Introducing Pivotal Practice, leveraging GenAI-powered immersive experiences to build effective and inclusive leaders

Learn more
  • Company Announcements

Celebrating Our Innovators: Elise Smith and Heather Shen Make Inc. Female Founders 250


Anthony Santa Maria

We could not be prouder to share that Inc. Magazine has named our co-founders, Elise Smith and Heather Shen, to this year’s Female Founders 250.

They stand alongside an impressive cadre of women founders, represented across all industries and who bring with them unique stories of success along each stage of the entrepreneurial journey. 

“It is with great honor and gratitude to be named in the Inc. Female Founders List amongst women who are ushering in a new era of leadership, innovation, and creativity,” said Elise Smith, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. Heather Shen, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, added “Our mission at Praxis Labs has always been about taking action in transforming the workplace of tomorrow by empowering leaders to make an impact through technology. This acknowledgment is a testament to the work of our team in fostering inclusive leadership practices and driving positive workplace transformations.”

Elise and Heather’s understanding of today’s business landscape and commitment to leading with empathy and humanity have positioned Praxis Labs as an essential solution for business and talent strategies. Since founding Praxis Labs in 2019, they have showcased their thought leadership at events like The Wall Street Journal’s Tech Live, The Social Innovation Summit, and The Aspen Institute’s Tech Accountability Coalition, where both founders have consulted business leaders on how to navigate workplace challenges by emphasizing the link between inclusion, belonging, and business success. 

They’ve also garnered some impressive accolades along the way. Forbes has featured Heather on its 30 Under 30 list for her role in helping companies and institutions transform their inclusion training. Elise is one of the most funded Black women in the country, having raised over $23 million in VC funding. 

This recognition by Inc. Magazine is more than a testament to Elise and Heather’s success as founders and business leaders. It’s a celebration of the vision and tenacity that have propelled Praxis Labs to the forefront of creating more inclusive and higher-performing workplaces. 

From coffee shop conversations to technological transformation

Elise and Heather met at Stanford University while pursuing their respective master’s degrees. For Elise, an MBA & Masters in Education, and Heather, a Masters in Engineering. Introduced by mutual friends, their first encounter was at a coffee shop where they bonded over their lived experiences and those of their families. 

Elise was raised on stories from her parents, who were at the forefront of equity work in Chicago’s school systems. Similarly, Heather’s perceptions of the workplace and access to opportunity were shaped by her parents, Chinese immigrants who experienced bias throughout their careers. 

They soon learned that they shared a similar passion for the promise of technology in solving our most pressing challenges. Before pursuing her graduate degrees, Elise helped build IBM Watson during its early phases of AI commercialization. Meanwhile, Heather was introduced to immersive technologies while working at NASA and then at Microsoft, working on their early iterations of HoloLens. 

Through their discussions, they learned that they both shared convictions that a truly inclusive society is within our grasp and that technology could help us get there. Moreover, they saw an opportunity for workplaces to catalyze this change. 

Workplaces are at the forefront of societal change

Workplaces are often the first time we encounter and work across differences. Especially when challenges come up — from tensions that arise from different political views to giving feedback when a team member underperforms — we often don’t know how to respond in the moment. For people leaders and managers, a mishandled 1:1 conversation can have a massive impact on a direct report’s motivation, engagement, and performance. 

This is where Elise and Heather identified an opportunity for workplaces to spark change: if we give people the chance to navigate these scenarios, get feedback that helps them act more inclusively and effectively, and practice those behaviors until they become muscle memory, we can fundamentally transform how we understand and relate to each other on a more human level. At scale, these inclusive practices and behaviors ripple out into our daily lives, having an impact that transcends the physical (and now in many cases, virtual) workplace. 

By now it’s no secret that winning workplace cultures are those that prioritize inclusion and belonging, as well as learning and growth. Employees have made it abundantly clear that they want to work in places where they feel respected and valued, and are progressing toward their career aspirations. The challenge many business leaders have faced up until now is that the available solutions do not meet the needs of today’s workforce. 

Rewriting the learning playbook for future-thinking leaders 

Most organizations treat inclusive leadership training as a check-the-box initiative, usually introduced in response to a leader messing up, and rarely connected to tangible business goals and outcomes. These learning experiences often focus on building awareness and teaching core concepts, rather than practical application and behavior change

Elise and Heather saw a different path forward, one where immersive and AI technologies could revolutionize how people learn, work, and innovate together. 

This vision culminated in Praxis Labs’ initial offering Pivotal Experiences, and most recently the launch of our newest product, Pivotal Practice, which revolutionizes workplace learning by delivering personalized, actionable guidance that unleashes more effective and inclusive people leaders and managers. Users learn and practice skills that drive teams and businesses forward — navigating divisive conversations, managing conflict, and giving effective feedback, especially across diverse and distributed teams. 

This latest innovation stems from evidence-backed approaches to fostering inclusive and high-performing teams and research on how learners learn best: short, digestible learning experiences that is accessible on-demand, and when needed most. Whether it be before a 1:1, a team meeting, or a performance review, users can practice the best way to show up as inclusive, effective leaders during the moments that matter most for their team members. 

Celebrating women founders all day, every day

Congratulations Elise and Heather for joining the ranks of trailblazing women — including Jessica Alba, Tracee Ellis Ross, Rihanna, and Shonda Rhimes — who are rewriting what it means to lead and make an impact in today’s world. 

In the words of Diana Ransom, Inc’s Executive Editor, “The past year, for many, will go down as one of the hardest ever — between a funding freeze and ad-spending pullback. The female founders on this year’s list are a testament to what triumph over adversity looks like.”  

Join us in celebrating not just Elise and Heather, but all women founders and entrepreneurs who are breaking boundaries and shaping the world for the better. 

For the full list of honorees and more about their remarkable journeys, please visit:

Subscribe to our newsletter


Recent Posts

Product Updates

Praxis Labs Expands Pivotal Practice to Transform Inclusive Leadership Training

Talent Development

Why Practice is the Essential Missing Piece to your Leadership Training

Talent Development

5 Inclusive Leadership Lessons From the NFL’s Sam Rapoport


Interested in Praxis Labs training?

Book A Demo
Explore Our Experiences