The Power Mom
Life almost hardly ever goes the way we think it will, and sometimes, throws unexpected challenges out of the blue. It’s what we make of these challenges (and of ourselves in the process) that defines us! One such extraordinary story is that of Sehreen Noor Ali. She’s many things – entrepreneur, CEO, board advisor, market-maker, visionary, business executive, volunteer, ex-consultant, ex-diplomat, and perhaps the most challenging of all, mother.
Sehreen is a graduate of Brown and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her career at the US Department of State, acting as a liaison to the White House for diplomatic response to execute President Obama’s initiatives in the Middle East and South Asia. Her career subsequently took her to consulting and business development in the education and EdTech sectors. It was after this that her life suddenly changed. A call from a doctor brought to Sehreen the news that her child was struggling due to an underlying condition that had gone unnoticed. With that experience, Sehreen’s entrepreneurial journey was born.
As we continue our series of portraits of inspiring women entrepreneurs, is this feature, we walk you through the ups and downs of Sehreen’s life. We’ll learn from the challenges faced head-on, the biases fought, the accomplishments earned, and the power of the entrepreneurial spirit.
Let’s dive in!
Spotting Opportunity in Chaos
Sehreen struggled as a special-needs mom. She had to juggle her responsibilities as Vice President and Head of Business Development at Noodle and then Kaplan, while also doing her best to raise her two girls. She would feel guilty for taking time off work for her child and would spend hours digging around for answers on Facebook groups for a symptom she was showing. Sehreen’s struggle to find useful, dependable and timely information, alongside the rising use of tech for family health acted as the motivation for her to envision a ‘GPS’ system for child health.
Opportunities are usually abundant. They require a visionary to spot them, commit to doing justice to them and building something worthwhile.
Sehreen co-founded Sleuth as a health-tech startup. She designed it to marry the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ from parents on the platform with other parents seeking advice for medical care and treatment for their toddlers. She calls Sleuth the ‘Waze for Early Childhood Health’. Sehreen was able to prove that there was a demand for a crowdsourced, tech-enabled solution for childhood health.
She was able to spot signals to make an entire market where none existed, and her advice to other entrepreneurs is to do the same!
Rise and Rise
Sehreen has worn her multiple hats with a panache and proficiency that will astound many. Equipped with a strong educational background, she has risen through roles of public service, accumulated successes in the corporate world, and founded EdTechWomen and Sleuth. That’s not all – she advises on the boards of SXSWedu and other startups, guiding them in developing and executing their ideas.
Many of us are familiar with the well-known quote by Dorothy Neddermeyer: “Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” Sehreen has not only faced and resolved differences of opinion, but also overcome biases (whether overt or subtle), at every step of her journey.
In dealing with expectations at executive positions in the corporate world, it’s unfortunately not unheard of to feel guilt while taking time off for personal reasons. Sehreen eventually took a year off to care for her daughter, and confidently went on to build a tech ecosystem for other struggling parents like her.
While in Sehreen’s case, being a mother helped her as she represented a consumer to potential investors, she admits that the tech funding world is predominantly male. What are her suggestions for other minority entrepreneurs? She recommends building and trusting supportive social networks. She recommends being forthcoming and outspoken, because in many cases, people are welcome to change for the better. She leads the way by being bold enough to point out bias. And if it isn’t well received, she suggests accepting that some people just aren’t the right investors / collaborators. Sehreen exemplifies perfectly well how one can select one’s responses to negative triggers.
To perfectly encapsulate Sehreen’s story and to find inspiration from it, we must remember the words: