Episode 10 – Building High-Impact Networks

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Episode 10 - Building High-Impact Networks

Today’s guest on hello, Human is global citizen Beatrice Zatorska, the CEO & Cofounder Smart Tribe. Smart Tribe is a platform where people from the world of academia and experts in the industry world can come together in order to collaborate. Collaboration is just the starting point when it comes to solving solutions. This is one of the reasons why open office settings work so well. People in different fields and from different departments can get together to offer new insights and perspectives on problems.

In today’s episode, host and long-time technologist, Jon Knisley, and series producer Elizabeth Mitelman talk with Beatrice Zatorska about the importance of building an impactful network between your work, life, and career and how building that network is attainable for everyone, not just for the outgoing. Beatrice also talks about her vision and goal for Smart Tribe, her advice for the next generation of women in AI and tech, and how her eclectic background has helped her develop Smart Tribe.

Building and developing a high-impact network is a critical factor in long-term professional success. It is even more important in today’s hyper-connected world. Networking success requires equal parts of will and skill. Contrary to popular opinion, an outsized personality is not a requirement. With practice and persistence, anyone can build and benefit from a high-impact network. Smart Tribe is a company that understands the value of a network. They have developed and use an AI-enabled platform to connect academia and industry to help address one another’s crucial problems while breaking down silos.

Talking Points:

  • Beatrice’s unique and varied background
  • Building helpful networks
  • The best practices and roadmap to creating a high-impact network
  • How Smart Tribe creates a comfortable and safe space for everyone
  • The role of higher education, academia, and science in innovation and company growth
  • Unique challenges with an AI-enabled platform
  • How Beatrice’s unique background influenced the development of Smart Tribe
  • Advice for the next generation of women in AI and tech
  • Success stories of professionals who have connected and solved problems because of Smart Tribe
  • The future for Smart Tribe and Beatrice’s vision


Smart Tribe

How Leaders Create and Use Networks” by Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter, Harvard Business Review


If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe and check out our series at fortressiq.com/podcast. Thanks for joining us today on hello, Human.

Full Episode Transcript:

Hi and welcome to hello, Human. A podcast to explore ideas and feature humans working in AI and Technology. 

Jon: Beatrice Zatorska, CEO and co-founder of Smart Tribe joins us today hello, Human podcast, where we discuss the latest topics in artificial intelligence and how it’s being applied in the real world. I’m Jon Knisley, the host of hello, Human and a long-time-technologist working at the intersection of business and IT. 

A big thanks to FortressIQ for sponsoring the program. Be sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. This episode is part of a special series on women in AI that we’re very excited about here at FortressIQ. Elizabeth Mitelman from our marketing team, who’s been driving the program, is participating in the session as well.

In this episode, we’re going to explore building high-impact networks and developing a strong network as a critical factor in long-term professional success, and probably even more important in today’s hyper-connected world. Smart Tribe is a company that understands the value of the network and has developed an AI-enabled platform to connect academia and industry to help address one another’s crucial problems while breaking down silos.

Welcome to the program, Beatrice. Thanks for joining us on the hello, Human podcast and participating in our women in AI series. Before we get into the official professional discussion, I’ve got to start here. I understand that you’ve lived in 20 countries and speak seven languages. This is absolutely fascinating to me, especially as an American who has lived in one country and speaks one language, which probably reinforces a lot of the stereotypes and biases out there that we need AI to eliminate. Just to get us going, can you share one or two stories from your unique and varied background to give us some insight into your worldview.

Beatrice: Pleasure to be here, Jon. Thank you for inviting me. When you learn the first three languages, then it just gets easier—that’s my best advice. Now seriously, I think my background explains a lot. I’m half French, half Polish, and I grew up in different countries. My family moved around. When you have a very international family, as a child, you learn, at the same time, different languages. As an adult, in my profession, I am a management consultant and so I’m traveling for work. I’m moving around the world, living in different places is normal for me.

