Lisa Mae Brunson is bringing women and minorities to the forefront of technology. And she’s using the technology they create to change the world.
The technology Lisa Mae and her team create tackle issues of equality, diversity and disconnection in humanity. What does this look like? In a recent hackathon hosted by Wonder Women Hacks, the company Lisa Mae founded, the winning team created an app that addresses human trafficking.
For Lisa Mae, social good is the backbone for all her initiatives. It hasn’t been easy for Lisa Mae–she’s dealt with little recognition and no funding. In our interview, Lisa Mae explains how she stays motivated, why she encourages people to mentor and support one another and what it truly takes to succeed as a female founder (warning: it involves only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night!).
Describe a typical day in your life.
A typical day in my life looks like this: After about 4 to 5 hours (on a good day) of sleep, I wake up and spend the first ten to fifteen minutes in bed, feeling grateful for all I am building. These are usually the quietest moments of my day before the whirlwind begins. I then jump on my computer, where I will spend the next 10 – 15 hours to check my messages, answer emails, work with my developer team on our website, write content and work with my social media team on campaigns.
In between I take calls with potential sponsors and partnering organizations and collaborate on how to highlight, celebrate and educate women and diversity in STEAM. On any given day I am talking with folks from Microsoft, Google, Yelp, etc. and it is all very exciting! I have daily conference calls with my international team, as we brainstorm over what speakers we will engage, what project we want to launch, or what programs we want to build. Some days I get to eat twice instead of once, but lately I have this sudden addiction to Dr. Pepper–which I have referred to as ‘The Force” because strangely I have had my best late night brainstorms while drinking it.
Once every two weeks I might fit in a Zumba class! Unfortunately, that’s what it takes for me to succeed as a Female Founder. Since I am bootstrapping a vision, I have to work that much harder to make something magical happen. There usually isn’t much time for anything else, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
Why did you create Wonder Women Tech? What have been some unexpected challenges and what’s been most gratifying about the experience?
I’ve always been a Social Innovator with a global purpose to change the world. I see problems and I love creating solutions. Wonder Women Tech was created as a solution via a natural progression of initiatives I created to address equality, diversity, and a disconnect in humanity. As a ‘minority’ woman who has had to bootstrap every idea I’ve ever launched, I have been taken advantage of and bullied by other individuals, groups, corporations and even organizations who are specifically created to advocate for women like me.
I have had my ideas stolen and misused and I have watched others like me fight just to be respected and heard. Ironically, while researching for this article to answer one of the questions, I made another unfortunate discovery seeing someone I worked with once use one of my initiatives publicly. These are the kinds of unexpected challenges I face and it can be incredibly disheartening. I have flown under the radar for so long, I am no longer comfortable being in the background.
I built an entire global photographic campaign highlighting equality in 17 cities and 5 countries that no one knew about. I have met other women like me who were on the verge of homelessness who were brilliant but couldn’t get the funding or recognition they deserved because there were too many barriers to entry. The greatest challenges I have met outside of little to no recognition and zero funding, is the bullying and lack of support I received from other women and men of color. I knew I had to build something that would empower women and underrepresented groups so we could tap back into who we are as innovators and through that, feel inspired to support and mentor one another instead of tear each other down.
The STEAM industry is a perfect gateway for that to happen because through these industries we get to innovate and positively disrupt the planet! I am honored to be a conduit for this kind of change. I get emails and phone calls daily from women who are grateful for the development of Wonder Women Tech and it is very clear that the world is hungry for this type of platform.
Tell us about Wonder Women Hacks. What’s been one of your favorite or most innovative ideas that have come out of the hackathon?
I am very proud of my Wonder Women Hacks and Hacks 4 Humanity initiatives. When I created these hackathons a few years ago, I will be frank–I didn’t know what a hackathon was. But my natural ability to create solutions out of challenges lent itself an asset to this work and I found myself in my element. Inspiring individuals to work together in teams, helping ignite ideas for mobile apps and create challenges out of data to contribute to the Social Good, is a natural environment for me.
There is something truly magical that happens inside of a hackathon, and if you haven’t been to one, you really should participate. In my first Hacks 4 Humanity event, the winning team featured two individuals who had never been to a hackathon before and one woman wasn’t previously in the ‘tech industry.’ Hackathons are a place where truly anyone can come together to build amazing projects, and you don’t have to be a developer to jump on a team!
One of the recent projects that came out of Wonder Women Hacks was an app that addresses human trafficking and the winning team also partnered with the winning team from our Time Warner Media Challenge which featured teams using the same data challenges to build PSA’s and media. Together they created a mobile app and a PSA on human trafficking and the app itself. It was truly amazing to bear witness to such a powerful project that came to life in the span of 36 hours. I look forward to my next hackathon events!
