Series 29: For the Love of Black Lives | Episode 08
Empowering Black Entrepreneurs: Jessica O. Matthews Turns Adversity into Strength
What does it mean to build the world in a way where every single person, no matter their color, gender, ability or religion has access to security and opportunity? That’s a question inventor and entrepreneur Jessica O. Matthews has spent much of her life asking. Jessica is the CEO of Uncharted Power, a company looking to build sustainable infrastructure in the world—which Jessica launched when she was just twenty-two years old! She shares the legacy of curiosity and hard work her parents passed onto her, and why having countless hmm moments leads to that one a-ha! moment. Jessica and Jen hash out the opportunities the world has left on the table of innovation and why Jessica’s place at several intersections—a Black woman who’s a dual US/Nigerian citizen—helps her recognize developments that are still possible for parts of the world that typically don’t receive investment. Because as Jessica says: “I have the ability to not see the world as it is but to see the world as it should be. That’s something that would not have happened not only if I wasn’t just Nigerian American, but if I wasn’t a woman of color.”
Jessica: Because I have the duality of being in the U.S. but also being Nigerian, I’ve seen firsthand that the status quo is not enough. The luxury, then, is I have the ability to not see the world as it is but to see the world as it should be.
Jen: Welcome to the For the Love Podcast with me, Jen Hatmaker. Today, we are talking about how to support black entrepreneurs with innovator and business powerhouse Jessica O. Matthews.
Hey everybody, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show.
Right now we are in a series that I love, my team loves, you are loving. It’s called For the Love of Black Lives. The podcast crew, we just wanted to use our space to engage this important, national, racial, not just conversation, but reckoning. Wanted just to invite some of the most poignant, thoughtful, innovative, creative and courageous leaders of color into the series so we could listen, so we can learn, so we can expand, so we could join them in their work, in their creative pursuits.
You’re going to love today’s conversation. Today I love, because we talk to a phenomenal, young, Black entrepreneur. So, before I introduce her to you, I don’t have to tell you that we are living in two different Americas. According to the Brookings Institution, half of Black Americans who are born poor, stay poor. The median wealth of white households is now thirteen times greater than for Black households. The numbers don’t lie, right?
There’s a huge opportunity gap when it comes to both making a living and accumulating wealth in this country based on the color of our skin. At every level, we need to empower Black students, Black entrepreneurs, Black artisans, Black workers, Black leaders. We have to change this unlevel playing field so that security is possible, safety is possible, for every single person and for generations to come. My next guest isn’t someone who’s waiting for someone else to level the playing field. She created her own playing field.
Jessica Matthews is the founder and the CEO of Uncharted Power, which began as a power generation company, and has since grown to this sustainable infrastructure company. Jessica’s technology, which takes the physical form of a paver called the Uncharted System—which she explains—is actually a solution that will streamline the development and operations of sustainable smart infrastructure for communities literally around the world. She’s really going to unpack that because it’s exciting and it’s important.
She specifically focused on under-resourced and underserved communities getting priority access to this technology, and no big deal, but she originally founded her company when she was twenty-two years old. A little bit more about Jessica. We talk about this too, she’s a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States. You’re going to love hearing about her parents. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School. She has a list of accolades as long as my arm, including Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, Black Enterprises Innovator of the Year, and the Harvard Foundation’s Scientist of the Year.
I’m just saying, she’s powerful and you’re going to see. Her vision for the world, her vision for the flourishing of all communities, it’s more than just an idea, she’s making it happen. She’s making it possible. This is so exciting to get to listen to a leader of this caliber. You’re going to love what you hear today. I am so pleased to share my conversation with a very brilliant Jessica Matthews.
Jessica, welcome to the For the Love Podcast. I am just absolutely delighted to get to talk to you.
Jessica: I’m super excited to speak with you, too. Thanks for having me.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. Gosh, I cannot wait for this interview. I cannot wait for my community to hear from you and to hear about you. You are just a real force on this earth.
I’ve told my listeners a little bit about who you are, your background, your credentials, which are so incredible. But I would love to hear more about you, in your own words if you don’t mind, because I’ll tell you this: any woman who describes herself as the wannabe love child of Beyoncé and Bill Nye the Science Guy, I want to be your friend. You had me at that. Can you just tell us, can you high level a little bit about you for my community?