That’s how I see things and probably this is my approach to life—sky-is-the-limit, every place is my place. Every person in this world, it doesn’t matter if you are in San Francisco, Seattle, or Shenzhen—I’ve been there and probably I know someone there. I feel comfortable around.

Jon: That’s great, and obviously that experience of moving around leads a bit into this issue of building networks that are helpful for you. When you do move around a lot, you end up needing to rely on different groups of people and different people at times. 

Looking at this issue of networks and the importance of them, there was a Harvard Business Review article that I saw recently—I’ll be sure to add it into the show notes—about how leaders create news networks. It notes a few different varieties of networks and breaks them down into operational, personal, and strategic networks. Is that a good framework for thinking about networking? Or do you have a different model that works for you?

Beatrice: It’s interesting. I don’t think I’m actually a super expert in networks. We use a network tool currently, but before we became a network, we experimented with different models. It’s just the network suddenly clicked with our users and totally exploded literally overnight. We really tried different models to build collaboration between institutions, recruitment platforms, anything, marketplace. Only when the individual connections were introduced on Smart Tribe, everybody started loving it.

Network—as a building, as a plus—is, for me, something new as well. I think we know how to network as people. Right from the beginning of our lives, this is the art of networking. When we were children, we found friends—that’s networking. As adults, we find partners for life, build families—that’s working as well. Then we’re building career networks, friendships, and so on. We’re networking through life all the time. What I see currently, the network effect, and the power of networks is wonderful.

I love networks because it’s all about the connection between people. What we’ve noticed is we have some amazing networks built-in Facebook, LinkedIn, but I think the next generation and the future of networks are going to be more than that. What we are focusing more on is building high-power impacting networks. It should be more focused, so it’s dedicated to a specific group of people or professionals within the science and technology space. 

Also what we notice is people want more from networks rather than just ad hoc connections. They want to develop some level of tangible long-lasting relationships. They want to do things. We see the crossover with networks and building a place for people to work on networks, to create teams, to learn, to teach. I think the networks—as they are right now—will change over the next few years and will transform into a future of work, future of talent, and so on.

Jon: I really like the idea that everybody has this natural ability to network. Too often, you get this idea that it’s only the very outgoing people that can successfully build a network, but it’s really that combination of will and skill to do it. I also like the idea of an impactful network that can really benefit your career, your work, and your business versus just the everyday Facebook, LinkedIn, and those other tools out there, sort of the more specialized network, I guess, you could call it.

It probably sounds a little cliché to say, it’s never too late to start building your network, but what do you see are the key steps for creating this high-impact network? What does the roadmap look like? Do you have some best practices that you can share with the audience?

Beatrice: For me, personally, it’s really easy to network because I’m an extrovert, I love people, I’m curious, and I’m very social. However, our community on Smart Tribe—which majority are academics, scientists working for companies—are usually introverts. For them, it’s very, very difficult to network. We’re trying to make it easier for them, and creating a space where they feel comfortable and safe is very, very important.

Interestingly, many of our scientists don’t even have a LinkedIn account because they feel overwhelmed with the noise and the size of it. But joining Smart Tribe, very often they say—we’re not just joining a platform, we’re joining the movement, a mission. This is our place. We feel comfortable here. We know that nobody would judge us. I think this is very important to build a safe environment for the users and also empower them with using this platform for what they want. We work very closely with our community. We learn from them how to build the networks for them.

Jon: That’s perfect. You started to talk a bit about your current work at Smart Tribe. Can you expand on that a little bit and give us a primer about what exactly Smart Tribe is and the role that AI and technology play in the platform?

Beatrice: Smart Tribe is a community of connecting academics, scientists, and the rest of the work. Basically, build something which was long outstanding and very much needed. Scientists really need a place where they can communicate and express in plain English what they are working on, how this is important, and how they can make a difference. 

