Meet Lauren Flanagan, CEO of Sesame Solar

Lauren Flanagan

Meet Lauren Flanagan - CEO and Co-Founder of Sesame Solar that’s backed by Morgan Stanley and VSC Ventures. As a 5x founder and CEO, she is active investor/advisor in several women-led companies and serves on the board of Springboard Enterprises, where they’ve backed approx 900 female-founded companies. Her most recent and exciting venture is co-founding Sesame Solar, makers of 100% renewable mobile nanogrids for disaster response.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak, from selling shelled walnuts as a young girl to founding successful companies as an adult. I worked with Steve Jobs as a leading software ISV for NeXT and Apple and was a SaaS pioneer. I’ve co-founded and built five companies from the ground up in addition to founding two angel investment funds to support female-founded companies.

As part of my mission to help women succeed, I am on the Board of Directors at Springboard Enterprises, the leading peer network for women-led tech companies seeking scale. Since inception, we’ve backed approx. 900 female-founded companies, resulting in 26 IPOs and 225+ M&As. Through my angel fund, BELLE Capital USA, I am also an active investor and advisor in many women-led companies, including HelloAlice, Vyv, Joylux, Nopsec, and Shyft Moving.

My most recent and exciting venture is co-founding Sesame Solar, makers of 100% renewably-powered mobile nanogrids for disaster response. Our renewable power pop-ups give communities access to medical services, clean water, telecommunications, Wi-Fi, and much more in less than 15 minutes. Through Sesame Solar, I’ve been able to exercise my passion for giving communities real solutions that adapt to the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events due to climate change. Recently, Sesame announced our first-to-market integration of mobile solar and green hydrogen power generation for disaster response.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I consider myself to be a visionary problem solver. Throughout my career, I have found ways to leverage technology to help those around me. Whether that’s through a company I’ve founded or a company I’ve backed, all of my ventures have revolved around realizing a problem and coming up with a solution to fix it. I never relied on a strict plan or a prescribed formula to get where I am today.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I had a very bad experience with a venture capital investor in one of my companies. I profoundly disagreed with the direction he wanted our company to take, and when I expressed my opposing view, he told me, “You need to learn the Golden Rule—he with the gold makes the rules.”

After that, I decided to shift the focus of my career to investing and strived to be the kind of investor who would do what’s best for all stakeholders, have the founder’s back, and follow the real Golden Rule – treat others how you’d like to be treated. Since then, I have co-founded two angel funds, invested in 40 companies, and served on the board of Springboard Enterprises, an accelerator and peer network that actively helps women-led tech companies to scale their businesses.

To date, Springboard has been a growth catalyst for approx 900 women-led companies, and 80% of the companies are still in business as independent or acquired entities–a strikingly low failure rate. We currently have 8 unicorns among our alumnae. I am very proud of my work at Springboard. I have helped dozens of women learn how to protect themselves and their companies from the occasional bad investor. My bad experience with one investor was a deep learning experience, and motivates me to create a world where anyone can make an impact with their ideas.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

560 catastrophic events are expected to happen every year by 2030, but a core challenge is bringing power to impacted communities in a fast, flexible, and fossil-fuel-free way. Helping co-found and create a solution to this widespread problem has been my biggest challenge and achievement yet. Before Sesame Solar, communities impacted by natural disasters did not have options to mitigate the effects of extreme weather disasters using a 100% renewably-powered, mobile solution. I’m very proud of Sesame Solar and our culture: we’re a multicultural team of visionaries, engineers, architects, environmentalists, and technicians focusing on mobile, fast-to-deploy and easy-to-use solutions for the existential threat climate change poses to our planet.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

When I approach a complex problem, I try to break it down into its most basic elements–first principles–and build a solution on that foundation using visioning exercises. This requires thorough discovery and visioning processes that have led to the creation of many novel solutions.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

I live and work by two mottos:

  • ABL: Always Be Learning. It makes you more ABLe to succeed. Strive for a beginner’s mind vs thinking you know the answers.
  • YOLO: You Only Live Once so be bold and go for maximum impact.

With these mottos in mind, I try to keep an open mind with a learning mindset combined with calculated boldness that has allowed me to create innovative solutions throughout my career.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech? If so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes. While opportunities and conditions certainly have improved for women in tech, we’re not nearly where we need to be. Women-led companies still receive only a fraction of angel and venture funding. As women, it is essential that we lift each other up and create opportunities for each other to succeed. From women investing in other women-led companies to women in technology holding more networking events to connect with each other, it is vital that we don’t wait for the male-dominated industry to change, rather we need to create the change ourselves. I’ve dedicated the past 20 years of my life to creating opportunities for female entrepreneurs through funding, mentoring and advising.

I like to say that we women are the solution to our capital access problem. We control most of the wealth in the US, yet do very little of early-stage investing. If women started investing in women-led companies, it would be game-changing for female and other underestimated founders. That’s why I started two angel funds of women investing in women-led tech companies–to teach women how to do angel investing and/or get more comfortable with making alternative investments.

What do you think companies can do to support the progress of the careers of women working in technology?

It’s simple – companies need to invest in women as leaders. Women are consistently facing barriers to entry such as: lack of access to opportunity, implicit biases and an inability to set healthy boundaries. To address some of these issues, companies must ensure there are more women represented on an executive-level or implement full-scale DE&I training programs.

There are currently only 21 percent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

If I had a magic wand, I would give unlimited access to mentorship opportunities for women at every level in tech. Whether that’s for a high-school girl who has an innovative idea but doesn’t know what to do next, or a woman with the drive to become an executive team member at a male-dominated company. We need to lift women up by providing them funding, mentorship and with insights from our own experiences so they can break down barriers better and faster than we did before. Serving as a mentor is one of the most important things I do, and being a mentee has been transformational for me. I was an early member of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurial Network (DWEN), which helps women and girls with their entrepreneurial and tech aspirations.

I’ve been blessed by some great mentors in my career, including the late, great Ellen Hancock, a senior executive at IBM, National Semiconductor, Apple (where I met her) and Exodus, who was kind and encouraging to me at the beginning of my tech career and with whom I had the privilege of learning from for 15 years on the Springboard Enterprises board of directors. Kay Koplovitz, truly one of the great entrepreneurs who founded USA Network where she created the advertising-licensing model and put sports on cable, launched the SciFy channel, then served on President Clinton’s National Women’s Business Council, then founded Springboard Enterprises, and the Springboard Growth Fund, and most recently co-founded the first women-led SPAC, Athena Technology Acquisition Corp, is a daily inspiration. Kay never stops innovating, lifting up women and making an impact in all she does.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

My favorite podcast to date is Dolly Parton’s America

Songwriter, singer, musician, storyteller, actor, producer, businesswoman, and philanthropist who’s given millions of books to children in honor of her illiterate father, Dolly has had a tremendous impact on her community, and helped fund the technology and research at Vanderbilt University that led to the Moderna vaccine. Humble, kind and caring, she inspires me to do more. Shero!

Other good podcasts:

  • The Energy Gang – discusses the latest trends in energy, cleantech, renewables, and the environment
  • How to Save a Planet – breaks down climate change issues in a digestible way
  • Mothers of Invention
  • Invention
  • Understory

Great pitching opportunities and learning events are offered by Springboard Enterprises’ Dolphin Tanks, which I named and co-created.