Jessica: Sure. High level, I’m a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United States. High level I’m a daughter, a sister, a friend, a partner. But I’m also a CEO. I am addicted to solving the world’s hardest problems because I have the benefit. In my opinion, it’s a competitive advantage. It’s the benefit to be intimately connected to the groups of people who tend to get the short end of the stick when we don’t solve these problems in an efficient and sustainable way. I’m a woman, I’m a Black person. I’m someone who has a brother with a severe disability, which means he’ll always need someone to take care of him and I have to think about how the world treats him. For me, that has meant that I’ve spent a good chunk of my life now really thinking through what does it actually mean for every single person on this planet to have access to sustainable infrastructure? Specifically, what I mean is what does it mean for us to build the world in a way where every single person, no matter your color, no matter your gender, no matter your creed or religion, has access to security and opportunity in your life?
Everyone will die, but on that day, how do we amplify the ability for a person to say that “I had a full life rooted in security and with unlimited opportunity?” That’s what gets me up in the morning. That’s why I do what I do. It’s at my core of my true north and my why.
Jen: That is a very serious north star. I mean, that is not low hanging fruit, you are going for it. Those are audacious and incredible goals and of scaffolding on which to hang your entire life. I loved hearing you say that. This makes me curious about this next question. I would love to hear about your growing up years. I’ve seen your parents on Instagram. Cannot get enough of them. It seems like they laid a really solid foundation for you and your siblings and just hammered home that you could do whatever you put your minds to. Would you talk a little bit about your parents and your family and how specifically they encourage your curiosity and your huge enormous dreams?
Jessica: Oh my gosh, yes. My father—I like using mashups. If you can imagine the father from Coming to America…
Jessica: Mixed with Tony Soprano, the character. Mixed with Samuel L. Jackson. That is my father.
Jen: That’s outstanding.
Jessica: He was born in Nigeria in the deep village to a father that was a native doctor. Grew up so poor that for a while, he couldn’t eat corn because all they had to eat was corn. Saved to go to college. He went to college in Italy. Went to the U.S., where he got his Ph.D in technology operations from NYU Polytechnic. That’s where he met my mom, in Brooklyn, in class in grad school. It’s funny because my mom just grew up a couple towns away from him in Nigeria.
Jen: Wow. Weird!
Jessica: My father is a builder, is a pusher, is a scientist. He’s the guy that really believes in the idea that truly if you Google it, you can do it. You can teach yourself. Don’t wait for someone to teach you.
He started out working at IBM very much as an industrial engineer. Did a lot to help improve their supply chain, helped them get quite a few patents by developing algorithms to improve their supply chain, before starting his own business that focused on hardware and software solutions for governments.
But what I really appreciate with him is having the foundation of someone who’s done very hard things in a hard field. No one has looked like him. He never was raised around, but he has done work with governments. He’s done work on the local, national, and international scale. He’s done hardware and software. He understands foundationally what it takes to have to be everything for your company.
Jessica: At twenty-one, he was bringing me into rooms with heads of state in Nigeria to understand how he was going to get a procurement service agreement signed.
Jen: That’s awesome.
Jessica: He was the person who was showing me the prospectus for a thirty megawatt hydropower dam and saying, “Hey, you’re on the board of this thing so you better understand it.” I’m like, “Okay, all right.” He did give me that exposure, and that is so huge. He was one of my first investors.
Jen: Was he? Great.
Jessica: That is, you are not going to be what you can’t see, but you’re also not going to be anything without some help. 150% I am someone who is fortunate enough to stand on his shoulders. Then there’s my mom.
My mom, she first went to art school. Very different, she’s the artist and I think I love that because I have both of them in me, truly.
Jen: Yeah, love it.
Jessica: My mom very much is the Chief of Staff of the family. Everyone speaks to her and that’s how everyone knows everyone’s okay.
Jen: Totally. I get that.
Jessica: I can say unequivocally that I am who I am today, that I am anything worth being anything, because of that woman.
She is my favorite inventor. She has no patents, but she’s the one that’s like if you tell her no, she’ll be like, “Nah, let me just try.”
Jen: It’s great.
