Shelli Brunswick, COO of Space Foundation, brings a broad perspective and deep vision of the global space ecosystem — from a distinguished career as a space acquisition and program management leader and congressional liaison for the U.S. Air Force to her current role overseeing Space Foundation’s three primary divisions: Center for Innovation and Education, Symposium 365, and Global Alliance.
Advocating for space technology innovation, entrepreneurship, diversity and inclusion, Shelli collaborates with organizations around the world to connect commercial, government and educational sectors. Shelli was named the 2021 Global Technology Leader and the 2020 Diversity & Inclusion Officer and Role Model of the Year Award by WomenTech Network.
Shelli plays an active leadership role with United Nations Space4Women, WomenTech Network, Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO), World Business Angels Investment Forum (WBAF) Global Women Leaders Committee (GWLC) Co-Chair, G100 Global Chair for Space Technology, New York University, Global Policy Insights – Global Policy, Diplomacy and Sustainability (GPODS) Fellowship program, Global Policy Insights — Quad Forum, Space Tourism Society Africa, Tod’Aérs, Lifeboat Foundation, America’s Future Series, Women’s Global Gathering, Manufacturer’s Edge, and Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Shelli Brunswick: Thrilled to be here! I am the chief operating officer of Space Foundation, an exciting organization that strives to make the wonders of space accessible to humanity, advocating for innovation and bettering life on Earth.
My journey began when I decided to join the United States Air Force right after high school. Serving by day and attending classes by night, I earned a bachelor’s degree during my 12 years as an enlisted airman. It wasn’t until my promotion to space program management officer that my fascination with space was truly born; my eyes were opened to the infinite possibilities of space technology and their promise for a positive earthly impact. My adventure broadened with a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and the last chapter of my service in the USAF: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve as congressional liaison to the U.S. House Of Representatives. This unforgettable adventure has brought me to where I am today — the proud COO of Space Foundation!
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Shelli Brunswick: Curve balls are always tricky, but they’re also excellent learning opportunities. A curve ball is a cue to switch up your batting style, challenge your flexibility, and encourage your resourcefulness, and I believe that’s the attitude businesses will need to adopt if they want to thrive in 2022. Basically, the difference between success and failure will boil down to perspective; the thriving business will always see obstacles as opportunities.
When it comes to Space Foundation and my own personal life, these past few years have really driven home the importance of adaptability. Every convenience lost to COVID-19 was a prod to push the limits and think creatively, developing new strategies and solutions to outsmart new problems. For those who were willing to put in the work, 2020 and 2021 taught some invaluable lessons.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Shelli Brunswick: The best way to rebuild from the ruins of the past, COVID-19 included, is to gaze boldly into the future. The space industry is an excellent example of forward thinking in troubled times. Despite the economic disaster caused by COVID-19, the space industry remains resilient and full of promise and, as such, faces a workforce shortage, a skills deficit and an innovation gap — challenges we are proactively countering through awareness, access, training, connecting and mentoring people from around the globe.
Moving forward in 2022, businesses would do well to invest in high-opportunity fields like the space industry. Through partnership leadership initiatives, organizations and companies can come together to spearhead economic growth opportunities. With limitless potential, the space innovation frontier is an economic treasure trove that will remain unshakeable when all else fails.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Shelli Brunswick: Space Foundation is a constellation of connections; so much of what we do revolves around collaboration with others. Whether educating students, encouraging entrepreneurs, or hosting inspiring, informational events, our mission to expand the global space ecosystem is nothing if not hands-on.
Though in many ways the pandemic took our hands off, we never lost grip of our goals. With public events canceled and personal meetings nearly impossible, we took the space innovation frontier to the worldwide web, relying on pivotal platforms like launching our Symposium 365 Digital Platform and delivering programming through our Center for Innovation and Education and our Space Foundation Discovery Center to continue to educate and connect people throughout the world.
The really exciting news is that, in full compliance with CDC guidelines, we were able to host our 37th annual Space Symposium at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. The world’s “must attend” space event was well attended by more than 11K and well enjoyed by space agencies, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts from 43 countries. So for businesses and organizations looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s finally here!
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Shelli Brunswick: Like anyone else, we would have loved a COVID-19 crystal ball! Understanding the social and economic impacts of the pandemic would have given Space Foundation a faster reaction time and better equipped us to prepare for such an unpredictable plight.
Without a clear understanding of COVID-19’s scope, a flexible gameplan was a must. Fortunately, a dedicated team worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth, swift transition to the new normal — an online platform called Symposium 365 that allowed us to continue our connection to the global community. Though physical contact was stifled, our digital interface helped us foster new friendships and partners around the world, including the Organization of American States (OAE), the African Union, and the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO).
Amazingly, despite the pressures of the pandemic, the global space economy actually thrived, skyrocketing to an estimated $447 billion. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private space employment even rose to a 9-year high!
In 2022, we plan to refine our Symposium 365 virtual experience and continue to grow our new Center For Innovation and Education, starting with our Space Commerce Institute and reaching out to the global community and warmly welcoming them to the Space Foundation family.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Shelli Brunswick: I’m really curious to see what happens in 2022. How will businesses integrate the COVID-digitized world back into more typical business models? One thing is for certain: We’re not in Kansas anymore, and there’s little chance that things are going back to “normal.”
