KU alumna and Kansas native wins $100K fellowship to expand her technology business

photo by: Contributed Photo

University of Kansas alumna Michelle Tran Maryns has won a $100,000 grant from the Bush Foundation.

A University of Kansas alumna has won a large grant to help expand her business, which seeks to provide AI-powered technology to entrepreneurs who are women of color.

Michelle Tran Maryns is one of 24 recipients of the 2021 Bush Fellowship. The Bush Fellowship is granted by the Bush Foundation, which was started by Archibald and Edyth Bush in 1953. Each of the recipients will receive a $100,000 grant to “build their capacity to make change happen,” according to the Bush Foundation’s website.

Maryns is the CEO of We Sparkle, a company that provides entrepreneurs with the AI tools they need to succeed, she said in an interview with the Journal-World. We Sparkle equips entrepreneurs with a digital assistant that helps business owners save time by doing administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments and answering frequently asked questions. The tool can be displayed on a business’ Facebook page or website. Customers can also text a business’ Sparkle number for help.

Maryns, 36, who now lives in Minneapolis, said she has a particular focus on trying to help entrepreneurs who are women of color.

“Women of color are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs, but their revenues are not on par with their peers, and that gap is widening,” she said.

Maryns, who is originally from Derby, graduated from KU in 2007 with a major in Slavic languages and literature. She said she started her career as a diplomat and then fell in love with technology. According to her biography on the Bush Foundation website, she led the design of the U.S. Department of State’s first-ever mobile app. She plans to use the grant money to invest in financial management training and explore partnerships with other organizations. Through the fellowship, she said she would also be able to participate in sessions with the other fellows and receive leadership coaching.


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