Jessica: She was actually the one, specifically, that would even push my dad, all of us, to say whatever’s been given to you is not what you need to accept. He was the one that said, “You’ll never be rich if you work for anyone.” She was the one that would say, “Okay, you’re saying your company can be worth this but why not this?” Every little thing, even like little things in school like when I got a bad lottery for the dorms we’re getting in business school, she’s like, “I guess maybe you’re too old for me to fix this, but you know what to do?” It was like, “Don’t take this lottery.” I got the best apartment on campus because I was always finding a way, always pushing, always finding a way. That’s my mom. That’s what my mom really gave me and this family.
I remember when my sister first got into Harvard, and my parents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford it. My dad was like, “Oh, I guess you’ll have to go to state school.” My mom was like, “I know what to do.” That’s when she got her MBA in finance into filling out all these FAFSA forms, where we ended up paying less to go to Harvard than we did to go to high school.
Jen: No way.
Jessica: That’s my mom. The artistic, unrelenting, will find a way kind of person—and then my dad, the scientific, hard-working, will push as long as there’s an opportunity on the other side.
Jen: What a legacy.
Jessica: I have two great parents.
Jen: That is incredible. You mentioned this earlier, but in your own words, you said you’re obsessed with this idea of universal access to clean, reliable, and cost-effective power, “because my family in Nigeria needed it and still needs it.”
I wonder if you could tell us more about your sort of a-ha moment at your family member’s wedding in Nigeria, which to some degree changed everything for you.
Jessica: It’s interesting, I feel like I had less of one a-ha moment but more I’ve been very blessed to have a series of a-ha moments.
Jen: It’s good.
Jessica:I think what it comes down to is that I believe that luck is an acronym. It stands for laboring under correct knowledge. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been pushing very hard with, I think, the right true north. For me, from the start, taking it back to that wedding in Nigeria, I’ve been to Nigeria multiple times. I knew we would lose power.
Jessica: But there was something very specific about the fact that we lose power, we’re bringing a diesel generator. The fumes are horrible. I feel sick. My cousins who are engineers, who are young men in Nigeria, who the whole world is their oyster are like, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.” When I say this is a problem, that was a hmm moment. That doesn’t seem like the way it would be. I’m seventeen, like, right? So the way you fix problems is by getting used to them?
Jen: Yeah, right.
Jessica: That doesn’t seem right.
Jen: Right, we got to be able to do better than that.
Jessica: We got to be able to do better than that. That was an hmm moment. It wasn’t until I took the class later, almost two years later, that there was a product that came out of it. But for me, I think, again, it was a series of hmm moments that then led to a series of me working incredibly hard to get the a-ha moment.
Jen: Yep, that’s good.
Jessica: That was the first hmm moment.
When I came back from Nigeria after that trip, during that year, I lost three people in my family. I lost an aunt who was younger than I am now. I lost my uncle, and I lost my grandfather. All from my mother’s side of the family, all from the family that I knew the most. To me, they were all things that could have either been delayed or avoided surely if they had access just to a better infrastructure to give them security and the opportunity that they need in their lives.
Jessica: That’s when I had the second hmm moment, because I saw the sadness that my family was dealing with. In my mind, it was like, Okay, you can’t cure death. But it is breaking my heart and it still breaks my heart when I think about it, to imagine that in their last moment, in their last breath that there could have been a pretty strong chance that they felt the same way my cousins felt, that the world was just something—that their life perhaps wasn’t as full as they wanted it.
We all are probably going to want more time, but it’s even worse when you feel like your life was a shell of what was possible. Just, the position is very real. We live in a world that’s very big but also very small. Someone who doesn’t have a home, access to reliable power, food, security, all these things, they’re not living in a world assuming everyone’s like that. They are fully aware of the fact that there are some people who have multiple homes, amazing power, and all the food that they could want. It almost makes it worse.
That for me, I was like, Well, that definitely doesn’t seem right. That was my other hmm. The first a-ha came when I was taking that class. It was an energy generating soccer ball, because I was like, Well, maybe the first thing is to inspire people to realize that they can be part of creating the world that they want.
By taking something as tangible and as exciting as a soccer ball, the most popular sport in the world, and bridging the gap between that experience and the way they view something as scary as energy access, that was an a-ha moment. It was such a huge one and I ran with it, and it got me closer. Wasn’t the full solution, but it did inspire me to even enter the space.
Jen: Yeah, exactly.
Jessica: It was about growing and not settling for just that first a-ha, but always going back to, Can I do more to make life more full? What it came to, then, was more energy generating products and then eventually looking at just new models for the energy ecosystem, just starting to build infrastructure solutions and the guts to get into it, to getting to where we are now
There’s an African proverb that says, “What we wish to bequeath to our children is really only two things: roots and wings.” We all, as human beings, are looking for security and the basics. Our food, our power, but also our jobs, our ability to build familie,s and we’re looking also for opportunity to grow to live our fullest lives. All technology should do is one of those two things, if not both, and if it’s not, it’s stupid.
Jen: Yeah, that’s it.
Jessica: What we did was we realized that there needs to be an integration of how we develop and manage infrastructure so that everyone in the world can have access to sustainable smart infrastructure. What we created is a system that basically addresses the power grids issue.
Power, right now the main issue is not so much actually where you’re getting the power from. What’s really sustainable is how we get the power where it’s going. The cables and all that, overhead cables as everyone probably knows now, they’re super vulnerable. If there’s a little bit of wind, you lose power for a long time. You want to put the cables in the ground, it’s really expensive to access it and fix it. Then also, there’s all these smart solutions for grids, but they’re not really that smart because they don’t have any way to collect enough data on how power is being used so you can more effectively manage that system sustainably, where power should go and how much.
We created a paver solution. It’s a paver you can put in the ground that actually addresses those physical and digital limitations for the power grid. Makes it easier to put the cables in the ground so that they’re safer, more resilient. It makes it easier to get the data that you need to actually have a real smart grid system. That gives people the power that they need.
The thing is, it’s more than that, because once you’re able to streamline the way power goes everywhere, now you can unlock all of those smart city systems that people have been talking about for the last twenty years that haven’t been deployed at scale because we couldn’t figure out the power problem.
Jessica: So we’re able to put sensors that can tell there’s going to be a water main break. We’re able to sense if there’s a gas leak. We’re able to embed technology for connectivity and high speed broadband, and all these different things in the ground so that everyone has all the infrastructure that they need.
But the big thing though, is that what we then give the municipality, the city, a way to manage all of this infrastructure in one place with a digital dashboard linking all this infrastructure in their most underutilized asset that they have: the graph.
The results are anywhere from thirty to forty percent cutting costs. Why is this huge? Because of COVID, almost every single community is going to have at least a twenty percent budget cut, with increasing cost to actually serve their people. What we do is we go and we say, “Let us install our system in your sidewalks and your roads. Link the power, we’ll link the 5G and all this stuff to create this great thing. We’ll give you a system that’s going to help you save money when you operate this.”
Jen: It’s great.
Jessica: “You don’t have to pay us. We’re just going to take a percentage of what we save.”
Jessica: Now with that, we were able to unlock not just how you bridge the gap between power infrastructure and all these things that are supposed to make our world better, but we’ve been able to do it in a way where we’re not asking the city for any money.
Jen: Wow, what a cool financial model.
Jessica: Exactly. That’s the key—to make sure that you’re not asking the city to be rich before they can get the infrastructure that they need.
Jen: Wow, that’s incredible. The vision of that is so extraordinary and possible. It’s just so exciting.
Jessica: We’ve already started working. We’ve had a couple pilots before COVID, but the big one I’m so happy to say despite everything, our first city pilot, in a year, you’ll be able to just walk in this truly sustainable smart city. It’s not going to be behind some gated thing. We chose a city that it’s not like the sexy New York’s and LA’s. It is a city like most cities in America in the way I think most cities in this world have people that have thought for a long time that to get anywhere they’d have to leave home. Now we’re really hoping that they don’t.
Jen: Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing. I read that—because obviously, this is a world-changing vision here. I read that you are only the thirteenth Black woman founder to have received more than a million dollars in venture capital funding, which is really worth parsing out and examining, because here you have this incredible idea, the dream, the brains to build the company. Yet the data says clearly, you have likely had way more hurdles than a white creator or inventor would have had in the exact same position, exact same idea.
