SOMETHING PEOPLE DON'T USUALLY KNOW ABOUT ME: I lived on a private beach and sold giant marine snails to Hong Kong smugglers from a hidden sea cave for a time in the 90s. EARLIEST ENTREPRENEURIAL MEMORY: The same as everyone else: selling lemonade on the roadside.
Bottoming out before learning to blossom
BUILDING A LABORATORY OF LOVE. Dr. Viviene Ming knows it can often be complicated to describe what she exactly does. “The first thing people see when they look at my LinkedIn profile is ‘mad scientist’ because I live a rich and complex life. I’m in the process of starting my sixth company, I’m on several scientific boards, I do a ton of philanthropy. But I’m still an academic.”
In fact, her company Socos Labs describes itself as a mad science incubator that explores messy human problems. Focused on solving challenges in education, workforce development, and health, Socos Labs experiments with whole new visions of, innovation and inclusive economies to inform a more human-centered policy design. “People approach me or my team all the time with any number of challenges they’re facing and if I think we can make a meaningful difference in that space, then I pay for everything and attempt to find solutions.” She explains.
Asking Dr. Ming to highlight something specific in her work, is like taking a fantastic journey. She’s quick to point out several projects she’s currently pursuing or has worked on including using artificial intelligence to reunite orphaned children with extended family members, developing neuroprosthetics for people with cerebral palsy, and exploring how gender impacts health, mental health, and the future of work. Just to name a few.
Which is why her backstory, leading up to projects like Socos Labs, is just as remarkable if not more in some ways.
UNCOVERING HUMANITY THROUGH SCIENCE. “In a lot of ways, my life story is like a classic Hollywood movie arch, where the main character starts in a good place, but then crashes down, over and over, before finally rising into greatness.” She laughs. Dr. Ming grew up in California to fantastic parents in an idyllic community, and was expected to have an exceptional life. “In some ways, the more I was told I was going to be this amazing person, the more complicated my life seemed to get.” And by her 20’s, she had flunked out of school and was homeless.
By the early 2000’s, while in grad school, and meeting her future wife and getting engaged and married, she realized she knew she was truly a woman. “So at this pinnacle moment when things are finally going well--really well--I now realize that I’m a woman. Can you imagine? Once again I had all these fears that I wasn’t enough or worthy. That my world would fall apart.”
But it didn’t. In fact, in many ways, this is truly where Dr. Ming asserts that her life truly began to flourish and take shape. “I started transitioning, finished grad school, moved my family to the Bay Area and realized that my life as a scientist could have the greatest impact if I focused on experiments that actually touched and changed people’s lives”
Dr. Ming believes that this, and often only this, is what makes her truly different from everyone else in the entrepreneurial landscape. “I know I’m an oddity. I know I’m wildly different from other people in a ton of unique ways. But I really think my successes come from being fiendishly driven to deliver goodness. I take my work seriously. I want my work to be a celebration and the celebrity of greatness. Not me.”