Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp leads one of the most prominent startups in New York City, but a key tool useful for today's entrepreneurs has eluded her for many years: She doesn't have a deep knowledge of coding.

The co-founder and CEO of the subscription beauty retailer, which was most recently valued at $485 million, had long felt that coding was off-limits to her. "I grew up in El Paso, Texas and I was not exposed to the concept of entrepreneurship or engineering," she says, noting that she also lacked female role models. That, she adds, has an impact on the way women perceive their options.

Beauchamp has big plans to rectify the issue. On Thursday, Birchbox and the Flatiron School, a New York-based coding academy, announced a scholarship program aimed at getting more women into the technology industry.

At the end of January, 25 female students will receive 50 percent funding for the standard, online full-stack web development program offered by the Flatiron School. That means they'll pay just $750 for tuition, as opposed to the standard rate of $1,500. Beauchamp herself says she hopes to take the course in future.

Making an Impact

While 25 students won't make a huge impact on the industry overall, it's a symbolic and important step. There are currently no plans to renew the scholarship program, though the companies say they plan to continue working together in future to create more opportunities for women in tech.

"It's important for us to create ways for women to take more advantage of these opportunities," says Rebekah Rombom, the vice president of career services at the Flatiron School. Rombom and her team work with some 150 students at time, helping them to find jobs with high-paying salaries after graduation. Around 98 percent of Flatiron school graduates seeking work end up with steady employment, according to the company, with an average starting salary of between $74,000 and $75,000 annually.

Interestingly, while the gender pay gap across the tech sector is alive and well, female graduates of the Flatiron School tend to out-earn their male peers by around $1,000 annually, according to the company. Rombom attributes this to the fact that employers can't necessarily hold graduates to their previous salary in another sector, and students are coached on ways to negotiate their pay with bosses.

The scholarship winners will be chosen according to need and a proven interest in coding, according to Beauchamp. Both companies are contributing resources to the program, but neither Rombom nor Beauchamp would disclose the share. The Flatiron School guarantees students a job within six months, or they get their money back. Rombom insists that it has yet to refund any tuition since it implemented the guarantee a year ago.

The Flatiron School's offer isn't unique. The Fullstack Academy, another coding school, last year launched a special program for women coders called the Grace Hopper Academy, named after the computer science pioneer. Students who plan to work as developers upon graduating pay nothing up front (once accepted, they're required to put down a refundable $3,000 deposit,) with tuition ultimately paid back once they secure a job. The eventual cost of that program is 22.5 percent of a graduate's first-year salary, paid out over nine months.

A Return on Investment

Birchbox's founder admits that it's never easy to give away resources, especially when the returns aren't immediately apparent. "Any time you're shifting resources around to things that don't seem like they have an obvious return on investment, it's a big decision," Beauchamp says, "but it's been engrained in us that every action we take cannot be about an immediate ROI. That's a very short-term view."

Last year, in particular, was a trying time for the six-year-old company. Birchbox was forced to cut roughly 80 jobs, halted plans for additional brick-and-mortar stores, and was reportedly in talks to sell last summer.

"2016 was a really challenging year for the company. There's no way around that," says Beauchamp. "It's given me a lot more confidence in the business. The truth is, it's so hard to understand how talented you are when things are going well, because you can confuse talent for luck."

Published on: Jan 5, 2017