be A Budget Fashionista: The Ultimate Guide to Looking Fabulous for Less; and even moved to Los Angeles to begin working on a television show.
Right now, you might be wondering what fashion blogging has to do with the innovation economy. Well, the television show never came to fruition. After everything had been negotiated, the title cards were complete, and only the word Action! was left, Finney’s decided not to pursue a career in entertainment. She felt a deeper calling was still ahead for her in technology.
She credits her father, Robert Finney. Because it was he, she says, who bestowed upon her the worker-bee work ethic that helps her keep all of the balls in the air, without forgetting to give back. In him, she witnessed a 36-year-old husband and father of two small kids, a high school dropout, and displaced factory worker, take an unpaid internship, flip that into a full-time job, move his family a state away to Minnesota, work his way up the ladder in corporate America, earn a bachelor’s degree, and eventually become a senior software engineer at Microsoft. Growing up in the eighties, around her childhood home Finney remembers finding napkins and scraps of paper scrawled with software code. When her father died in 2001, he was an executive at EMC, a world leader in data storage.
Robert didn’t do it alone. He had help. When he was laid off from the Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (the same one where fictional characters Laverne and Shirley worked) he sought the help of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers, founded by Rev. Leon Sullivan, a man who was heaven-bent on providing the black working class a leg-up to elude poverty and oppression. He did this by taking individuals with little hope and few prospects, offering them job training and instruction in life skills and then helped place them into jobs. That program changed her father’s life.