Women in Business Q&A: Beatrice Witzgall, CEO and Founder, LumiFi

04/11/2015 08:28 am ET | Updated Jun 11, 2015

Beatrice Witzgall, CEO and founder of LumiFi, is an accomplished, award-winning lighting designer with more than 20 years of global experience. She has worked on countless lighting design projects alongside renowned architects including Frank Gehry and Steven Holl. Having worked as a German trained architect and graphic design and digital media teacher, Beatrice is driven by how technology and light transforms and influences a space and how people interact with it. Her primary focus is hospitality, as well as SuperYacht projects, but has also worked on numerous residential, commercial and institutional projects. In 2010, Beatrice received the prestigious Lumen Award for her contribution to the Lincoln Center - Alice Tully Hall & Juilliard School.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Early on in my life, I had to find my own way and develop a vision of what I wanted. My dreams helped me in setting goals and getting through whatever I had to get through at a specific time. In addition, travel always played a key part in my life: being in between worlds and places helped me to see things in a different light and be open to all the possibilities a place or the people had to offer. I learned to see opportunities and I wanted to take charge and control of my own life. All of this accumulated into a lot of accomplishments. What has made me a leader is that I not only strive to have vision, but also the drive and confidence to overcome whatever crosses my path. I also recognize that to accomplish something big, you need a quality and supportive team.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at LumiFi?
I have always been driven by how technology transforms the spaces we live in and influences the people around us. I tackle this passion from multiple angles. When I started my career, architecture, design and tech were separate disciplines that didn't cross over. It was a challenge. I worked hard to combine these disciplines and become an expert in all of them. It is important for me to be able to speak each discipline's language and understand what each can do both separately, and more importantly, combined.

LumiFi developed as a spin-off to my prior company i3D, inc., which was an interdisciplinary design service company that implemented many lighting concepts with legacy technology. This is where the opportunity presented itself to me. Overtime, I began to find patterns and logic in streamlining what I was designing. With that in mind and combined with the scalable nature of software and the new possibilities of the IoT technology, there was an opportunity I had to pursue. Now, through connected lighting, we are able to create value by bringing personal control to people based on their environment, atmosphere and mostly importantly, their mood.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at LumiFi?
There are highlights everyday. It is always very exciting when I see how positively people react to our work and lighting designs. And, this includes the excitement of my team and their belief in LumiFi's vision. I draw energy and motivation from everyone's positive reactions.

The challenges are always the things that are out of our control such as slow market adoption due to complicated hardware and software ecosystems.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Be determined, stay focused, don't get distracted and find a supportive environment around people who believe in you and your vision. There are always times in life and business when you are hit hard or knocked down and that's when it's all about your environment and the people around you. Also, it's important to find people who are not just cheerleaders, but also give you a direct reality check even when it's hard to hear the truth. The quicker you can see different sides of the equation, the quicker you can adjust things and move on.

Also having a thick skin can be important. We are all human. There are times in an entrepreneur's life where there may be jokes, comments or unfounded rumors floating around. I have learned that the more you accomplish and push the envelope, the more rhetoric you encounter. I personally try and always find the humor in things and also have a little bit of selective obliviousness.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Love what you do and don't give up. Be passionate, but smart about it. Also, be humble. Everything can change and turn upside down in a heartbeat. Entrepreneurs need to sacrifice, so be prepared to make some tough calls. Protect yourself, as there are always people who will try to take advantage of situations. Believe in what you are doing and in yourself. Seize everyday and follow your dreams. For years, my inspiration guidance has been "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." by Alan Kay

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That is always my biggest challenge and most of the time it's not possible. I believe that's the price we pay to pursue our dreams. I am a competitive sail boat racer and that helps me to detach from work, life in the moment and mentally take a break. The racing community is also very supportive, as we are all balancing athletic, competitive, team building and social aspects.

I work very hard and I work a lot, but I also understand I need the freedom to take time for myself. I admire any woman who can manage a career, a family and find time for herself and friends.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Getting acceptance and being taken seriously is a big issue for woman. On the surface, usually everyone is very nice and respectful, but when it gets really down to business terms and numbers, there is still a different level of consideration and respect with many men. Often you will have to fight twice and push harder to get the same terms as when you walk in as a man. A woman walking into a meeting will always get a different kind of attention than a man and that's just a fact and won't change.

One good example is a few years back when I worked on a big Superyacht and had to walk through the shipyard to get to the yacht. The project manager once said to me that "wherever we appear, we are considered "loud", even if we don't say a word!" I thought to myself, who is "we" and why are we loud by walking? This was very telling.

Today, I sometimes take a male co-worker with me in business meetings for this very reason,.
In general I have learned to just be cool, and to take things with humor and a grain of salt. I am confident in the end our vision, attention to details and ability to execute will usually win over both men and women.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Finding a good mentor or mentors is very important. Sometimes they are or even become good friends. Their support, encouragement and guidance helps uncover different perspectives and considerations. It's always important to keep an open mind and be open to input. Mentors can even appear in one-time encounters. I don't believe anyone can have enough mentors in their life, and we can learn from all sorts of people.

Entrepreneurship is hard and it's often important to have someone to give you advice and direction. Also, I believe it's important be able to show this person(s) vulnerability and express doubts so they help you to work through them. I feel fortunate as I had several very successful businessmen and women sit down with me to check up on my progress and proactively help me along the way. I am grateful to every one of them.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire ALL women who can manage a family, social life and a career at the same time. It's always inspirational when you see woman leaders following their dreams and accomplishing their goals.

What do you want LumiFi to accomplish in the next year?
We see tremendous opportunity for the year ahead. Our goal is to have our first pilot project installed, as well as have an established pipeline of new installs for hotel rooms. In addition, we'd like to continue expanding our footprint into other verticals while implementing some of the cooler and advanced features our lighting technology can offer. We also would like to work with some of the big players in our industry, as we have something very interesting to offer to them and can help to overcome many of the past adoption challenges. We have a big vision and can't wait to make this a reality!