Showcase Spotlight: Allison Silveus, MS, EdD
Learn about her now in our Q&A. Meet her at Impact Showcase & Awards on October, 26.
About Allison Silveus, MS, EdD
Allison specializes in instructional design and curriculum development by incorporating the learning sciences in curriculum development. Throughout her career as an educator and entrepreneur, she has proven her ability as a compassionate communicator who solves problems and alleviates needs to help others succeed. She serves as a passionate researcher who can seek answers and find gaps in any industry: academic, corporate, and tech. A few highlights from her career include:
• Served many roles including educator, curriculum developer, designer, strategist, recruiter, sales (5 million plus in real estate per year), and Co-Founder to achieve the next level of success with venture partners.
• Accepted by Routledge Publishing for book chapter abstract about leadership adaptation and change during COVID-19.
• Submitted a National Science Foundation SBIR Pitch for Unbent (Acceptance to Apply for Full Funding Received Q1 of 2021) and submitted full grant proposal with team in Q2 of 2021.
• Nominated for the Chancellor's Leadership Award in (2013) and (2014) for aligning curriculum to state standards.
• Served on various committees: Academic Curriculum Team, STEM Council, Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair, Mentoring Committee, Hiring Committee, Learning Community Committee.
• Published journals on topics such as genetics, emergent bilinguals and recently submitted manuscripts on intersectionality for social identity development.
• Mentored a Latina STEM Program to support Diversity and Equity and Inclusion in STEM.
• Assessed programs using both quantitative and qualitative measures, which provided guidance to stakeholders on performance of outcomes and efficiency of overall process.
• Developed partnership between industry (Unbent Inc.) and university (SMU-Lyle School of Engineering) and (TCU-Venture Builder Program) to foster growth for senior computer science engineers and business students.
• Facilitated a relationship between industry, K-12, and higher education (TCU) to offer the math and science trail grant.
Her experiences at UNT Health Science Center as an Education Program Manager and Adjunct Faculty, have provided her with opportunities to lead and mentor, as well as gain strong communication skills while interacting with faculty/staff/students and key stakeholders alike. These opportunities have showcased her talents in management and her ability to lead and design programs.
Unbent is a web-based soft and hard skills assessments platform based on virtual reality and artificial intelligence that assesses and addresses bias in decision making by gamifying the hiring process.
Traditional Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) pre-screening method filters out roughly 75% of qualified candidates. Unbent is revolutionizing this by pre-screening candidates based on their skills and decision preferences.
According to Harvard Business Review, 98% of companies depend on an inefficient ATS system which results in roughly 46% of failed new hires. Unbent “unbends” the hiring process and gets the most qualified candidate to you in the most unbiased way.
Q&A with Allison
Lauren: Was it challenging for you to take a jump into entrepreneurship? What made you take the leap?
Allison: My father is an entrepreneur who went through several ups and downs as he raised capital for various oil and gas opportunities. I was never really taught to be an entrepreneur and I was never exposed to the idea of being one even though I had a father that had his own business. Even as a younger child, school was boring to me. It took massive amounts of willpower on my parents' part to get me interested in school. I was always more interested in things that were beyond pen and paper. When I started teaching at the college in 2009, I instantly knew I had an ability to make education exciting. So much so, that Pearson Publishing started sending me to conferences and paying me to write online science modules for them. It was at that point I knew I needed to go back for a doctorate, as I was the only one without the terminal degree in that circle. After numerous accounts of my work presented as others work, I made the leap and pursued my doctorate.
I began working three jobs, one in real estate, one as a research assistant at TCU and one managing grants for a Latina STEM program while doing my doctorate at night with two small children (4 and 7 at that time). One day I remember a teacher telling me that nobody needed to know how smart I was. That day, I enrolled in ballroom dance with my husband, started taking night classes at TechFW and began focusing on my own company. I realized that I had spent my life trying to conform to others ideals of what my place in the world looked like. Ultimately, I realized I could believe in myself and that others' perceptions of what I should or could do didn't matter. My path was mine to write and nobody else's.
Lauren: What is your heart behind the tech you’re creating? In other words, what is your ‘why?’?
Allison: My passion started when I took a doctoral evolutionary social psychology class with Dr. Sarah Hill. We began learning about how the brain processes similar and different faces, and I became hooked on the idea of studying this. I spent my extra time in her lab developing a Qualtrics psychometric tool to measure in-group bias, noting that we all possess bias to some extent based on social groups. As time passed, I collected data, presented findings and then suddenly fell into virtual reality research. This research had nothing to do with my prior research work on bias in the brain, but I instantly saw how it could be applied to recreate an entirely new platform that would really address bias and ability simultaneously.
