We’ve teamed up with Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Foundation (CPARF) to run our first United States-based Remarkable Pilot Program in 2022 and to bring this to life we are excited to introduce Molly Levitt, Co-Director of Remarkable USA! Molly joins us all the way from Boston and we asked her a few questions to learn more about her experience as a founder, marketing executive, teacher, and disability advocate. Check out our chat with Molly below…
Could you tell us a bit about you and your background experience?
One of my earliest formative experiences centered around disability. When I was six, my mom was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease with no cure. Over the next three years, I watched her body deteriorate and learned quickly how challenging navigating an ableist world can be. In the years after her death, I met a teacher who would help me turn that loss into a passion when she brought me to Camp Jabberwocky at the age of 12, an overnight camp originally named Martha’s Vineyard Cerebal Palsey camp that brought children and adults with a range of disabilities together each summer. This place became my happy place, and I have returned to volunteer there every summer for the last 23 years.
As a teen, I knew I wanted to support this community in some way, but the only clear way I understood how to do this was to become a teacher and focus on supporting kids with disabilities in that way. I studied education at Boston College and did my Master’s at Harvard. From there, I became a teacher. While teaching, I was overcome by how challenging it was to keep track of all the individual learning needs each student was dealing with daily. I built some technology to support the collection of this qualitative data in my classroom. At the time, I didn’t even know the term startup existed, I just knew that I needed a better way to support my students. People got wind of the tech, and suddenly I had teachers using it all over the world. I left my teaching job after my third year, and went on to build BrightLoop, a startup that was built around this technology.
As BrightLoop grew, we were invited to take part in a number of accelerators and incubators including Y Combinator, MassChallenge, and 4.0 Schools. Over the four years that I served as CEO, we reached tens of thousands of educators in countries all over the world. Eventually, I moved on, and continue to work as the Head of Marketing for various companies in Silicon Valley, helping them to scale their business from the startup stage to millions of dollars in revenue yearly.
What excites you about launching Remarkable in the United States?
The US has incredible disability advocates and groups that are working to make a difference. Unfortunately, though, the perspective on disability funding is looked at more as charity. Even many of the VC’s in the US that focus on underrepresented groups do not include disability. This is wild to me. One in four people in the US are disabled. Due to systematic racism, people of color are more likely to be disabled. The more business we can mobilize around this space thoughtfully, the more we can move from thinking of disability as a charity and more towards inclusion as a good business practice. That is why I am excited for Remarkable to join the organizations that are already paving the way here in the US around proving out the business of inclusion.
What attracted you to work with Remarkable?
After spending all that time in tech, I knew that I wanted to do something different, and I knew that I needed to surround myself with people who were working to dismantle ableism and create solutions that enhanced people’s lives. When I learned about Remarkable, I knew this was the opportunity I had been searching for to bring together my own experience scaling startups with my passion for supporting those with disabilities. The team just gets it. They are committed to making the world more inclusive but are also aware of how much we all have to learn.
What part of the program are you most looking forward to?
I absolutely love working with startup founders. As a former founder myself, I’ve been in their shoes. I understand the complicated nature of needing customers, but not having enough money to market, of needing to raise funds in order to build, but VCs need more proof before they invest. Running an early-stage company is learning how to work with constant tension and I am excited to help the founders navigate that.
We’d love to get to know you a bit more, what do you like to do in your free time? It might be that you’ve got a special skill or interest to share with us?
Right now in my free time, I am building out a campervan. I bought an old wheelchair van and taught myself how to use tools via Youtube. Over the last 8 months I’ve built her out into a livable space. We are hoping to take our first adventure in her starting in May.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your work life that you would like to pass on to the startups?
In late 2020, I had to leave my full-time role due to complete burnout. It was during that time, that I came to identify as neurodivergent, while having worked with people with disabilities for so many years, it was a path I had sadly not been open to exploring myself.
Trying to work in a world that was set up for more neurotypical workers was exhausting. I realized that I needed different strategies and honestly more self-compassion in order to work in a fashion that allowed my mind and body to stay healthy.
That is when a friend reminded me, “You literally built a company around individualizing approaches for every student, why don’t you give yourself the same compassion?”
Variability is human. Here I was, passing for neurotypical when really I was struggling. Most of us have our own unique way and approach. Comparing yourself to the founder or worker you think you should appear to be is a dangerous game.
When running a startup, productivity can feel and look like progress and momentum. But it isn’t always. Progress and momentum for the sake of it doesn’t mean you are getting anywhere, it just means you are busy. Honoring your needs as a human beyond your startup is wildly important. Building a successful company takes years. Honoring what your body and mind need, is the only way to find long-term success. So don’t be afraid to take a break. Don’t be afraid to advocate for the things you need. Work different. Take the time you need to recover. And don’t forget, self-care should not be about helping you to be productive again. Self-care should be a reminder that you are more important than productivity.
Do you have an inspiring book / podcast / tv show you would like to share with the startups and the Remarkable community?
As far as podcasts go, I never miss an episode of Brene Brown, Unlocking Us. I also like to tune into the Accessible Stall each week.
Any tips for remote working now that we’re an online program?
Make sure to build in time between meetings to go for a walk and see some people in 3D, just to remind yourself what humans look like. 🙂