Dawn Putney considers herself a Minnesota country girl by nature, having grown up on the farmland her Irish ancestors homesteaded. She was active in 4H and the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) as a child. Then she discovered design in high school, and she knew she’d found her calling. Dawn’s first “real job” was as an advertising typesetter, where she developed a passion for big ideas, storytelling, the printed word and attention to detail. She went on to work at some of the most prestigious advertising and design firms in Minneapolis.
Dawn moved to Colorado in 1994 when her husband landed his dream job in atmospheric science. Though that marriage ended, her love for Colorado and the desire to raise her kids surrounded by mountains and big blue skies remained strong. After many years pioneering beautiful design in Northern Colorado for other companies, Dawn co-founded Toolbox Creative, a branding and marketing firm that helps innovative technology companies tell their unique stories. She is an active advocate for women in technology both in and out of the office. She sits on the board of Colorado C3E and Pretty Brainy, and volunteers her time and expertise with several other women-focused enterprises.
I love helping tech-centric companies develop their brands and positioning, demonstrate their expertise, and then show off their brands genuinely and consistently. There are so many innovative companies coming up with solutions that make our world a better place, and those stories need to be shared.
What inspired you to start Toolbox Creative? How did you do it?
In my 20s and 30s, I had the good fortune to work at some of the largest and best design shops in Minneapolis — a great way to learn design thinking from the best in the business. But it was my experience working with some of the smaller agencies that helped me focus my attentions on design and positioning as a marketing strategy.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so starting a creative agency seemed like a logical next step when the company I worked for shuttered after 9/11. I love a challenge, and starting a company with my pragmatic husband while being my own boss was a challenge too good to pass up. Bootstrapping is in my blood, and we put a lot of sweat equity into building Toolbox Creative and a culture we could be proud of. There have been plenty of bumps along the way, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Why did you choose to focus on clean energy clients?
Toolbox made the decision to work with engineers, in part, thanks to our immediate surroundings. Northern Colorado is a hotbed of innovation, and when we were a new Fort Collins company 15+ years ago, we began working with local engineers. We discovered that through design thinking, we spoke a common language. That kind of magic really gets the creative wheels turning. Clean energy and tech was a natural progression for us — the industry is chock full of innovators who think differently for the good of all.
Clean tech and energy companies are all about creating tools that solve a problem — often big, hairy problems. Planet-saving problems. Helping companies that are making a real difference in the world is why we’re passionate about working in clean energy.
By working with some of Toolbox’s innovative clients, we’ve seen firsthand what small businesses can do to make a big impact. It started when we first helped develop the brand for the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster several years ago. Since then, we have worked with other save-the-world-with-clean-tech organizations like Brendle Group, Prieto Battery, Colorado C3E and Pretty Brainy. Every day, we strive to leave the world a better place than we found it. At Toolbox Creative, we choose to focus on working directly with clean tech companies to help make that dream a reality.
How does your company work within the clean energy sphere?
Our specialty is working with clean tech and clean energy innovators, along with 3D printing and ag tech. Most people hear “clean tech” or “clean energy” and think that means working in engineering or another technical STEM career. Marketing has a place at the table, too! When is the last time you saw a successful innovation company, start-up or otherwise, that didn’t have a need for marketing? Never (I hope). I love helping tech-centric companies develop their brands and positioning, demonstrate their expertise, and then show off their brands genuinely and consistently. There are so many innovative companies coming up with solutions that make our world a better place, and those stories need to be shared.
Some people think marketing is simply about putting content on the company website or coming up with the next idea for your digital ad campaign. While those tactics are all creative, building a brand that cuts through the extraneous noise — that’s when the fun really starts. I love rolling up my sleeves, poking, prodding and understanding a customer’s pain points — that’s when what we do becomes really fun.
Which new work projects excite you most?
WomenInCleanEnergy.com and this initiative to collect and share the stories of women in technology, clean energy and beyond is one of my current favorites. Women’s voices need to be heard, and their stories told.
What role has mentorship played in your career?
My high school FHA advisor, Mrs. Sederstrom was my mentor before I knew what that meant. She encouraged me to get involved with leadership roles within the regional organization. She believed in me when I didn’t know what I was capable of doing.
What advice would you give young women who want to pursue a career in clean energy?
Find a mentor and believe it when she tells you that you can do anything you set your mind on. In the male-dominated world of high tech, it’s critical that women take an active part.
What is the most difficult vocational challenge you’ve overcome as a woman?
I was a single mom early in my career, and the challenges of raising my kids while working full-time was tough. I could not have done it without the support of my family and friends. When your Mom is willing to take care of your kid with chicken pox – then you know you have a strong support system!
What would you change in the clean energy work space to make it more equitable for women?
Technology companies can provide more support for women as we focus on taking care of our families with flexible work schedules, equal pay and a level playing field in career advancement.
What do you consider your biggest career success?
As a business owner, I’ve always been involved with organizations that help women in business succeed. I believe that when women work together to magnify and amplify one another’s voices, the world is a kinder, smarter place. As a board member of both Colorado C3E and Pretty Brainy, a girl-focused STEAM (STEM + art) nonprofit, I have had the opportunity to meet and support some of the smartest, most creative women I’ve ever known. That’s hard to beat.
What do you want your legacy to be?
For me it’s all about getting stuff done. Doing that while helping women advance their careers is the best gift I can give.How do you think C3E can encourage more women to pursue a career in clean energy?
By supporting one another through networking, encouragement and amplifying one another’s stories, we can — and do — make the world a better place. I’ve seen a handful of Women in (fill in the blank) initiatives out in the world and truly admire what they are doing to advance women in all kinds of tech and STEM fields. I am most inspired by how Women in 3D Printing are taking action to advance women in the male-dominated additive manufacturing industry.
Now more than ever, women supporting each other is critically important. The Women in Clean Energy initiative will help increase the visibility of women in the clean energy industry through shared stories, which will hopefully encourage more women to contribute to clean energy innovation.