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Online business became the reinforced backbone of our economy when it seemed broken beyond repair, and it’s created a wealth of unique opportunities. At the top of the list is an unprecedented workforce freedom, affording work-from-home employees the liberty to find a work-life balance they only ever dreamed of. As such, online programming also enabled us to reach demographics in the farthest corners of the Earth, previously inaccessible and uncharted.
My hope for 2022 is that we can incorporate the best of both worlds, forming a diverse economy where online and in-person businesses coexist in exciting new ways — efficient, convenient technology with a human touch.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Shelli Brunswick: Too many! Finding a healthy balance between screen time and “me time” is a constant push and pull, and it’s something I’m working on every day. The reality is that so much of my work demands heavy computer use; it’s really unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean all of my screen time is spent crunching numbers and studying statistics.
Like so many, the last few years have taught me the value of personal and business relationships, simply because those relationships were challenged by limited physical contact and distance. During the height of the pandemic, computer technology was really the only link to faraway loved ones, colleagues, and the world at large; in some ways, screens meant sanity. So although I spend more time in front of a screen than I would like, I’m grateful that it provides more than just the grind; it also allows me to build relationships and enjoy the warm face-to-face conversations that we all so desperately need.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Shelli Brunswick: Absolutely. Like so many other executives, I’ve found that storytelling is integral to teaching. Pie charts, bar graphs, and percentage-heavy presentations are all well and good, but nothing speaks to the individual like a story. Stories are the personal platforms that breathe life into dry data and awaken workforce imagination, inspiring people in a way that numbers and figures simply can’t.
I implement stories into my business when I want to illustrate ideas, inspire workforce growth, and humanize concepts that might otherwise seem detached and remote. I source most of my stories from the amazing people I’ve met along my own journey — living, breathing people who’ve tested their limits to reach extraordinary heights. Using real-life examples to communicate with my team encourages them to pursue their own goals, teaching them that there are no “cans” and “can’ts” — only how far they are willing to reach.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Shelli Brunswick: Hundreds of thousands of businesses were forced to close during the pandemic; for many, the close was permanent. We’re holding in our hands the fragile pieces of a shattered economy, wondering how to put it all back together again. The challenge now is large-scale economic regrouping.
I view this transitional time as an invitation to expand and collaborate, creating a universal atmosphere of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. When we work together, we can vault over our individual and collective obstacles to reach new heights of global achievement, touching every corner of the Earth through technology and automation and facing humanity’s greatest challenges with the strength of numbers.
Again, perspective is such a transformational thing; you can choose to fear uncertainty and avoid the unknown like a monster in the closet, or you can embrace these things as opportunities and boundless horizons. After all, an unclear future is really just an empty canvas. Brushes, everyone; let’s make a masterpiece!
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Shelli Brunswick: Funnily enough, because so much of my work revolves around hard data and numbers, my most sought after interest in 2022 is actually a deepening of my ability to connect with people on a personal level.
I’m currently enrolled in a public speaking course, and I’m learning so much! I’m interested in making a shift from one-way informational speeches to a kind of large-scale interactive dialogue, learning more about my global audience and their day-to-day experiences, then incorporating their stories into the Space Foundation narrative.
I think this will be pivotal in showing the world just how much Space Foundation is interested in the individual, welcoming anyone, regardless of their skill set and background, to join our exciting mission!
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Shelli Brunswick: I guarantee you that plenty of leaders are saying “that’s not me,” and they’re probably the ones who need to change the most!
The truth is that the same traits that produce strong leaders can also create tyrants, and I think these sad statistics are proof of unchecked egos dominating businesses nationwide. Meanwhile, there’s been a massive shift in the importance of emotional security and well-being in the workplace. Turbulent social, political and economic conditions have left people feeling more vulnerable than ever before, and they’re simply unwilling to deal with a toxic work environment.
Deep-seated systemic issues like this are always intimidating to tackle, but I think exercising humility in leadership would be a great place to start. People in leadership positions need to recognize the understated value of listening, encouraging, and creating positive work environments where employees feel welcome, safe and heard.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Shelli Brunswick: That’s a tough one! I would have to say that if I could have any business superpower, it would be the ability to help people achieve their life goals in a self-sufficient way, equipping them for lasting personal success.
From a position of authority and a background of 30 years in my field, it’s so second-nature to want to guide people and direct them from my own personal experience, freely giving them the solutions to their problems. But, like the old fisherman’s proverb, if you constantly give people what they ask for, they’ll never achieve the competence or confidence to find it for themselves. With that in mind, I think my ultimate business superpower would be absolute excellence in mentorship.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Shelli Brunswick: Great final question. I’ll share my vision for business success in 2022.
Call it post-COVID-19 cheer, but this year I’m especially passionate about people. I want everyone to know what a significant role they play in our Space Foundation family. I’m excited about diversity and belonging — and not in the corporate buzzword sense; I genuinely believe that the tapestry is richer for the breadth of its texture, colors and history, and I think Space Foundation is the perfect place for people of all cultural backgrounds, beliefs, orientations, and talents to gather together in awe and wonder, unified by a mutual pursuit of innovation and exploration! That’s my idea of a successful 2022.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Shelli Brunswick for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Shelli Brunswick or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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