Business & Real Estate

Former founder launches local effort aimed at teaching 'NIMBLE' mindset


Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Mariette Wharton moved back to Los Altos ready to share her entrepreneurial mindset with a new audience.

After nearly a decade of nonstop scramble while co-founding and then selling her own startup, Los Altos resident Mariette Wharton liked the idea of gaining more control over the pace of her own work. She also had an interest in mentorship after experiencing meaningful moments of coaching early in her own career.

“There can be these seminal moments, where you can point out to somebody – do a self-assessment. How do your strengths and weaknesses work with your sense of purpose?” she said.

Before her life as an entrepreneur, Wharton worked in management consulting and then e-commerce for companies ranging from PricewaterhouseCoopers to Citibank, and earned an MBA from Columbia University’s business school.

She and her husband co-founded a cloud video conferencing service company, Vidtel, whose sale in 2015 sent them out into the world as entrepreneurs with no immediate demands from work and time, and a growing interest in traveling as a family. With then-10- and 13-year-old sons – still young enough to be willing to hang out with their parents, at least some of the time – they decided to put their belongings in storage and take a year to travel the world, trekking and diving their way across five continents.

After returning to Los Altos in 2016, Wharton went back to consulting, this time as her own firm, Change Agent Partners. She launched a nonprofit organization in January on a complementary tangent – teaching and researching how creativity, empathy and problem-solving can drive innovation.

Her enterprise – which she dubbed NIMBLE (National Institute for Mentoring Business Leaders & Entrepreneurs) – is leading startup summer camps for teens in Los Altos and Mountain View this summer as well as offering year-round programming for adults, and has begun to grow a body of research focused on how emotional intelligence and “appropriate risk-taking” advance workforce success for large teams as well as startups.

“I felt there’s a gap in terms of what we as employers expect, in terms of creative problem-solving and social cognitive skills, that we’re not teaching and can be hard to acquire in the workplace,” Wharton said.

One example: a nuanced appreciation for the diversity of thought that emerges when you realize, “We’re always negotiating, every single day, whether we realize it or not.’”

Los Altos as incubator

“We moved here with the intent of starting a high-tech company, and we did – it was a really great outcome,” Wharton said.

When her family arrived in Los Altos in 2008, they rented a house and invested their capital in Vidtel, their fledgling company. When they returned in 2016 after a year on the road, it was with a sense of intention about their new, old home.

“We scoured the whole world and we ended up back here,” Wharton said, while acknowledging that her sons had never had any doubt that they would return to the community they loved and, often enough, missed while traveling the world.

They purchased a 1915 Craftsman house on University Avenue with the intent of making it a family “gathering place.” The principle has extended to her work as well.

Wharton works with a small team out of her home office and hosts events like “Go-to-Market Strategy” in Los Altos at venues like the Neutra House. The informal gatherings aim to give entrepreneurs, including those at the very early stage, a setting to discuss business plans and strategy.

In addition to early-stage innovators experiencing the kind of growing pains she knows from her own company, Wharton focuses on two ends of the life cycle with NIMBLE: high school students who are just forming their first business schemes and companies that have experienced just enough success to stop hiring entrepreneurs, and begun to lose the mindset of doing more with less.

“When you’re required to think outside the box to survive, it’s different,” Wharton reminisced about the character-forming experience of building your own business.

She draws on other serial entrepreneurs to contribute as advisers and speakers for NIMBLE.

“It’s not theoretical – a lot of what you learn is because you’ve made the mistakes, and you know where the traps are,” she noted.

Wharton is interested in applying an analytic lens to productivity and creative work.

“Complex problem-solving requires people to feel focused, energized and supported,” she speculated of her area of study.

She’s seeking grant funding to ask what contributes to the state of mind that allows an entrepreneur, or any business contributor, to be more effective, creatively. And how universal, or individualized, are those circumstances?

For more information about Wharton’s nonprofit, visit nimblemindset.org.

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