When academics leave academia…or what happened to Lisa Dawley?

For those of you who didn’t receive my email announcing my job change from professor at Boise State to CEO of GoGo Labs, below is a copy.  I also thought it would be fun to share some of the questions I’ve recently been asked, and how I answered them:

1.  Was it hard to give up a tenured position?  Yes and no!  I spent my last year in sabbatical at BSU, working on establishing GoGo Labs in conjunction with the university.  Part of that year was spent analyzing the market and business models to determine what made the best strategic sense for moving forward to launch GoGo Labs as a successful, disruptive learning technology lab.  My end-of-year report recommended a spin-out of the lab, and we moved forward from there.  It WAS scary (no regular paycheck, no guaranteed benefits, possibly losing my own investment money), but it also felt like the right thing to do, coached with the input and support of many business advisors.  I look at my years at BSU as a total win/win experience, building the necessary foundation to take these next steps.

2.  What will your lab do?  The lab will focus on developing disruptive learning technologies using a model of participatory innovation.  What that means in everyday terms is that we’re focused on change in the educational system that is powerful enough to force people to rethink education in new ways that better serve students and their teachers.  We do that by designing technologies that first meet needs of learners and teachers, the key stakeholders in the learning process.  Next, we layer in mechanisms that provide the information that other education stakeholders (such as principals, parents, and superintendents) want, but shouldn’t necessarily be the driver in the educational process, as we’ve seen with many edtech tools and projects.  We currently have several projects in progress, including Planet Stewards, involving a DML Badges for Lifelong Learning grant with Boise State, NOAA, and HASTAC.

3.  How did you learn to be a CEO?  I’m still learning!  GoGo Labs is now my fourth company.  I started working in the corporate world at a young age, and I appreciate its emphasis on efficiency and a consumer-driven market as a driver of innovation.  The world of educational technology is so wide open, there are limitless opportunities for those who have the skills, knowledge base and connections to get the job done.  This was something I tried to nurture for our grad students in the EdTech program at BSU, getting all the basics in place to become successful regardless of where one worked or what new technologies came out on the market.  I often joke that with my knowledge and experience if I can’t be successful on my own, then I must be an idiot.  We shall see!

4.  I’m thinking of leaving academia, but don’t know what I would do.  What advice can you give me?  First, follow your passion, always!  You can’t go wrong.  Your energy for your passion will draw others to you with similar interests and create opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

Second, be strategic in your move.  Carefully consider solutions, look at the market.  If you want to own your own business, get business advisors, see the Small Business Development Center in your community, and write a business plan.  Look carefully before you leap!  You want to feel confident and prepared to leave.  Explore options with your university, as well.  Most research institutions are very supportive of faculty spin-outs and entrepreneurial ventures, especially in today’s times.  A quick conversation with your VP of Research will help start the path.

Third, you can still keep connections!  Consider adjunct teaching, grant collaborations, publishing, or whatever pieces of academia you still have a passion for doing.  Leaving an institution doesn’t mean leaving your field.

Fourth, you can always go back.  It may take awhile to find that perfect position, but if you were good before, you will be employable again.

5.  How did you come up with the name GoGo Labs?  When people of my generation hear the name, I often get snickers, but not as much with younger people who don’t carry the same connotation. Did I mention our tagline is “shake-it-up learning technologies?”  🙂  My husband actually came up with the name when we were talking about the mission of the lab.  I knew we were focusing on rapid, disruptive learning innovation that also had a playful attitude and feel.  “GoGo Labs” represents all of that for me.  Education should be fun, engaging, responsive,  individualized, playful, motivating, empowering, and inspirational.  It should not be bureaucratic, slow, pedantic, boring, non-personalized, and all text-based.  My goal is to evolve our educational system, and to do that as quickly as possible leveraging technologies that “disrupt” our current systems.  Is it possible I’m an educational heretic? 😉

Many thanks to everyone who has responded with all words of wonderful support.  I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.


Dear friends and colleagues, after 10 years of working with Boise State, first as an adjunct faculty member, then faculty member and department chair, I will be retiring from academia this month to return to the corporate world in my new role as CEO of GoGo Labs.  This is my second time to leave academia for corporate life, so the transition isn’t new for me.  As one colleague said, “Lisa, you’re a person who stitches the two worlds together.”  I thought it was a great metaphor!

The last 10 years at BSU has been very rewarding and intellectually stimulating.  It was a great win/win experience to help build a national leading EdTech program, and be involved in so many different cutting-edge innovations.  The best part of my experience was having the opportunity to work with wonderful, dedicated and caring colleagues, and amazing students.  Participatory innovation is at the heart and core of my work, and I hope to continue with that philosophy in all my future endeavors.

At GoGo Labs, I plan to continue developing innovative learning technologies in partnership with universities, schools, business, and educators.  I’m thrilled to continue our research and development work on 3D GameLab with Chris Haskell.  Our grant work with NOAA on Planet Stewards is another exciting project in-progress where we’re able to leverage the talents of Andy Hung, and Alark Joshi in Computer Science to build quest-based learning, analytics, and NOAA certified badges for high school students.  We have several additional projects in the pipeline, and are always open to new opportunities, as well.

Please update my contact information, and stay in touch when possible.  Thanks for the wonderful memories and experiences of a lifetime!

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