We would like to introduce Reef Technology Energy Policy Director, dearest Sebnem Tugce Pala to you.
Urbanite Venture (UV): How do you define success?
Sebnem Tugce Pala (STP): I would define success as grit which is a great combination of passion, perseverance, hard work and determination. I follow the wisdom of Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”.
Tell us about your career journey?
I started my career at the European Union’s financial institution (European Investment Bank- EIB) in Luxembourg in 2013. At the EIB, worked on large-scale infrastructure projects (in excess of EUR 25 Million) financed by the EIB, and provided policy and engagement backup on EIB’s initiatives on Employment, Renewable Energy, Transportation, Meso-Finance, Brain Gain and Democratic Transition in North Africa.
Subsequently, I started working on aquaculture in my home country. I built the business development team for my company, which has grown exponentially with a revenue of $11M in Turkey in five years.
I was shortlisted by Sciences Po special program in Paris “Women of the Mediterranean: The next generation of leaders” in 2015. In 2016, I moved to San Francisco. After taking classes on artificial intelligence from Stanford University, I have grown more interest in technology and innovation. I decided to combine my background in public policy with technology and wanted to pursue a career path in public policy at hi-tech companies. Since then, I have worked for a top 100 AI start-up Iris Automation and for the policy initiatives team of Spin Electric Scooters (Ford Mobility).
Currently, I am working as the Energy Policy Director of Reef Technology, Miami's first unicorn startup. Before joining Reef Technology, I was leading public policy efforts AmpUp and focusing on state incentives and initiatives in the EV space. In the meantime, I am working as a policy researcher at TSRC of UC Berkeley. As I have always been a huge fan of academia and policy research, I really enjoy collaborating with Prof. Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen on the studies on mobility on demand and automated driving systems, mode split across different transportation modes.
What was the biggest challenge in your career, what did you learn from it?
Both in my academic and professional career, there have been many fluctuations. I have made a huge transition from humanities into social sciences in my academic career. I did not study public policy or law here in the US. As for the US policy, there is nothing like ‘one size fits all’. Each state and city is very unique. As a person coming from Turkey, it was even more challenging for me but I was so eager to follow my passion for public policy and I did not give up despite the huge challenges I have encountered along the way. I learned that determination is the key. “Where there is a will, there is a way”.
How did you get into the business of public policy and strategic partnership? What are the most exciting areas of your work?
I got into the business of public policy and strategic partnership through my experience at the EIB. As for my field, public policy and strategic partnership/business development go hand in hand. I really enjoy tracking all the new regulations and state legislatures. I am a natural born communicator and strong strategic thinker with polished written and oral advocacy skills. Crafting the company’s policy strategy and managing external policy consultants as well as building strong relationships with legislators, city officials are the most exciting areas of my work.
What are the biggest challenges going on in smart mobility / micromobility right now?
Regulations, safety and lack of infrastructure are the biggest challenges in smart mobility/micromobility right now. Regulations and technology are not moving at the same pace so this hinders technological improvements.
Safety is still of the utmost importance for the regulators. Last but not least, lack of infrastructure is still very challenging. For instance, most of the countries are not very progressive owing to the lack of infrastructure (e.g. EV charging stations) in the EV space or the lack of curb management in the micromobility space.
What does it mean to you to make an impact? What is the impact you would like to create in the world?
To me, making an impact means changing the world for better and touching people’s lives. I strongly believe that smart mobility is a great enabler. I am aiming to be a thought leader in this field and I would like to help transform cities through affordable, equitable, accessible and sustainable forms of mobility.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your work?
When it comes to my work, I am most proud of my field. I am very passionate about smart mobility and I am fully aware that public policy is the backbone of this work. I am very happy to be pursuing my career path in public policy and smart mobility. Since my childhood, I have always wanted to do impactful work.
What is the fun fact about yourself we need to know?
I am an avid traveller. So far, I have visited more than 40 countries. I am a huge fan of yoga retreats in exotic places. Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis have been a huge challenge for me. Also, I have lived in six different countries. I have never stayed anywhere more than 1.5 years. I have been living in the US since February 2016, so the US has become a second home to me :)
What is the best business advice that you have ever received?
Business means relationships. This is the best business advice that I have ever received. On my first day at UC Berkeley, this advice was given by my professor who was teaching entrepreneurship. As time drifts away, I better understand the importance of building/maintaining good relationships with internal and external stakeholders in the business life.
How is life during the pandemic in SF?
My life during the pandemic in SF has been busier than ever. I have published four articles and I am now working on two more articles. I have taken seven online courses. And of course, I am working full time :) Other than that, I try to meditate on a regular basis which helps focus better and I take walks. My life during the pandemic in SF is very serene. I am truly grateful that I am staying safe and healthy. Considering the recent surge in the coronavirus cases, Bay Area reopening seems to have slowed down.
" My interests include transportation electrification, micromobility, micro transit, shared mobility, autonomous vehicles, unmanned aircraft systems, and urban air mobility.
I wholeheartedly believe that Urbanite Venture is at the intersection of technology, innovation and business. As a policy wonk translating technology into policy talk, I hope to utilize my previous study and work experience in public policy to make an impact.