Susan Hunt Stevens
Founder & CEO, WeSpire
I love business and technology and innovation and I love proving that all these things together can be a really powerful force for positive change. I fundamentally believe that business can be an extraordinary force for good in this world.
It all started around 2006 when Susan Hunt Stevens’s then two-year-old son was diagnosed with a slew of serious food and environmental allergies. “We were really having to change our life to keep him healthy,” Stevens says. “It was a big eye opener. I thought I was educated about this stuff, but the reality was I was clueless.”
So, she decided to do what a lot of people were doing at that time: She started a blog, which she called Practically Green. It was, as she called it, a guide to going green without going berserk. Granted, Stevens wasn’t just a regular blogger. She’d built her career in digital media, beginning from the very early days of the Internet.
Stevens went to undergrad at Wesleyan University, where she was a government major. After graduating in 1992, she worked for three years in management consulting and then set off to backpack around the world for nine months before starting at Tuck. Choosing Tuck, she says, was easy. “The most important thing for me was the emphasis on teaching. You could tell that teaching was their passion and love and why they were professors,” Stevens says. “When you have amazing professors, they can help you be passionate about things you never thought you’d be interested in.”
At Tuck, she played ice hockey and helped start a women’s crew team that won the MBA World Championships. She spent half of her second year living in Spain, taking classes in Spanish, and getting a sense of international business. She also joined Tuck faculty as a student assistant on a trip to visit the Hanoi School of Business in Vietnam.
After graduating from Tuck in 1998, she moved to New York and began working at the New York Times on the digital side of the company, as director of marketing and business development. “It was the early, early days of the web,” she says. “We were seeing amazing growth. I helped write one of the first white papers on behavioral advertising. It was an amazing opportunity to be in on the ground floor of digital media.”
At age 28, she became a co-founder and later CEO of a New York City-based data mining company called Abridge, which dismantled after 9-11. “It was hard to lose our startup, but the world changed that day,” she says.
When she started her blog Practically Green, she was living in Boston and working for the Boston Globe as the senior vice president and general manager of Boston.com. Practically Green gave her the window into the growing interest in living more sustainably. While leading a project to bring the New York Times onto Facebook, she saw the power that combining social mechanics, game mechanics, and content—like LoseIt or Runkeeper—had on engagement and impact. That was the a-ha moment when she realized there was an opportunity to build a behavior change app focused on health and sustainability. When she pitched the idea to some friends in venture capital, one told her, “Quit your job today and go do this.”
Eventually, she did quit her job at the Boston Globe and dove full-time into running her own startup. “There was this calling to start this company. So I took the plunge,” she says. The first version of the app debuted on Mother’s Day in 2010. After the app appeared on The Today Show, Stevens started getting calls from heads of sustainability at big companies who were looking to use her technology as a way to promote sustainable work cultures among their employees. Since then, the platform has expanded include corporate social responsibility programs, wellbeing programs and positive workplace programs, particularly diversity and inclusion.
“We rolled out our first enterprise programs in 2012 and by early 2014, it was clear we were going to become 100 percent enterprise,” says Stevens. So they re-branded and named the new version of the company WeSpire. “It encompassed more of what we thought we were good at, which was using the power of a social network to inspire positive change.”
WeSpire now works with over 30 companies, collectively totaling over 2 million employees, including big brands like MGM Resorts International, Timberland, NRG Energy, Unilever, and more.
"I love business and technology and innovation and I love proving that all these things together can be a really powerful force for positive change," she says. "I fundamentally believe that business can be an extraordinary force for good in this world."