Vivienne Ming is the untold Steve Jobs. Scientist, entrepreneur, wife, mother, are just a few of numerous titles on her highly impressive resume. When speaking to an absolutely amazed crowd at this week’s Newton Lecture Series, one message resonated the most, and she didn’t have to specifically point at it: The power of being yourself is truly transformative.
Vivienne was named as one of 10 women in watch in tech in 2013, and this was before the myriad of projects she has since then accomplished. Dr. Ming has cofounded Augniscient, Socos, been a cofounder and chief scientist at Conga, Gild, a scholar researching in neuroscience at Berkeley, advisor to startups such as emozia, Shiftgig, Cornerstone Capital as well as the likes of Credit Suisse. At the same time, Dr. Ming is a well-known advocate of LGBT rights, and works on recognizing LGBT leaders in business, with projects such as StartOut. If it takes so many words just to walk through the first half of her resume, you can only imagine the impact that Dr. Ming’s work has had in the fields of business, neuroscience, development work and policy. All her endeavors are ‘motivated by a desire to maximize human potential,’ a desire that she serves as a perfect role model for.
Dr. Ming talked about her interest in only building ‘sustainable projects’ and emphasized on how the need to align social good with real, tangible, monetary interest was the reason she went into the startup world. The first step she takes in deciding if something involves social good: ‘it’s worth doing because it makes the world better, even if it doesn’t lead to any tangible payoff.’ Her ability to use projects such as Augniscient in a monetizable manner has allowed her to create social change, which inspires her every day. She believes in using ‘empty science’ to ‘do something that can change someone’s life,’ something that she particularly kept in mind while developing a facial recognition software technology to partner with UN refugee assistance and help unite those who could not find each other in the likes of Jordan, Turkey and other countries. Her passion for social work could be seen with how disappointing she finds the reality of business: the ‘what’s in it for me’ question asked by VC’s often makes her feel ‘cheated.’
Dr. Ming also had great advice for students attending the lecture: she encouraged people to think more about doing social good, and emphasized on understanding the field one works in, no matter what the choice may be: ‘do academics, go work for NGOs, business, everything – but understand the domain and what you need to succeed in each field.’
Dr. Ming was an inspirational example of true inner strength; the kind that leads a dropout from UCSD to discover himself and return to Carnegie Mellon for a Masters & a PhD; the kind that leads a frustrated mother of a child with diabetes to build a monitoring system so she can keep track of his glucose levels; the kind that uses a ‘sexy face’ recognition software and recycles it to find missing refugees in the developing world. Her talk, like many of her others available on her website, left students inspired.