Bright Mind, Bold Energy
September 2020 Issue
by Michele Roldán-Shaw
Photography provided by Sierra Pollard
At age 25, this ambitious little firecracker has already earned two masters degrees and started two companies. She teaches a few undergrad classes, and in her spare time, trains for half-marathons. When she needs a break, she reupholsters furniture.
“I’m a huge multitasker; always have been,” admitted Sierra, crediting the influence of her go-getter parents, who were always juggling a million things. Having grown up near Kennedy Space Center, it’s little wonder Sierra followed her own blazing star into the world of innovation. She attended the Nation’s first innovation academy at the University of Florida, where she was one of 16 inaugural graduates and the first woman from the program to go on and earn her masters in innovation. In 2017 she started Ginger Media, a marketing firm that creates strategies for small businesses through social media and graphic design. Add to that her Harvard certification in technology innovation and the $15K scholarship she was awarded at the European Innovation Academy (then located in Turino, Italy) and you can see this girl stays busy.
“The world of ideation and innovation is ongoing,” said Sierra, who lives in Richmond but is constantly travelling back and forth to Bluffton to see her parents. “There’s always more to learn and create, so that’s what drew me in.”
Innovation can be defined a number of ways, she said, but they all come back to multiple perspectives, creative problem solving and focusing on how to build a new product, or define a novel use for an existing one. “There’s what’s called a learning loop,” she explained. “You start with a problem, or ‘how might we’ statement, then you come up with ideas to go out and test on the public. Customer discovery is finding people who are really going to use this product, and seeing if your solutions will work for them. Then you come back to the problem statement and it just continues in a loop; there’s really no finish, only a continuation for developing better products and processes.”
Although it might sound a little abstract—suited for brainiacs like Sierra—her interest in ideation returns to earth with a mission to connect and empower women. After being awarded the $15K scholarship, which could be used to trademark or patent anything she chose, Sierra started her second company Winnovation (a play on words signifying women in innovation.) She kicked off last July with an all-day conference featuring women speakers from the Lowcountry, giving attendees the opportunity to network in spite of social distancing measures. The response was overwhelmingly positive, even from those who started out saying, “I’m not innovative.”
“Every woman is innovative,” affirmed Sierra, whose goal is to find women-owned businesses in the Lowcountry so they can mutually promote and buy each other’s products. “We’re all multitaskers and creative in our own way. I wanted to start not just a business, but a community for women in innovation. Everyone says shop local, but I truly want to know who these people are. I want to connect all these amazing women and say you’re not alone—there are so many of us out there.”
Running partner: Lab-mix rescue Bella
Best way to chillax: In her sport hammock in the trees
Favorite author: Jane Austen
Recommended primer on innovation: Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
How she balances all the cerebral stuff: Hands-on work, lately reupholstering
What she’s doing this weekend: Kayaking with Bella, or stand-up paddle boarding at