Right now, we are connecting scientists and industry people for different kinds of reasons. Either they are looking for advice on how to transition to the industry, if the company is looking for new tech, people are building companies together, very often with co-founders—all kinds of reasons. They use communication between the industry and scientists. Especially now, it’s so much needed. 

We recognize during COVID time how much science makes a positive impact on our lives and how much is needed and focusing more on solving the real problems we have in healthcare, education, policy change, and climate change. That’s what we’re doing. We’re doing this as a network right now. However, I think we are moving more towards building a marketplace where people can work, learn, and teach.

Jon: I love this idea of connecting these different audiences together, and I’d like to go a bit deeper into this connection between science and academia and bringing those platforms together. Much of my graduate work was in technology, transfer programs, and commercialization from higher education institutions. I’ve got my own perspective, but I think academia, too often, gets a bad rap in terms of innovation.

People think it’s too much science fiction and ideas take too long to bring to market. The participants, the stakeholders are more interested in staying in the lab. What’s your take on the potential role of higher education, academia, and the science community that it can play in spurring company growth?

Beatrice: You’re absolutely right. It is a very complex system, a very old system right now of transitioning scientific research and scientists into the industry. Very often, they don’t have a choice. About 80% of academics have to move out of university because there’s simply not enough space for them. They have to find a place somewhere else, which is an industry. Either build their own companies or work for other companies. That’s the need, they have to do it.

But also, the very complex of technology transfer, researchers are not motivated to do it. 75% or so of the royalties stay with universities. It’s a very bureaucratic, long, and legally complex process. More and more scientists right now really want to have more impact on what’s happening around the world. Why are you becoming a scientist? Because you took the oath to make the world better. That’s why, apart from the fact that you’re very interested in what you’re doing, but also you want to make an impact.

I don’t know if you’re aware, in the UK, there’s one very extreme environmentalist group called Extinction Rebellion. They used to put London on hold for many days and stop the traffic. They put blood over each other and chain themselves to office buildings. 70% of the members are scientists. They are taking to the streets making people aware of the problems of climate change. They’ve been talking to the politicians and people in the industry for many years. Nobody listens to them. They need a place to communicate better. 

Yes, there is a perception of scientists that just want to focus on science, but there is an absolute need to better understand and better communicate with them. The way they communicate with the industry right now is really complex because it’s only through research papers and nobody can beat that. I also truly believe that if we have more scientists in companies, we will be forced to focus more on things, which matter. We will be building compounds that will be focusing on things that are important, and solving real-world problems rather than building companies that create more problems.

Jon: That obviously points to this need to have the right tools in place to allow these different communities to talk back and forth and effectively communicate together. Backing up from the specific category that you’re tackling, as a builder of a modern AI company, there are a lot of extra unique considerations that you have to tackle. FortressIQ CEO, Pankaj Chowdhry, recognizes this highly and is very focused on doing the right thing. Our mission specifically talks about unlocking the limitless potential of the global workforce by accelerating the responsible and ethical use of AI in the enterprise.

Again, as a builder of a modern AI company, how do you think about and tackle these issues of trust and transparency even when industry regulations and standards don’t necessarily require you to address it at this point?

Beatrice: It’s a typical situation when the technology is ahead of the regulations and everybody else. We just let it go, and right now, the work of AI companies is absolutely out of control and a super important issue, which needs to be addressed, and probably by the industry itself, we have to be self-regulated. It’s a super important complex problem, especially because when you’re so advanced in creating so many problems—they come out of AI, which is wonderful. Our whole network is built on AI.

Behind the nice, sleek platform, everything—we are matching, recommending people to each other. We learn every single day what they are doing, what they are clicking, what they are talking about. Every day we’re getting better and better at our knowledge we’re harvesting from all this exchange between people in science technology. We’re getting more and more clever, but we have to be responsible for what we are doing. 