I would like to talk about how in this world where supposedly great ideas are prized and prioritized and valued, especially like yours, when they have the potential to generate revenue and solve an enormous problem on the planet, can you talk to me a little bit about the barriers? Because you’re at the intersection of being a Black woman. Because you’re in a male-dominated field, too.
Jen: Can you talk about what those barriers are, how you experience them? What do you see from your vantage point? What’s your perspective on this inequality in the world of innovation?
Jessica: I’m not going to say it’s not frustrating to know that you are working way harder than your peers to get a fraction of what they’re getting. I’m not going to say that—at some point, you need resources to do big things when you have big ideas, and it’s tough that things take so much longer especially when you don’t have those resources.
But that said, I honestly feel really lucky to not be those guys. Why? Well, two things. One, I know that when I make it, I’ll be better than them. Because if for this whole time I have to carry fifty pounds and you have to carry ten, when we meet, guess who’s stronger? That’s number one.
Jen: Wow, that’s good perspective. You’re giving me goose bumps.
Jessica: If you let in that ring, don’t let me land a punch, because I’ve been trained. My lifetime of training, I came into the game, had to do Rocky runs while you over here…
Jen: That’s right. You’re in shape.
Jessica: …with your hula hoop.
Jen: Yeah, I hear you.
Jessica: That’s number one, which is a readiness to take hits, right?
Jen: Wow. It’s good.
Jessica: I think the second thing is I don’t think we would have solved this problem if I did not have the intersectionality that I have to lean into it. Right?
Jen: Yep. Totally. It’s an asset in and of itself.
Jessica: Yeah. At the end of the day, all of these guys, the big companies, the Googles, the Amazons, or whatever, they have all the money in the world. They have all been trying to solve the same problem: how do we go beyond just our computers and our phones and deploy smart infrastructure into the built in environment, into our world?
Because let’s just face it. Their business model is to provide some sort of convenient service platform. Google makes it easier for us to get on to the internet, from Gmail to Google Hangouts to everything. It’s free infrastructure. It’s a platform that gets us to websites and businesses and helps businesses get to us. Amazon created a platform that helps with delivery, helps businesses actually send things to people and for the things that we need. It’s all a service delivery platform. What that has enabled for all these businesses—literally all of them, Alibaba, all of them—is you put something out there that’s convenient enough and you end up getting all these data insights that can be transformed into hundreds of data products and data services, but then ultimately, they’ve all entered into the cloud infrastructure business.
The business of the world that manages all this data, AWS, that’s their thing. They’re all struggling to figure out how to make it something that goes beyond just a computer. They’ve done a few smart cute things like Google Maps and whatever, but they haven’t been able to break into the physical world.
What we have then is all these one off smart city solutions that haven’t really caught steam. The reason why they’ve been spending so much money, take even sidewalk labs, Google’s trying to build a smart city that they put literally hundreds of millions of dollars in and they closed it down because the people in the city were like, “No, get out of here with the weird technology.”
What happened? Well, the reality is that all of these people were innovating based on the perspective that power is just fine. They all have their perspective growing up in the U.S. with everything that they need. So if you just assume. If you live in a world where everything just works, where we can go and flip a switch and it works, where you’re not wondering if you’re going to have clean water, because you never would live in Flint, Michigan, you’re basing everything you’re innovating on on the assumption that the status quo is good enough.
Jen: That’s good.
Jessica: But for me, because I have the duality of being in the U.S. but also being Nigerian, I’ve seen firsthand that the status quo is not enough. I was able to start my innovation journey a couple steps back from where they were starting theirs.
Jen: I see.
Jessica: As a result, I was able to drive a team that found the actual missing link that was keeping us from having truly scalable modular infrastructure to serve the world’s needs. That’s 100%, because I had the ability to see that there was actually a bigger problem than what people wanted to admit. The luxury then is I have the ability to not see the world as it is but to see the world as it should be. That’s something that would not have happened not only if I wasn’t just Nigerian American, but if I wasn’t a woman of color. It’s all those things. Women are usually the ones that have to deal with the infrastructure that keeps the family going.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Jessica: Black and brown people are usually the ones that are in the communities that get the short end of the stick.
Jen: That’s right.
