Zem founded the Near Future Summit, a visionary event that seeks to scale solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. It is driven by leading tech founders, investors, inventors, and influencers. Prior to Near Future, she founded ecofabulous.com which became part of Huffington Post in 2015 and remains the reigning authority on stylish sustainability. Zem helped create, and is still an active board member of the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute. She executed the Dwell on Design show-houses for six years in a row, and is also an advisor. Additionally, she founded (alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Petersen) and chaired the Gorgeous and Green Gala for Global Green for 10 years. Zem has been an active advisor to NRG, eBay, Obvious Ventures and many other forward-thinking, inspirational organizations.
My first job ever was… Selling waterbeds.
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I love seeing how an idea can turn into a tangible solution or market need. Plus, I like making the rules.
My proudest accomplishment is… Seeing the Near Future Summit become the place where solutions come to launch and partnerships coalesce. My favourite result to date is the massive collaboration between the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and The Yerba Mate Co.
My boldest move to date was… Many people told me that I needed a man with gravitas by my side to make Near Future happen. Of course, I didn’t create Near Future alone – quite the contrary – I had (still have) an incredible producer in Keeley Locke, the creative team of Starch and some insanely brilliant advisers, but I proved that I had all the gravitas necessary to legitimize my own vision.
I surprise people when I tell them… I was born on a hippie commune.
My best advice to people starting a business is… Find something that you have a unique skill or domain expertise in. Avoid doing what you think you “should” be doing. Being an entrepreneur is never easy so you have to love what you are doing. No one is going to make you go into work and you probably won’t make money for a while, so to be successful, you are going to have to be both passionate and resilient.
“No one is going to make you go into work and you probably won’t make money for a while, so to be successful, you are going to have to be both passionate and resilient.”
My best advice from a mentor was… Mentors take many shapes and forms at different moments in your life and I have been lucky to have several mentors who have given me invaluable pieces of advice. A few examples:
In 1993 Jil Hales offered to help me relocate to England.
In 1999 Gina Pell told me to move home from Italy to help her start an internet business called Splendora.
In 2000 she insisted that I marry James Joaquin.
In 2005 Arianna Huffington, James Joaquin and Linda Stone recommended I use the blog format to share my vision for sexy sustainability and, ecofabulous.com was born.
In 2006 William McDonough helped me find and amplify my voice.
In 2015 Dean Kamen, Marc Hodosh, James Joaquin and Lyn Lear nudged me to realize my dream of creating a mind-bending convening.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Don’t lean on others just so that when you fail you have someone to fall on.
My biggest setback was… The crash of 2000.
I overcame it by… Going after what excited me and finding as many ways to express that as possible.
Work/life balance is… A fallacy.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I had pet snakes as a kid
I stay inspired by… Being a lifelong learner!
The future excites me because… I love learning new things and those are all in the future.
My next step is… In front of me.