My why really came from the intersections of these two different experiences. Everyone knows how bad our hiring system is, and how bias can prevent us from making truly rational decisions. The difference here was that I was approaching hiring using science as the foundation, and I wasn't attempting to recreate something that everyone else had. Most of the products that exist today either use an ATS to scan resumes or claim DEI efforts by measuring demographics. Unbent is not about either of these. Unbent exists in a space where your brain makes decisions that look differently based upon your primed social experiences. Thus, one hire may be great on paper and hit all the marks for demographics, but they could also potentially have biases that are not captured that can hurt company sales due to their own social upbringing and in-group bias.
Lauren: What is the hardest part about being a startup founder?
Allison: Ironically, my biggest pain has been making sure that as we grow, we grow with the right people. The Great Resignation has most definitely made people rethink their values. We have had tons of interest in working with Unbent, but ultimately at the end of the day, you either have to determine one of two things. Why is this person interested in Unbent and what do they want in return? I have found that those that talk a big talk and tell me how much they can do, tend to be the ones I need to avoid from day one. Those individuals have consistently disappointed me. Individuals that have spent time getting to know me, have the same vision (company first) and are not equity hungry, tend to be the ones I surround myself with. They are hungry and hungry for change.
I listened to a podcast one time on characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. The person noted that the simple trait/act of doing a good deed to help someone else out/ provide guidance and such was way more predictive of success later on. It makes sense considering people always remember when you helped them or supported them. Those that are out for themselves in this industry won't go far, as people begin to catch on to this behavior. Ultimately, that will create a terrible organizational culture.
Lauren: What has surprised you about the entrepreneurial journey?
Allison: My biggest surprise was the feeling of relief. I woke up one day, after several years of what felt like a long coma, and realized I was comfortable being me. I think fundamentally I had chased a career path for years that felt almost prescriptive. I am not saying I regretted schooling or my doctorate. I think my biggest regret was that I allowed myself to feel inferior to others at times when I knew I had written the grant, drafted a proposal, proposed a study or done the work, yet someone else took the credit for it. My freeing moment was when I realized I would start a company and this time, it would be something that would be implemented the way I had envisioned it. The best part is that I can take all these prior experiences and put plans in place to support innovation for all in my own company (no matter what rank, class, demographic, gender, ect.). If you look at our organizations today, many emphasize supporting innovation, yet they have little understanding of their own people, specifically the ones they consider to be at the bottom. They spend so much of their time providing resources for innovation to their top employees, but meanwhile that janitor, that cleaning person, that staff member is creating something in their garage that goes overlooked and unnoticed. I am firm on capturing that innovative spark in my own company no matter where they are.
Lauren: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your journey?
Allison: You have to take risks and free yourself from fearing the failures that are inevitable. Fearing failure is like fearing death. We all know that eventually we will leave this world, so why not make the best of it? I want to make sure that when I pass, that I have taught my children the value of hard work, and to open up to the failures in life that they too will experience. Those are the scars that we get to wear that let us know we have lived after all.
Lauren: How will you know that ‘you’ve made it’ as a company?
Allison: For me, honestly it has never really been about money. My business team would tell me to correct this, but being the stubborn person that I am, I am going to say that it is fundamentally about correcting a really bad problem. Poor decision making in hiring due to how the brain responds to a person who is different from us speaks to every person in society. We have all been cast out, ignored or undervalued. In fact, outside hires take three years to perform as well compared to internal hires (HBR,2019), yet our hiring process has largely ignored our own people, lacks the use of data to track what skills/degrees they have on staff for such future promotion, and use screeners who might not understand skill transfer between two different job domains, so they overlook qualified candidates. I will know I have made it when I can look at my own platform and know that I have addressed these issues.
Lauren: What word of advice would you give to individuals considering entrepreneurship?
Allison: Be prepared for a long road ahead of highs, lows and everything in between. Accept the fact you will fail and sometimes fail hard. Take time to cry, drink a glass of wine and then wake up the next day and put your cowgirl boots on and go for the next item on your agenda.
"Take time to cry, drink a glass of wine and then wake up the next day and put your cowgirl boots on and go for the next item on your agenda."
Lauren: What character trait do you think is most important for an entrepreneur to have?
Allison: Grit all the way. There are days I come home feeling drained and exhausted. Then I realize, I can accept the way things are and not change anything about it, or I can create my own path and go for it. The same thing goes for bringing on my own team. I am not looking for someone who has had it easy, never been rejected, or never been told they weren't good enough. I want a gritty person that is mad, mad at the system and ready to push forward. They know the pains just as much as I do, and that speaks to my heart.
Lauren: Was there a moment when your company had a 'big break’? Please share the story.
Allison: Well, to preface this, the startup world appears to change daily. I would say the biggest break so far was finding out that NSF accepted the pitch for Unbent after about 6 months of working on the platform. Our team turned in the full grant proposal one week prior to my TCU doctoral defense, and that was a huge win for our team.
Want to meet Allison along with other tech startup founders in North Texas? Register Now for Impact Showcase & Awards.