Building community-driven moderation systems for a more inclusive online experience, UC San Diego Entrepreneur in Residence Annie Brown is passionate about #EquityInTech, a Stella Labs alumna of Ad Adstra Bootcamps and guest lecturer for Rady’s StartR Accelerator Program.
Hailing from feminist/queer theory academic background, the company began as a project for an Introduction to Women’s Studies course while attending The College of William and Mary. The assignment was to identify a problem on campus and then solve it. Read more on her journey to founding a company that not only accepts, but celebrates erotic art and uncensored expression.
As the founder of Lips, a creative sharing platform for women and the LGBTQIA community, what can universities do to create inclusive spaces in the startup ecosystem?
One thing I’m really excited about and hope to do through the EIR program is encourage more crossover between the social sciences and technology. Often, students who are LGBTQIA identified and have been discriminated against in high school and throughout their life, lean towards the social sciences to address justice and equality. They want to give back to ensure it doesn't happen to people in future.
“Entrepreneurship can be a pathway to create change,” said Brown. I'd like to see more crossover between the social sciences and technology. When you do that, it will naturally make the startup ecosystem more inclusive.”
However, many times they do not get access to the practical applications and processes to execute their ideas. Entrepreneurship can be a pathway to create change. I'd like to see more crossover between the social sciences and technology. When you do that, it will naturally make the startup ecosystem more inclusive. You will have more diverse voices, and will start to see more diversity in the startups coming out of the university.
You are a key contributor to major news outlets on the topics of AI and Diversity in Tech. What are some key lessons you have gleaned?
I really enjoy writing because it's an excuse to dive in depth into topics that I otherwise would not. My expertise in AI has expanded so much because of my writing. I really enjoy interviewing different people and voices, highlighting emerging technologies and cultivating deep conversations with interesting people who often aren't highlighted for their contributions in AI. It’s key to bringing these diverse voices to the forefront.
As a woman in tech, what can we do to build more welcoming spaces locally in San Diego? Any advice for other women-identified/non-binary entrepreneurs?
We need more programming focused on diverse voices in technology - not just one off events, or talks, but full programs. Ad Astra Bootcamp is a great example of living this truth - a safe place to bring underrepresented voices together.
“I'd love to also see more venture capital focused on underrepresented technology - a huge financial opportunity locally for San Diego” said Brown. “We have the ability to lead and change what the face of technology looks like.”
I'd also love to see more venture capital focused on underrepresented technology - a huge financial opportunity locally for San Diego. As a city, we have the opportunity to lead and change what the face of technology looks like.
Being a company that accepts and celebrates erotic art and uncensored expression can be tricky for investors. What fuels your fire to continue pushing the envelope?
Lips is ahead of the curve when it comes to thinking about the future of what the internet should look like. Because we are so connected to communities who are discriminated against on the internet, we see huge groups of people being pushed to the margins everyday. That’s not what we should want from the internet. I am passionate about keeping the internet a dynamic, diverse, and exciting place for self expression.
What keeps me motivated as I work towards this mission is the positive feedback from our users, advisors, and investors that believe in what we are doing. The technologies Lips is building are needed. With over 10,000 monthly active users, people are already benefiting from having a place for them to feel welcome, seen, and loved. That's such a powerful thing to contribute to the world.
What interested you in sharing your vision and perspective as an Entrepreneur in Residence at UC San Diego?
Lips is a research based technology - if I wasn't building Lips, I would probably be doing some form of a PhD on the topic. The Entrepreneur in Residence program gave me the opportunity to explore that side of myself. The best technologies in the future are going to be able to bring great research that institutions like UC San Diego are doing and implement that into scalable, commercial solutions.
“ If I had access to mentors with expertise in business, and entrepreneurship that also reflected my interests in social justice and feminist theory, I probably would have started a tech company much earlier than I did.”
This program also allows me to help students have positive entrepreneurial experiences as an undergraduate. When I started Lips, it was just a zine but I was rarely encouraged to take it further than that. If I had access to mentors with expertise in business, and entrepreneurship that also reflected my interests in social justice and feminist theory, I probably would have started a tech company much earlier than I did. I am thrilled that I now have the opportunity to inspire students to explore the impact they can have.
Describe one of the most valuable lessons gained from a mentor in your journey and how has it continued to guide you today?
I’ve learned many important lessons from my mentor Barbara Bickham, Managing Director at Trailyn Ventures. In the startup world, it is common that anyone who exists outside of the male, cis, white, heterosexual perspective may feel pressured to fit a certain mold.
Barbara has always encouraged me to stand in my truth, believe in my ideas, and not be made to feel less than for being different. These days I try to pass this advice along to others as well: don’t feel like you have to change yourself to make other people happy. It has been much more rewarding to start a successful company while being my true self.