What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
Back in the day, I was running vegetarian cafes in upstate New York. I started a monthly international night with guest chefs in the late 80s. Today it would be called a pop-up.
What do you wish you knew before you started your first business?
My first full-fledged business was a non-profit organization called YTH, focusing on youth, technology and health. I wish I had had an MBA or executive leadership training and support before I launched. I went into the business bright-eyed and smart, without a clue as to what the job would take. Today, innovators have fellowships (like Pop!Tech) and incubators (like RockHealth and FastForward) to give them the real world knowledge they need, even without an MBA.
What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
My worst boss didn’t attend a talk I gave at a large national conference. I learned to support my staff whenever they are out in public representing our work.
Who do you admire most?
Richard Branson. All the way. He has no fear!
What did you learn from your biggest failure?
A partner once taught me to keep throwing gum at the wall until something sticks. Don’t stop trying.
How do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration from youth and young adults.
They remind me that anything is possible. Yesterday, a teacher asked my 13-year-old daughter what her greatest aspirations were, and she said, “To eradicate depression.” Is that awesome, or what?
What was the best piece of advice you ever got? The worst?
Well, I already told you about the gum throwing. I actually think the best advice I ever got was to speak up. I had been hired as part of the founding team of a startup, and I was sitting quietly at meetings, when my boss took me aside and noted that he hired me to speak my mind and advise, not to sit quietly. He paved the way for me to find my voice.
What’s your favourite quote?
Today, it’s this one:
‘Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, ‘I’m possible’.
— Audrey Hepburn
What is your biggest pet peeve?
People who don’t do their homework – they think they’re innovating, without looking at history to see what people have done before and where they succeeded and failed.
What do you think is the most important innovation of your lifetime thus far?
I love the Spire wearable app – it has the possibility to help vulnerable populations — people who’ve experienced deep trauma — to learn how to identify and manage their stress triggers. These are some of the most resilient people in the world; once they can manage their stress, they will be the next innovators in the world.
Deb Levine is a consultant in women and girls’ health and tech innovation. Jefferson Award winner. Pop!Tech fellow. 40 Over 40 women to watch. Founder, YTH. Follow Deb at @DebLOakland