Jessica: So yeah, it is incredibly frustrating, but also so exciting that my main advantage over them is that they don’t look like me.
Jen: Wow, that’s powerful. I love that answer. I’m sitting here smiling. It’s so empowering. It’s so true. You walk in stronger, you walk in smarter, and able to go the distance quicker and faster. I mean, that’s an incredible perspective.
Let me ask you this, because you’re not just an innovator. You’re a leader. I know that company culture is definitely created at the top, and it flows from there. As a leader too, leading people, what kinds of values have you put in place for your team? What matters to you? What’s important to your sort of culture that you are creating?
Jessica: Especially this year, it’s been really important for me to invite the team to bring their whole self to work.
Jen: Oh, it’s good.
Jessica: I refuse to just talk about some milestone without having the context of the real world around us. I’ve told the team many times, “None of this matters if we’re not acknowledging what you’re experiencing.”
Jessica: That’s one really big thing that this is definitely a team where you’re meant to bring it all in versus the uncomfortable stuff away and leave it alone.
Jen: That’s great.
Jessica: This is a team where we work very hard. We push very hard, we have very high standards, but we do it with this understanding that we’re doing it for more than ourselves. We’re trying truly to set an example of what we think a company should be and that you can do well and do good at the same time.
But I think that the number one thing for me from a culture perspective is humanity. I tell my team, “I will tell you when I don’t know, because it’s better for me to be honest, and say ‘I don’t know.’”
Especially in a year like this, when I say I know something, you have that certainty. As a team, we want to learn from each other. It’s not a team of everyone who looks like me. It’s a team of people who look like the world, and the benefit we have is that when people share their troubles and people share their perspective and their concerns, I think that ends up being our superpower. We can vet ideas and think about how certain things will affect all types of people because we have all of those voices in the room. We try to create a space where people feel safe to share all that as well.
Jen: That matters and isn’t necessarily a given. Sometimes that sort of corporate culture can be rare where your vulnerability is not punished any way. In fact, it’s rewarded, I find that so admirable. I’m sure that means that your people trust you. That creates trust and connectivity. That doesn’t surprise me to hear you say any of that. I really respect that.
Another thing that I respect about you is you have decided to use your influence for good in more than one way, which goes even beyond what it is that you innovate and offer the world in terms of smart solutions. You created a nonprofit arm of your company called the Harlem Tech Fund. Can you talk a little bit more about it and how you specifically see tech leading toward a new Harlem Renaissance?
Jessica: Yeah, no, of course.
In an effort to lean into the things that make us us, when we raised our Series A four years ago, I decided to move the company to have its headquarters in Harlem, mostly because I felt that Harlem was a really great microcosm of the world. I do believe that part of how you design and develop will be influenced by your environment. And so rather than getting caught in our own heads of being a startup or being communities that only have one or two types of people, I wanted to be in a community where just from walking from the subway to the office, you see five, six, seven types of people.
But the thing is, I knew that the value we would be getting from the community would be so great that we would have to have a mechanism, a streamlined mechanism, for giving back. So the Harlem Tech Fund is a 501c3 that was specifically designed to create a Silicon Valley for the underdog, for people to build successful tech companies without feeling like they had to go to Silicon Valley.
We focus on education. That was a really big one. We have a partnership with the USPTO. They teach people how to protect their big ideas, we did events on how to pitch. We helped host Shark Tank events and actually got some community funded from Barbara Corcoran. We tried to just create an event space also for people to be able to come and join and meet. Whenever possible, we tried to bring investors to the community to see what was going on.
Now with COVID, we’re definitely a much more decentralized team, but a lot of that work still stands. Every place that we’re working, we still have work that we’re doing in Harlem, in New York City consistently, we transformed our entire STEM curriculum, Uplift. We transformed that into a digital curriculum at the top of COVID. They’ve already put hundreds of kids to that digital curriculum to learn how to invent just this year.