I do believe that big companies and new companies coming to the market in AI should have good leaders who take the responsibility of building ethical AI companies, which means being transparent with the users, honest, has integrity, not manipulating, and even giving control to the users of the algorithms.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much, Jon and Beatrice. I would like to take a moment to explore a bit more about your entrepreneurial journey. What inspired you to pursue Smart Tribe, and how did your earlier roles influence your decision to start the company?

Beatrice: I mentioned earlier, we talked with Jon about my international life, experience, and background. This is exactly where my inspiration for Smart Tribe came from. For the past 20 years, I have traveled the world, hunting for scientific research and scientists, and helped them to solve company problems with it. I’ve seen a wealth of talent and tech coming from scientific research, but absolutely untapped. It’s such a shame. 

Less than 2% of current world technologies come from scientific research. What about the rest? I mean 70%, yes, it’s so farfetched. We should not look at it right now, but what about the rest? Even if 1% was untapped, what difference does it make? I’ve seen it in so many places around the world. I lived in China, Russia, Africa, I lived in California, everywhere in Europe, and I’ve seen amazing solutions and people. But I was just finding them in my personal network and introducing them to companies.

My idea was, why don’t we just build a platform and scale what I was doing manually? This was my inspiration. The frustration is there is much waste coming from academia. At the same time, industry companies spend trillions of dollars on reinventing the wheel in R&D because of the lack of sharing knowledge and reaching up to ready solutions in academia. This was my inspiration to solve the problem.

Also, the access to higher education. I think it’s high time we challenge that to take on academia. At the same time, academics want to do it. They’re coming to us and say why do I have to stick to one university? Why can’t I just teach more people? Why can’t I use digital tools and do it? We are thinking of developing that tool. We have people coming from just the general public and asking us questions. 

For example, we had a very interested group of people with Parkinson’s disease who are aware of the fact that they can stop their symptoms if they reach out for different ways of healing like diet, exercise. But when they go to a doctor, they’re only giving them pills. But the latest scientific research shows them something different. 

We are the only place where they can talk to the scientists directly. All of those inspirations, having reached to science and untapped—unleash that science was my inspiration. At the same time, I had to build two other machine learning startups. Previously I had this good experience, so I think I’m really well-equipped with good ammunition to build that company.

Elizabeth: It’s amazing to see the power of your network, your international experiences, your work experience, and of course your passion for science being the drive to start this. As a woman, strong leaders and entrepreneurs like yourself are showing us the power of women in business, technology, and other sectors. When looking at the next generation of women in AI and tech, what advice can you give?

Beatrice: It really depends where you are in the world. In some places in the world, if you want to be a woman scientist, you can be shot in the head still. That’s one of the things which still pains me, and it’s my personal goal to change that and to support those women in those places in developing markets. But in the developed world, we are very fortunate and we came a really long way in a short space of time that things changed in the business and tech world. 

I remember some years ago walking into a room full of 40 men engineers, […] me for three hours, questioning because I was a young consultant and the only woman in the room. I’m thinking, this is how hell must look, but things changed really, really fast. Now, we have much more easy access to it. That’s one thing. 

I actually have three things to advise to our future generation of women in tech and in AI and leaders. Don’t ask to be treated differently because you’re a woman. I do want to be judged for my performance, my skills, and knowledge. Or if I’d screwed up something, I want to take responsibility for that, not because I’m a woman, but because I’m a professional. We should not be treated differently. That’s the first thing.

The other thing, thinking about the younger generation is very important because I agree there are not enough women in tech, in AI, in a leadership position, not because we don’t have access to it because there’s just not enough women right now in the professional business world. We should encourage women who are coming to professional careers and give them the opportunity and the right environment to pursue that career. It also depends on different countries. 

I grew up in Scandinavia where women have a very, very good life—covered maternity leave. In the UK, it’s just impossible, very, very hard to continue a career and have a family. It really depends as well.

