Erika Hairston founded Zimela to uplift underrepresented groups

Recent Yale graduate Erika Hairston saw a lack of representational role models for minority professionals. She founded Zimela (which means ”representation” in Xhosa) to uplift and connect underrepresented groups in technology.

Erika Hairston works on her app Zimela in her spare time, coding wherever and whenever she can.

Hairston, a 23-year-old Yale grad working in San Francisco, just launched her first app, Zimela, to promote diversity in tech. Zimela creates a network of mentors and mentees to help users realize their dreams.

Erika Hairston counts herself as the youngest of five siblings — and that includes her foster sister Kimmy. When Kimmy applied and was accepted into a program that connects low income students to elite high schools, Erika says suddenly her world opened up too.

“She inspired and guided me to dream bigger for myself,”

says Hairston.

“Zimela was born out of the idea that everyone should a have a Kimmy — a mentor and role model who allows them to see what’s possible out there. Everyone should also be able to find opportunities that help you get to where you want to go.”

Hairston designed Zimela to help underrepresented groups enter the tech pipeline by establishing mentorships and making users aware of career placement opportunities, like internships. She created the app in her final year at Yale and the name came from the movie “Black Panther” — Zimela is an interpretation of the Xhosa word for representation.

After Hairston graduated last year, she moved to San Francisco for a full-time job in Silicon Valley. In her spare time, she codes from her bedroom, her boyfriend’s house in Oakland, and wherever else she can steal a few minutes to prepare Zimela for its launch on the App Store.

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