As we look at building our first sustainable smart city, where we’re getting ready to do that same type of programming there, in many ways, the ethos of the Harlem Tech Fund has also decentralized, where it’s about every community in this country and I think, yeah, around the world. Every community where people are wondering what’s going to happen to them.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Jessica: It’s going to be forgotten. That’s where we like to go and where we go in and say, “The last thing you’re going to do is put some technology in the ground. The first thing we’re going to do is hear you, listen, try to see where we can fill the gaps of the stuff that’s already happening.” That’s amazing on the ground because all these communities already have very hardworking, dedicated organizations that are trying to do good. We’ll see where can we be the glue to help just amplify what’s already happening and how can we support the basics that people need in the short term, so that when we do unlock our technology and all that it can do, you’re not like, Oh wow, this is the first awesome thing Uncharted Power has done. You’re like, Oh, yeah, Uncharted Power. They’re our friends. They care. This is just one more thing in a list of others that are done in partnership to try to just uplift the global society in a very direct and intentional way.
Jen: Oh my gosh, I love it so much, Jessica. So fantastic. I love your approach to community development, to come in as listeners and learners and work in cahoots with the people on the ground. That’s everything I believe about development in the whole entire world. That is beautiful.
As we wrap it up here, I want to ask you some questions that I’m actually asking everybody in this series and just top of your head. Here’s the first one. Obviously this could probably go on and on so you’re just going to have to pick. For you, who have been some of your greatest role models?
Jessica: My greatest role models, I tell this to everyone all the time. I was really lucky to have come of age from the age of twenty to twenty-eight when Michelle Obama was First Lady. Michelle Obama is five foot eleven, dark-skinned, intelligent Black woman, strong woman, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and she made it okay for me to be me and at a very pivotal time. Twenty to twenty-eight, we all know this time. She made it okay for me to be me and that is huge.
I definitely look up to Oprah and all that she’s done, especially early on her career. That was a really big one. This is actually random, but I look up to Angela Bassett, too. We’re just going to go down this list because I don’t know what’s going on there. She just looks—I don’t talk about Angela Bassett enough, but she’s just…
Jen: Is it sorcery? I mean, is it wizardry?
Jessica: Exactly. Whatever is happening there.
Jen: I want some of that.
Jessica: Exactly. She also always plays a very strong character.
Jen: She does.
Jessica: That’s always been very exciting. I just want to throw her in there, too.
Jessica: I have found that, especially in 2020, it’s been less about looking up to any one person and more about just being reminded that we should all be our own heroes and that we should all be heroes to others. I’m inspired by the fact that Joe Biden has dealt with loss so courageously. I’m inspired by the fact that Kamala Harris‘s mother (Shyamala Gopalan) came to this country to be a cancer researcher and then died of cancer. And her daughters are still pushing for good.
Jessica: I’m inspired by anyone who deigns to keep going, who feels like there’s something personally and professionally pushing us back. I have a lot of role models. I have a lot of people who excite me and remind me that in this life if we’re lucky, we’re going to have what? 5,000, 6,000 weeks. That’s about it. In this life if we’re lucky, if you live to eighty, ninety. We have about 5,000, 6,000 weeks. That’s about it.
Jessica: When I have a crazy week, when I’m stressed, when I’m feeling overwhelmed—I mean, it’s like, there’s also the sense of gratitude, I think that I got another week.
Jen: That’s great.
Jessica: Got another day to try to push and do something and juxtaposed with the way other people are handling what they did with fewer weeks, like the recent passing of Chadwick Boseman. I think what really hit people with that is not just that he passed, but that when he was sick is when he filmed most of the things that changed our lives.
Jessica: He had 200 weeks, and he decided to tell some stories that would stay with us forever and that would give us a grounding to be all we could be. Those are the things that inspire me.
Jen: Yeah, great answer. How about this one? What were some of your favorite artists or teachers or leaders or entrepreneurs, that you would like us to be paying attention to and watching and learning from and supporting?
Jessica: Oh, man. There’s an artist, Tobe Nwigwe, and his wife that he calls fat, but she’s not fat. He’s really exciting. He’s a Nigerian American artist that is putting out some really interesting music. It is a really cool aesthetic.
Jessica: Cynthia Erivo I think is someone to watch. She’s one of my friends. She played Harriet Tubman.
Jen: Yeah, oh, she’s incredible.
Jessica: I think that she just recently launched her own production company. I think these could be some really exciting things.
Jen: Great. I’d love to hear that.
Jessica: I mean, there’s a general group of Black female founders called Visible Figures and there’s 100 of them.
