Spotlight: Crystal Martin on What Entrepreneur Means to Her

Crystal is the St. Louis community engagement manager for LaunchCode. A Michigan native, coding captured her attention and kept her in St. Louis.

Photo courtesy of Megan Magray

How did you get involved in the startup community?

I didn’t know what a startup tech scene even was when I was in college. I could hardly get my Dell desktop computer to turn on, let alone figure out how it works.

I got involved in the tech scene in a funny, weird way: I came here with Teach For America in 2010 and taught middle school math in South City for four years. During my last year of teaching, I realized I wanted to do something different.

I wanted to pair my creative, artistic side with my love for science, and I discovered that code was a way to do that. I didn’t know exactly where to start, but I’d heard that had all kinds of groups.

So I searched “coding meetups” and found STLRuby. I signed up and showed up to their monthly meetup. I was the only woman and black person there, but the guys were super-welcoming.

After the meetup, Brad Urani (who just so happened to be a LaunchCode mentor at his company, Upside) told me I should talk to his friend Colleen [Liebig]. He said, “She’s starting this girl-coder thing.”

That’s when I first found out about CoderGirl. Through that program, I started learning to code through CS50. Once I learned about all the opportunities at LaunchCode, I thought, “I want to give my time to this organization for free—how awesome would it be to work there!”

What’s kept you in St. Louis?

Tech is what’s kept me in St. Louis. Not too long ago, one of my co-workers at LaunchCode told me that he was so blown away by the fact that I cited LaunchCode and CoderGirl as reasons why I stayed in St. Louis.

I was one foot out the door, and then I heard about these organizations and the opportunity they were giving to people, and I thought, “I really want to see where this goes.”

What does being an “entrepreneur” mean to you?

For me, entrepreneur really translates to “hustler.” It’s the ability to make “$1 out of 15 cents”; something out of nothing.

There are so many people who are entrepreneurs and never get celebrated or acknowledged as such because they’re promoting parties in their community or doing hair in their basement salon (like I did all through high school and college).

What three qualities do you think an entrepreneur should have?

Empathy, integrity and tact.

What are you most passionate about?

I care about everybody getting an opportunity. We all come from different walks of life and circumstances, but everyone should at least get the chance to know what’s out there—what you can learn, explore or be. I care about people actualizing their dreams, whatever they might be.

What keeps you up at night?

All the things that I want to do and places I want to go. I’m a dreamer, and I spend a lot of time wishing I could have 1,000 lives at once.

I often feel like I’m not doing enough, so I’m up strategizing how I could maybe live 999 of those lives.