The third thing, if you are a woman in the business or tech, support other women. I do love the comrade feeling of women supporting each other. I’m part of the few fantastic networks actually in California, Women Who Tech and Ladies Who Launch, launch companies, and I just love it. We really help each other. It’s a nice friendly environment, and any woman comes to me, I always tried to help more to anybody else.

Elizabeth: That is really, really great advice, and we absolutely should be encouraging and supporting the next generation of women in tech, whether it be joining those external organizations or just sharing stories like yours with them. Thank you for sharing. It’s all really great advice. Now, getting back more specifically to Smart Tribe, can you share a few success stories of the connections that you made via the platform?

Beatrice: We are still a very young company, less than two years. But if we would have to end tomorrow, God forbid, I would feel like we’ve done so much and made a difference already in people’s lives. There are some fantastic stories of people where they came out of the connection we made between people. Many of our scientists are part of the teams working on the COVID vaccines, so we are very proud of them. They’re absolutely our heroes.

The most amazing stories are obviously in healthcare—I cannot talk by names, obviously, but we introduced a humble computer scientist from Scotland who was passionate about helping people with dementia to use personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, and all these kinds of things. He spent years working on the idea of how he can improve the lives of people with dementia.

We introduced him to one of the big tech companies. Now, I think in a few years’ time, we’re going to see how people’s lives with dementia would improve thanks to the connection. We have helped a fantastic mathematician from Africa to build an NGO, which is helping to build a huge new sustainable agriculture sector in the United States, teaching people how to eat better, how the farmers in the United States can be in control of the supply chain, and so on. A lot of scientists care about sustainability, circular economy, climate change, and so on. A lot of the output is exactly that. 

People already built companies together. For some reason, there’s a lot of food scientists that are very active. We fund people trying to find solutions, build nutrition companies, organic chain companies, all kinds of things that already happened on Smart Tribe. Those are just a few examples, but we see the confidence academics have. They are not scared to go out and talk to the industry. They’re not going to be laughed at or misunderstood.

Elizabeth: Wow. Smart Tribe is really getting involved in the future of the world, whether it be the COVID vaccine, dementia, sustainability, technology, and just really realizing the power of connections. You should be so proud of all of your work. To wrap up, what does the future hold for Smart Tribe? If you could peer into a crystal ball, what’s next for the company? What could the next few years hold?

Beatrice: My end goal and my vision is the holy grail of knowledge, to truly translate the world’s knowledge which is hidden in all the scientific papers. I do believe that we can do this with the help of AI. Those little steps we are taking right now with those academics translate and communicate with industry experts. What they are doing is helping us to learn more and more how to translate the rest. I know some people call me crazy, but I truly believe this is possible and only was the help of AI.

This is the end goal, to ready unlock what is there. In the next few years, I really hope that everyone in the tech world will have Smart Tribe on either their phone or on their desktop, and will be able to find solutions to the problem thanks to us.

Jon: That is a great insight and a very inspiring point to end on. Hopefully, all of us can start traveling the world again soon. I’m sure Beatrice is anxious given that she is obviously very much a global citizen. To recap today’s conversation with 

Beatrice Zatorska, the CEO and co-founder of Smart Tribe, developing a high-impact network is a critical factor in long-term professional success. Even more important in today’s hyper-connected world. Networking success requires equal parts will, and skill and an outsize personality is not a requirement. With practice and persistence, really anybody can build and benefit from an impactful network. 

Smart Tribe is a company that understands the value of the network and has developed an AI-enabled platform to really break down the silos between industry and academia to help address these crucial problems that we’re discussing. 

This episode has been part of our special series on women in AI and a big thanks to Elizabeth Mitelman for organizing this series and joining the session today. That’s a wrap on today’s show. Thank you, Beatrice, for joining us and FortressIQ for sponsoring. I’m Jon Knisley and this has been hello, Human.

If you enjoyed this session subscribe and check out our series at fortressiq.com/ podcast. Thanks for joining us today on hello, Human.