WeWork Labs’ Elizabeth Scallon is ready to tackle world’s big, scary challenges: ‘It’s up to us’

A family portrait with Scallon, her wife Shena Lee and daughter Dylan. (Kristopher Shinn Photo)

Elizabeth Scallon sees potential and opportunity everywhere.

Now the head of WeWork Labs for Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, Scallon’s curiosity was sparked in middle and high school by a science teacher who brought biotechnology to her classroom, instructing students in DNA analysis and unraveling genetics. That enthusiasm carried into college with a double major in biochemistry and humanities from Seattle University.

“I kept falling more in love with how the natural world works,” Scallon said.

She held health sciences jobs at Seattle’s Amgen, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Viral Logic Systems Technology (VLST), the latter founded by a creator of Enbrel, a treatment for autoimmune diseases. Her initial interest in laboratory bench work quickly pivoted to a joy for directing lab operations, setting up innovative spaces and empowering scientists to bring their discoveries to life.

“I realized that I’m too distracted and curious to do the same tasks day in and day out,” Scallon said, as lab work can require.

While running operations at VLST, the high-energy Scallon picked up a global executive MBA from Georgetown University. As the economy slowed, VLST downsized and turned to an incubator role, renting out space to companies including Adaptive Biotechnologies and Juno Therapeutics that later became biotech stars. Scallon loved seeing how strategically leveraging resources could help everyone prosper.

In 2013, she took those skills and experience to the University of Washington, running its CoMotion Labs for five years, helping grow the program that fosters entrepreneurship.

In September 2018, she took the job at WeWork Labs, nurturing startups in Washington, California and Oregon. In this role, the potential and opportunities that Scallon sees just keep expanding, particularly for the Puget Sound region.

“We are the global leaders in technology, in thinking about sustainability, in thinking about ethics, and if we don’t get it right, who else will?” she said. She’s interested in tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges: income disparity, homelessness and climate change among them.

Scallon is eager to bring entrepreneurs and the tech workforce together with civic leaders to make changes with even broader reach. One example is a recent launch of the Maritime Accelerator, a partnership with Washington state’s Maritime Blue Initiative and the Port of Seattle to increase innovation and environmentally friendly businesses in the field.

While her focus is multi-state, she cops to a hometown pride for her native Washington.

Elizabeth Scallon, WeWork Labs Northern California and Northwest. (WeWork Labs Photo)

“I just believe that we are exceptional citizens in our state. We have the knowledge and power and brilliance to find these huge bold solutions that are needed. Everyone is required to do that,” Scallon said.

She points to other efforts that she thinks are making a difference, including the Washington Technology Industry Association’s Ion Collaborators, the Sea.citi network, and homelessness efforts led by Microsoft, Amazon and others in the tech sector.

“We own the future,” she said. “It’s up to us.”

We caught up with Scallon for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: I live in Seattle, I’m from Seattle, and I work in: Seattle, Portland and Silicon Valley.

Computer types: It’s an Apple MacBook Pro for work, but I will use anything for personal use. Grew up on Commodore 64, I’m always interested in the latest and greatest tech.

Mobile devices: iPhone 11

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools:

Apps: Apple Mail, LinkedIn, Alaska Airlines, Mobile Passport, Pandora, Libby, SolarEdge

Cloud Services: As I said, I live in Seattle and I’m from Seattle which means I’ve got buddies at Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud is opening up a campus in South Lake Union…so I’ll pass on this question!

Software tools: You can’t beat Tableau for data visualization.

Scallon experimenting with virtual reality at WeWork Labs. (WeWork Labs Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I work in the best office space in the world (thank you, brilliant WeWork designers — love those green velvet couches on a gloomy Seattle day), and thanks to the WeWork community, my work space is literally all over the world. I most often work from Seattle, Portland, Silicon Valley and New York.

I keep a physical desk in WeWork Labs Seattle, which is always a mess, scattered with notes, business cards from previous days, and cords for electronics. I’m always well caffeinated at work, thanks to amazing WeWork Labs members: we have a few food-and-beverage startups on tap downstairs, like Haiti Coffee Company and Yerbana.

Our approach to sustainability also inspires me. WeWork Labs members Cloud Paper are on a mission to end deforestation through tree-free office products, and right now, every WeWork bathroom in the Northwest uses their tree-free toilet paper. I love how they put it: “You won’t notice the difference… but the planet will.”

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? If every day you wake up following your purpose, there is no distinction between work vs. life. It is all one big adventure.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn! It’s great for identifying new founders, investors and resources. I love to stay current on industry news/trends so I follow content creators like Laura Clise so I can be intentional on how I spend my money and Nichol Bradford to learn about transformative technology. I’m an inspiration sponge.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox?

  • 41K, but those include spam messages, etc. So probably about 100 that need answering from the last few days.
  • 20 unanswered phone calls
  • Zero unanswered texts
  • 5 unanswered slack messages
  • 7 unanswered WhatsApps
  • 1 unanswered Twitter DM
  • 10 unanswered Facebook Messages
  • 13 unanswered LinkedIn Messages

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 32, but the average is about 45

Scallon, far left, with some of the Cloud Paper team, a startup developing bamboo-based toilet paper and a member of WeWork Labs. (WeWork Labs Photo)

How do you run meetings? Depends on the meeting. For an information-based meeting: I’ll share what I know, what I don’t know, and then ask other(s) for the same until we have a solid picture of what is known and what is still unknown.

If the meeting is new idea development or iterating: I’ll set a goal upfront, then round robin about ideas, constantly getting feedback from each person. If a plan is forming, I’ll have the team create small experiments to test the newly developed approaches to see what is best. If not, I’ll ask them to find the logical next best step.

Meetings are all about respecting those who are in the room, finding shared purpose, and enhancing value add for the mission. If there are roadblocks and barriers, don’t be afraid of saying what they are, even if it is uncomfortable to hear or recognize.

Everyday work uniform? TomboyX, then generic jeans, shirt and sweater. Even better if it’s a Labs member’s company tee, like Game Jolt or TF Labs!

How do you make time for family? My weekends are only for family — phone gets put on airplane mode (symbolically speaking). I limit after hours/external events to two or three times a week to ensure I have time with my wife and daughter, my loves.

Scallon family showing some Pride. (Photo courtesy of Scallon)

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Walks around the block with my toddler, playing dice or backgammon with my wife, and reading.

What are you listening to? Sigur Rós

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? GeekWire, of course! ScienceNews, Harvard Business Review (HBR) and LaunchTicker. I also like to read news close to the grassroots level so I stay up to speed with the Nature and American Chemical Society.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Loonshots” by Safi Bahcall

Night owl or early riser? Night owl. Asleep by 1 a.m. and up by 7 a.m. if its a West Coast day or by 5 a.m. if I have East Coast meetings to join.

Where do you get your best ideas? Walking

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? MacKenzie Bezos, Melinda Gates, Jody Allen (philanthropist and entrepreneur who is the sister of deceased Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen). They’re values-forward and champions for social-impact innovation. I’d love to learn more about them, and ask them these same questions you’ve asked me! They’re always welcome to grab coffee or tea at Labs — consider the invite official!

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