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Category: Mindset, Portraits, Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley Portraits: Aurora Chisté

Who can brag of having a true Venetian girl as a friend? Well, I was able to pull that off. I met Aurora Chisté for the first time when she worked in business development and marketing for the Italian the gamification startup Beintoo. Aurora certainly is one of the most inspiring and dynamic people I have ever met. She has a degree in communications and is full of energy, a networker par excellence, and her enthusiasm to make a dent in the universe is infectious.

She learned about Silicon Valley while searching for ways to apply linguistic and semiotic that she studied at the University of Bologna. The only place in the world where people were studying this and writing books was at UC Berkeley. Most of the literature was in English and most of her professors didn’t know about them, because of their lack of English skills. Aurora made a decision and moved in 2007 to San Francisco.

For the first time in her life she found San Francisco to be the place where she felt home, more than any other place. The people that she met dreamed of big things and believed in what they were doing. They were very driven and Aurora felt to be in her place. There were so many events about interesting topics that she learned more in one month here than in six months in Italy. At one of the events she heard the word entrepreneur. Looking it up in the dictionary she realized what was meant, but in a very different context than she was used to. An entrepreneur in Italy mainly means the founders of big companies such as Fiat or Olivetti, and all of them were men. The Silicon Valley description of an entrepreneur made sense for her and she found herself identifying as entrepreneur.

To get admitted to UC Berkeley she took courses at the Foothill College in English, computer programming, marketing, and international business. But her first internship at Beintoo made her realize that she could much more by working with startups instead of reading books about startups. She cancelled her plans for Berkeley and threw herself into work. That’s where I met her.

Together with to others the hashed the idea to connect startup-founders with artists. The goal was to accelerate heroism, where heroes are people who want to improve the world. This experiment started as The Glint in a rented, four-story house on a Twin Peaks overlooking San Francisco.

Although Aurora loved the San Francisco Bay Area and especially the moments when on Saturdays she spent working with others on laptops, she started realizing through her travels to Europe and South America that within a few years she knew less and less about the rest of the world. She was so indulged into Silicon Valley culture and language that she had hard times leading conversation on other topics. That frightened her and she decided to do something about it.

A quote by Steve Jobs gave her direction. “Remembering that I’ll be death soon, it’s the most important tool I encountered to help me make big choices in life.” In 2013 she started hack for big choices to tackle humanities biggest problems and facilitating that through evens and hackathons. She organized one to two-day hackathons in Mexico, Ghana, and Columbia on topics such as STDs, autism, obesity, or kidnapping.

What she found amusing was how regional event organizers welcomed her. With her Silicon Valley background she felt as if they were rolling out the red carpet for her. That made her wish that people in Silicon Valley would look past their narrow view and realize that there are very important problems to solve in the world.

Aurora’s biggest lesson from Silicon Valley is that you should believe in yourself and that you can make a decision. There are rules to learn, but then you decide to follow them or not. In Italy that’s not as clear-cut. A Mexican programmer realized only at the hackathon at the Tex of Monterrey in Guadalajara that he can contribute to solving problem in his country. Mexico suffers from the crime and violence brought upon the population by the drug cartels and kidnappings are rampant. He created a mobile app that allowed people to keep their family and friends about their location and status.

She’d also like to let her fellow countrymen know that they should do more with their lives. Especially her generation doesn’t do enough with the opportunities they have. Nobody realizes that because most haven’t been outside their own world. Aurora’s frustration comes also from the expectations of her parent and grandparent generations. They cam out of war and everything they did could only lead to making their lives better.  And this is what they keep expecting. But Italy and the current generation have reached a level that flattened. An improvement with traditional means isn’t possible anymore. At the same time there is no structure or are no means to support them to overcome this. Her generation feels under pressure by older generations,and the question arises why it’s not getting any better? Only by living in Silicon Valley she found ways how she can help with that and that led her to her startup hack for big choices.

There is something else that she noticed as an Italian woman. The first time in her life she was not reduced to her status as a woman, but was taken seriously with her ideas and as a person. In Europe men made her feel stupid. Here in Silicon Valley it was a big liberation. She felt encouraged to ask questions without fearing embarrassment for asking a stupid question. And nobody talked about her age, or what’s her mom’s or dad’s job. Silicon Valley helped her to live by one of her favorite quotes: “Respect others and they will respect you.” She realized that only once she commuted between her country and Silicon Valley.

This portrait was originally published on my blog Die Silicon-Valley-Mentalität and is an excerpt from my book (in German).