AutoCate founder reflects on the winding journey from mechanic to entrepreneur
When Stefanie Bruinsma is confronted with an obstacle, she paves her own path forward.
She’s a mechanic-turned-engineer-turned-founder of AutoCate, a platform that empowers and educates car owners, and building a better life for herself and her son inspired her pursuit of higher education and entrepreneurship.
“I learned at an early age that I love fixing cars and working with my hands,” Bruinsma (BASc ‘15, MBET ‘21) said. “I do love being a mechanic, but it is a very rough trade for women, going into engineering I was stubborn and naïve enough to not know what I was getting myself into but I wanted more of a challenge.”
To pursue an undergraduate degree in engineering Bruinsma had to jump through more than one hoop.
After returning to high school for additional credits, she worked seven days a week to pay for tuition, including as a Zumba instructor and bartender. Then, two years into her studies, she found out she was pregnant.
“That was scary, I barely got by before and couldn’t image doing it with a baby,’” Bruinsma said.
While wrestling with the anxiety of an uncertain future, she stayed laser-focused on the bigger picture — the dream she’d had since childhood to be an automotive engineer.
“I did not want my son growing up thinking he’s the reason I gave up my dream, I didn’t want that weighing on him,” Bruinsma said. “I was determined to figure out how to complete my studies with him in the picture and graduated — two years later than anticipated and with a five-year-old.”
Social innovation idea grows into startup
Bruinsma eventually enrolled in the University’s Master of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technology program, which is when she started working on Miss Mechanic, the seed that sprouted into AutoCate.
Miss Mechanic started as a social initiative to publicize content that contradicted social norms and their stereotypes, ones that Bruinsma was all too familiar with from her career as a mechanic but ones she didn’t expect to follow her into business and entrepreneurship.
During her time as a graduate student, with encouragement from her professors, Bruinsma grew Miss Mechanic far beyond the original concept.
She won Velocity’s $5K pitch competition in the fall of 2020, Problem Pitch in the winter of 2021, and completed the Cornerstone program that fall.
Now, Miss Mechanic is AutoCate, a membership-based platform, thwarting consumer scams and gender-based discrimination in the automotive repair industry and connecting those in need of car repairs or advice to trusted experts and educators.
“Your membership is your access to experts who work for you,” Bruinsma said. “They will never demean you, will speak in language you understand and teach you that you are absolutely capable of understanding everything about your car and you should never be swindled — especially based on your gender.”
Planting seeds to build a movement
For Bruinsma, AutoCate is more than a job. It’s a way to affect positive change in the world and make it a better place for her and her son.
She works full-time at another startup while continuing to grow AutoCate. In the last six months she raised $100,000, which includes funding from the local innovation ecosystem, doubled her staff, and will soon start a second beta-test to recruit up to 100 early platform adopters.
And years later, she notices similarities between leading Zumba classes and spearheading AutoCate.
“Instilling confidence in women is something I never expected I would be doing,” Bruinsma said. “When you teach women to do something they think they can’t do, they look at the world differently and that’s what drives me to work on AutoCate — what starts as one moment, can build into a movement.”Register for Velocity’s Women in Entrepreneurship Mixer