December 8, 2023

In 2002, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Information Systems from UIW, alumna Vanessa Jupe embarked on her career journey in website development. However, it was a challenging time for young graduates entering the industry following the dot-com bubble burst in 2000.

Despite the odds, Jupe secured a role working on the San Antonio Spurs' website. A few years later, in the mid-2000s, career growth opportunities in South Texas remained scarce, prompting her to explore job prospects beyond her native San Antonio.

With a sense of hope, Jupe applied for a position with the Jet Blue Airways web development team in New York. She recalled, "I applied for the job thinking they wouldn't take me seriously, this young girl from Texas applying for this role." However, her fears were unfounded, as the company contacted her for an interview the day after she applied and offered her a job in New York the following day. This move proved transformative for Jupe. "Moving to New York opened a whole new world of opportunities for me. It helped pave the way for me to transition from web development, which I thought I'd work in for my entire career, into product management. This led me to a rewarding career with various companies," Jupe Explained.

Throughout her career, Jupe held senior leadership roles in industry-leading businesses, earning a reputation for growing product lines and revenues through her expertise in user experience. Her journey took her from DirectTV to USAA, H&R Block, and even startup companies.

Reflecting on her time at UIW and its impact on her career, Jupe shared, "I believe that the education at UIW, coupled with my drive as a student, translated into the career success I've enjoyed. UIW was an excellent place to be. Students shared a strong sense of entrepreneurship, and the faculty was incredibly supportive. I had access to abundant assistance and career guidance."

Jupe's academic journey was further supported by a donor to the University, helping cover some tuition, books, and academic expenses as a scholarship recipient. Expressing her gratitude, she said, "I'm so grateful for the scholarship and thankful for the support. Earning my degree would have been much more challenging without it."

She added, "Looking back, perhaps I was too positive because it made me feel like I could do anything. It gave me a sense that I was unlimited in what I could pursue. However, the real world can be a bit more challenging."

Six years ago, Jupe faced one of these real-world challenges that many women encounter while pursuing careers. She had just given birth to her first child, Roosevelt and embarked on a breastfeeding journey. Struggling with this new phase of life, Jupe sought resources and support.

"Personally, I really struggled with breastfeeding at the beginning. It felt like one of the biggest challenges I had experienced in my life. When I looked for resources or support, there really wasn't anything out there I was looking for. I thought to myself, there must be some answer here, some scientific data somewhere, something to help me," Jupe recounted.

This experience ignited a passion within Jupe. While enrolled in the master's program for technological innovation at the University of Texas, she conducted research on breastfeeding for her degree. She launched a survey on the topic, receiving an overwhelming response.

"So many moms responded to the survey, and many of them faced the same struggles I did. All the responses resonated with each other. When you work in product management, you're looking for that pain point to solve, that significant gap in the market. I thought to myself, what features or products can I build to solve this problem?"

In 2020, when COVID-19 sent people across the U.S. from offices to work from home with their partners, an unexpected phenomenon occurred – a baby boom. Although Jupe was still focused on her corporate career, several of her close friends were pregnant and expecting their first children during this time. Seeing them undergo the same struggles she had faced, she felt compelled to act.

"At that moment, I thought to myself, I can't just sit here and not do something when I know I can build something that will help people. It was a turning point for me," she said.

This experience inspired Jupe to utilize her industry skills and experience to create Leva, which means "lift." Leva is an app-based community that educates and empowers mothers and parents of babies, with a mission to support women on their journeys to success in life and career.

Reflecting on her decision to leave her career and start Leva, Jupe remarked, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to build a business. But it does take a lot of drive and passion. There are times in our lives when we re-evaluate what's important to us and what we actually want to do. It's incredible how having a child is one of the biggest moments when that happens. In my career, I've been very fortunate, which allowed me to take a risk in starting my own company."

In the short term, Jupe has worked tirelessly to expand the app's reach to support more women. By establishing relationships with employers and health brokers, she successfully pitched Leva as an employee benefit to several corporate clients and intends to further pursue this avenue.

Leva doesn't solely provide support for breastfeeding; it also offers content and guidance on postpartum wellness and career support for mothers at all stages of their lives. Regarding her long-term vision for the Leva community, Jupe shared, "In the next 10 years, my goal is to have my business support women throughout their entire life journey. Currently, we focus heavily on pregnant and postpartum moms in the first year after the baby is born. However, we've received a lot of interest from moms with slightly older kids. I've had women reach out and ask if we'll do anything for menopause or fertility. I want to help, but I can’t yet. I want to address these needs in the future."

When asked what advice she would give to a UIW student today looking to balance a high-level career and family in the future, Jupe emphasized, "If you're interested in something, just go all in. Don't hold back. Find a way to do it! I don't think there really is such a thing as true balance. Being resilient and accepting that you won't always find that balance is crucial for your career and family."

If your organization is interested in learning more, visit Leva's website.


Photo Credit: Amber Dawkins