Describe a dream project.
My dream project would include me receiving the kind of funding I would love to have to make my greatest visions come to life. I always joked, if someone gave me a million dollars, I would turn it into a billion because I am a true visionary. I see the world through different lenses and I don’t believe in “I can’t.” My favorite thing I tell my team when they tell me the reasons why they ‘can’t’ or are afraid to do something is: “You are already at ‘No.’ so why not do what it takes to get to your ‘Yes!'” I believe in team work and in strategic partnerships. I have an international team by my side today because I have a gift of rallying people behind my visions and fostering an ecosystem where the very best of their skills and talents are highlighted so that they truly feel like they are co-creating a vision that is aligned with their own hopes and desires. So even when the chips are down and we are digging in the trenches, we do it together because we have invested in something larger than ourselves.
I’d love to expand my social innovation work to include building out my EqualityTV vision further. It never got off the ground due to a variety of reasons, but the content I was creating and being given around the world desperately needs a platform. I created a 65 page business plan that outlined an entire global media network and e-commerce platform that celebrated humanity and diversity around the planet. I spent six years working on that vision but couldn’t keep bootstrapping the project. Thankfully, Wonder Women Tech has gained greater momentum in an extremely short amount of time and I’ve been able to find supporters and sponsors much easier to get behind this platform, but there is a huge part of my heart that will always remain attached to my dream project–EqualityTV.
You could even credit everything I am doing now to that one seed that was planted six years ago. I see myself making an impact around the world, creating technology and media in the U.S. as well as third world countries, and providing accessible curriculum to under-served communities. I am surrounded by an amazing team of visionaries just as passionate as I am about making a true impact and innovating the world with mobile apps, sustainable resources, compelling and inclusive media and innovative solutions. Three years from now I will have built the largest women and diversity in STEAM conference in the world, and created a sister conference in Europe. I will have implemented global hackathon events for social good and helped to expose women, girls and underrepresented groups to the wonders of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. That’s truly living the dream.
What goals do you have for yourself? How do you stay motivated and inspired? Describe a discouraging situation and how you overcame it.
I have many goals, and as you can see, they are quite lofty. I can say that every goal I have ever set for myself, I have accomplished. It has taken me some time to recognize this because sometimes I get caught up in the ‘HOW’ I get there and I get discouraged because my path didn’t look anything like I imagined. Often, I have had to claw and scratch and bleed myself dry to get what I want, but–I am here. I have traveled the world, and I have worked with some of the largest cities and schools in the nation. I have done special projects with the U.S. State Department and I have been able to make much of my visions come to life with little to zero budget. That’s my special secret that I think would shock most people who meet me.
My greatest goal that I have set is to no longer have to bootstrap my dreams anymore or solely leverage resources and sweat equity. I am ready to experience the freedom and autonomy that comes with having someone financially invest in me. Living this kind of life is super challenging, I don’t even want to sugar coat this. I get why people opt not to take the road less traveled. This is an extremely challenging road and I have lost more than I want to reveal on this forum. It’s not always easy staying motivated and inspired. Some days I want to cry and curl up and stop. Some days I do cry and curl up and stop.You truly live in a wild roller coaster feeling inspired and excited one day, and defeated and broken down the next. But I always end up going back to the grind, and finding my way to grace and to a state of true gratitude, knowing that I am living my dreams every single day because I choose to.
I choose this life. I get to see something that came out of my heart and mind come alive through my hard work and through the magic of the team I have put together. That kind of inspiration you cannot manufacture or deny. That is what keeps me going even when I think I haven’t anything else left to give. In the end, I stay motivated because the alternative wouldn’t be life for me.
What’s your experience been like using about.me?
My experience using about.me has been really inspiring. I’ve connected with other amazing people out there who are creative, awesome and doing phenomenal things. I love that I can include my page in my email signature and allow instant access to a snapshot of who I am. I also love that it is integrated with Twitter because I am finding myself using that platform more and more as I start to come out from under the radar and shine my brightest light.
About.me is giving me that opportunity to highlight the very best parts of who I am and I am truly grateful for that. I will also add there is something quite magical about going to my page and seeing a hundred views in one day. I get more traction there than anywhere else I think!
And I really love the fact I can see who has viewed my page and look for opportunities to connect with people who are already interested in who I am and what I have to offer. I really love this platform. True story: One day I was feeling really discouraged, and I went on my about.me page and there were several ‘compliments’ from people within the community. Many had favorited my page and tagged me as ‘inspiring.’ That really uplifted me to see that kind of instant feedback and sometimes it can be the boost I need to keep flowing for the day.
Anna Lizaur is a Marketing Manager with about.me. She graduated from the University of Virginia. Anna is fluent in Spanish and can count to 100 in Chinese.