Meeting Austin’s Tech Pioneers


Meeting Austin’s Tech Pioneers

Driving the Mazda CX‑5, Mazda Stories sets its sights on Austin’s booming tech scene and meets three inspiring women pioneering its very future.

Austin is shifting gears. Located deep in the heart of Texas, bordered by rolling hills bursting with wildflowers and prickly desert flora, the eclectic city has grown into a thriving tech hub. Attracting industry titans and budding start-ups, it’s earned the moniker ‘Silicon Hills’ and transformed its skyline.

Today, I’m visiting a few of the city’s fastest-rising entrepreneurs: three influential women who embody not only the spirit of Austin—where our bold past and our innovative future play—but also Mazda’s endearing challenger spirit, too. What’s more, with its intuitive technology, unique Kodo design, and powerful turbo engine, the Mazda CX‑5 makes the perfect companion for this urban adventure.

“What we’re doing isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.”

VIVIAN CHU, Cofounder and Cto, diligent robotics

After parking the Mazda CX‑5 amid the trendy restaurants and breweries of Austin’s vibrant eastside, I meet Dr. Vivian Chu, CTO and cofounder of Diligent Robotics, and her robot Moxi, at the company’s bustling office space.

Vivian and her cofounder, Dr. Andrea Thomaz, have spent years studying human-robot interactions and interviewing over 150 people to understand where robots could make the biggest impact. Their research culminated in the creation of Moxi, a robot assistant that performs routine healthcare tasks—like delivering medication and lab samples—so workers can focus on patient care. 

“We discovered that in healthcare, clinicians and frontline staff spend up to 30 percent of their time just running around, getting things,” Vivian says. To date, the Moxi fleet has delivered nearly half a million items, saving frontline professionals thousands of hours and footsteps.

Click to listen: Expert roboticist Vivian Chu has spent over a decade studying human-robot interaction.

It’s surreal watching Moxi zip through the office, expertly maneuvering around desks, equipment, and huddles of engineers. The robot’s presence is oddly soothing, which Vivian says is by design. Moxi’s endearing “meep” sounds and blinking LED eyes help people feel comfortable working alongside the robot, and raise spirits in emotionally challenging clinical environments.

“What we’re doing isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is,” Vivian says. “That’s something we embrace and is part of our mantra every single day.”

It’s heartening to know there’s a fleet of robots (and humans) striving to make healthcare workers’ tough jobs a little easier. I leave my time with Vivian and Moxi feeling inspired.

Click to listen: Allegra Brantly is passionate about the potential of financial literacy.

As I drive the Mazda CX‑5 to a quiet neighborhood further east, Allegra Brantly invites me into her stylish home office. As I arrive, she tells me that leaving behind fast-paced New York City for sunny, laid-back Austin helped her cultivate a better work-life balance—and solidified the idea for her business.

As founder and CEO of Factora, Allegra is on an ambitious mission to lead one million women to $1 million in net worth. Her company’s online course and wealth-building community, the Wealth Circle, teaches members how to earn more, work less, and maximize their most precious resource: time.

“You have to have a desire to chart your own path.”

ALLEGRA BRANTLY, founder aNd CEO, factora

The course framework is undoubtedly useful, but Allegra notes that the community’s raw, honest discussions are where the rubber meets the road. Several members have hosted in-person meetups, launched businesses, and even invested in properties together. “We need to break these barriers. Society has told us it’s not okay to talk about money, and that it’s rude or wrong,” she says. “But I think it’s a beautiful thing.”

Allegra points out that going against the grain and shirking societal expectations can be helpful in both personal finance and entrepreneurship. In fact, one of Factora’s company values is to always question the status quo.

“You have to have a desire to chart your own path and grit because, often, it’s not going to go according to plan,” she says. “All your failures are really just learnings, and you get stronger from trying.”

When I arrive at the Flo Recruit headquarters, CEO Katherine Allen steps outside to greet me.

Her company’s origin story is impressive—not only because Katherine and her cofounder managed to raise $7.5 million in less than five years, but because the Forbes 30 Under 30 recipients launched their legal hiring and recruiting platform as a part-time venture while finishing their undergraduate degrees.

Standing in the middle of Flo Recruit’s bright, open office, just a few blocks north of the University of Texas campus where her business began, Katherine explains that being green had advantages.

Click to listen: At Flo Recruit, CEO Katherine Allen uses unique technology to connect law firms with high-performing graduates.

“Every door I’ve knocked on in Austin, I’ve had someone on the other side willing to answer.”


“I think you have to be a little bit naive to believe that you can be successful, because the odds are stacked against you,” she says. “If you look up the stats on successful businesses, it is not encouraging.”

Fortunately, while the tech start-up world can be brutal, Katherine found valuable mentors early and sought feedback often. “Every door I’ve knocked on in Austin, I’ve had someone on the other side willing to answer, meet with me, give me advice, and take me and the business seriously,” she says.

Ultimately, this foresight helped the legal hiring and recruiting platform succeed, and Flo Recruit continues to thrive under Katherine’s steady leadership.

Back in the elegant cabin of the Mazda CX‑5, I reflect on the day’s inspiring conversations. In the rearview mirror, the sun’s final glimmer casts a familiar purple glow over the hills—Austin’s ‘violet crown’—as the skyline flickers to life. I ease into evening traffic, with Gary Clark Jr.’s Texan blues as copilot, and head toward home. 

My city is transforming, but with women like Vivian, Allegra, and Katherine paving new roads, the future looks radiant.

Words Carrie Dagenhard / Photography Max Kelly