Jen: Yeah, great.
Jessica: From, gosh, Stephanie Lampkin to Kristen Jones that I really think people should pay attention to because…
Jen: Great category.
Jessica: …all of us who got through this year again, now imagine a bunch of people who have been lifting fifty pound weights when everyone’s lifting ten pound weights. Being like, “Oh the next decade is going to be wild.”
Jessica: Everyone in that group for sure.
Jen: That’s great. Everybody listening, we’ll link to all of those folks and organizations and cohorts so you can dive in and look a little deeper.
Okay, here’s the last question Jessica. I asked every single guest in every single series this, and you can answer it however you want. We have had every kind of answer. It’s from one of my favorite teacher. Her name is Barbara Brown Taylor. Her question is this: what is saving your life right now?
Jessica: I hope this doesn’t sound ridiculous, because everything in me is like, Oh this is going to be lame . But if I’m being honest, I am so, so lucky to have found the love of my life. His name is Chris.
Jessica: He’s just a really good man.
Jen: I love it.
Jessica: He’s a really, really, really good man. Trying not to get too—he’s a really good man.
Jen: That’s so good.
Jessica: In all the ways and this year, this whole experience, we’re actually getting ready to go on vacation tomorrow. His birthday is coming up and so I’m doing all these fancy special things for him. This year, it’s getting to the point where as much as I stand on who I am, my own two feet, female empowerment…
Jessica: Conceptually, even when he gets on my nerves like, Whoa. I do not want to live life without him.
Jen: That’s so dear. How could you possibly have thought that was going to be a lame answer? That’s so hopeful and sweet. I’m so happy for you.
Jessica: Thank you.
Jen: Okay, so before we hop off, can you just tell my listeners where to find you, where they can discover more about you, your work, everything?
Jessica: Yes, of course. You can find me definitely on Instagram. It’s Jessomatt, J-E-S-S-O-M-A-T-T, @Jessomatt. I do most of my stuff on Instagram. You can link to there. I put some things on Twitter but it’s mostly there, and I tend to repost a lot of things for my company as well. If you want to follow Uncharted Power especially you can check out basically @upowerco on Twitter. I think it’s @UnchartedPower on Instagram. Our website’s getting a full overhaul, but in a couple of weeks you should also go and check out U-PWR.co.
Jen: Everybody listening, if you couldn’t catch all that at once, we will have all of this on the transcript at JenHatmaker.com. All these links, all the everything, all the websites, all the incredible suggestions. It’ll be a one stop shop for you to find out more and to follow Jessica everywhere she’s at.
Okay, I’m just cheering you on in every possible way. I’m really proud of your courage and your innovation and your commitment to the flourishing of the world. I feel so honored to know you. I’m in your corner in every possible way. Any way that I can ever support you, or help you or help your work expand, I’m here for it.
Jessica: Thank you so much, Jen. This was really fun, and just a nice way to just be open and chat. I really appreciate you giving me a chance to connect with your audience and your community.
Jen: Absolutely. The pleasure is ours. Thanks, Jessica.
Jessica: Thank you.
Jen: Okay, guys. She’s out there doing it. She’s out there doing it. I mean, from idea to implementation, to world changer. So exciting. I love talking to people like Jessica who just would never take “no” or “we don’t think so” or “maybe later” for an answer, but just forge ahead with strength and with courage. My favorite thing that I heard her say today was the resiliency and the strength and the stamina, that carrying fifty pounds to get to where you were versus all your competitors’ ten pounds they had to carry, what that builds inside of you—I’m not going to quit thinking about that. I hope that encourages any one of you who’s having to carry fifty pounds to everybody else’s ten and the shape that will put you in for success, for overcoming, for recovery, for building. I loved that concept.
Again, JenHatmaker.com will have the whole thing, the transcript, the recording, all the links to everything Jessica mentioned, her stuff. All of her suggestions, you can get it all there.
More to come in this incredible series, more leaders to learn from, to listen from, to follow, to join. So fun. So powerful. Thanks for tuning in week in, week out. Jessica is somebody that I’m thrilled to put in front of you. So, on behalf of Laura and Amanda and I, we love you. We appreciate you. We’ll see you next week.