A proud alumna of Ladies College Sri Lanka, Sarah Dole, Co-founder at Invena, is a mother, technologist and entrepreneur with a passion for understanding how complex things work. Possessing a clear-cut desire to unlock the exponential benefits for when different disciplines intertwine with one another, she is focused on developing sustainable solutions for island nations facing enormous climate change risks.

Sarah graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics & Mathematics from Mount Holyoke College (USA), and completed an Executive Education in Exponential Technologies from Singularity University (USA).

She dived into STEM because of her innate curiosity and her passion for the subject existed even as a young girl. “I knew I wanted to work in the science and technology field but wasn’t sure in what capacity”. Keen on working on projects that significantly transformed communities, Sarah pursued opportunities that harnessed technology to solve pressing challenges. This experience was pivotal to helping her navigate the difficult journey of becoming an entrepreneur. Reflecting on her journey as an entrepreneur “I didn’t have a set career path and worked in diverse industries ranging from academic research, the semiconductor industry, the apparel industry and now innovating for Climate Adaptation – the common denominator being technology development, which encouraged me to start thinking about how I can develop innovative technology solutions to problems faced by island nations.”

In retrospect, the diverse experiences that Sarah gained over the years resulted in providing her with valuable insight that gives her a great perspective on many things such as understanding fundamental principles, unlock benefits from working in different disciplines and work cultures to drive technology commercialization, see how a technology is developed at a lab scale and commercialized through to the real world.“My experiences in different roles, businesses and countries gave me the exposure and foundation on which I was able to start my own company, Invena, with a clear vision and mission that has the potential to change the lives of so many around the world”, she explains.

When taking a closer look at Sarah’s professional advancement, it really started off in Academia. She first started working as a Research Scientist on scientific research projects during her college summer breaks, including projects related to the fabrication of magnetic nano rings for memory storage devices at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA, the fabrication & characterization of synthetic diamonds for particle accelerator detectors at University of Melbourne, Australia and the characterization of piezoelectric polymer material with nano-structures for energy harvesting at The Institute of Materials Research & Engineering, Singapore. It was through these experiences that Sarah got a grasp of elemental concepts such as creative thinking and managing research and innovation budgets.

Upon graduating from Mount Holyoke College, Sarah was faced with the choice of earning her PhD or stepping foot into industry, and she opted for the latter to understand the intricacies of industry and corporate life and the relationship between business needs and innovation and technology development. This decision resulted in her working in the semiconductor industry at Global Foundries – one of the leading and cutting edge chip manufacturing foundries in the world. She worked in their Malta (USA) and Singapore Fabs. When talking about her roles at Global Foundries, she says, “I worked as a process engineer and then as a yield and integration engineer where our team was responsible for providing accurate defect related data on the chip stack in order to mitigate fab excursions and enhance wafer yield with the aim of manufacturing high performing devices for the smart mobile, personal computing, automotive, communications and home & industrial IOT market segments.”

Procuring the exposure to high- tech manufacturing and its strategies in a high growth and high volume environment, Sarah witnessed how a new technology was ramped up for manufacturing from pilot stage right out to mass production and understand the process of multi-technology platforms in Global Foundries’ USA fab whilst acquiring valuable process and operational strategy experience in their more mature manufacturing facility based out in Singapore.

In 2016, Sri Lanka was in a post-war development phase, and, Sarah made the decision to move back home, a choice that also gave her a chance to be closer to family. She began work at Twinery, the innovation arm of MAS Holdings. Sarah took on the role of a Technology Analyst in the office of the Chief Technology Officer and also went on to head the Intellectual Property Analytics component of the business.

Sarah says, ”I learned and grew the most in my career during my time at Twinery, especially because of the incredible caliber of talent that surrounded me and the mentorship that I received. It was at Twinery that I gained knowledge on what Innovation is about, how to take ideas to market fast and cost effectively, intellectual property and its play in business strategy, the notion of failing fast and cheaply and development & execution of a robust technology strategy. The principles of consumer centric innovation, collaboration and sustainable product are lessons that I carry with me to date.”

Wanting to start her own company at some point, Sarah couldn’t shake off the feeling of restlessness alongside the need to be constantly challenged. While kicking off her professional career in Sri Lanka, Sarah also started Invena in 2016 on a small scale to start thinking about how she can contribute her skills and knowledge to uplifting communities in the Indian Ocean and beyond. At the time her vision for Invena was to bring sustainable technology solutions to low lying island nations, and that has not changed over time.

Being an entrepreneur is a risky career path because succeeding is incredibly difficult and failing is a harsh reality of the journey. At the time her full time job offered Sarah meaningful and purposeful work whilst giving her financial security. It was difficult to step away from this and take a risk to work on something that seemed like a herculean task to realize. However, after the pandemic and her pregnancy, she took a firm stance on committing to her career as an entrepreneur. She realized that life is too short to postpone meaningful work and wanted to make an impact on peoples lives with the platform she had with Invena. When looking back on her decision to grow her company, Sarah mentioned,.“I felt like it was the right time and I was in a position to make this risky move as I had a great support system even if things went south.”

Invena was founded by Sarah and her husband, Hassan Maniku. Invena means Invented by Nature and is a research & technology company aiming to bring sustainable solutions to low lying island nations. “Growing up in Sri Lanka and being married to a Maldivian, made me realize the realities of climate change and what it takes to live through those realities” she says. Therefore Sarah and her husband actively looked for ways to effectively fight against the realities of climate change, Sarah in particular mainly focused on leveraging her background in science & technology to develop solutions that are rooted in sustainability but can be scaled easily and are cost effective.

As someone who loves to travel, meet people, experience culture, food and the ocean, Sarah has interacted with many local communities who have experienced the realities of climate change and its environmental impacts during her work and travels. Sharing one such story with us, she speaks of her time at Malhos in Baa Atoll,Hanifaru Bay, Maldives.

“I met with a few families that explained to me how their pristine blue beaches are now murky brown. Something that they have never experienced before”, she says, “They further explained that this was due to the island having eroded so much that the erosion is now coming towards the soil portion of the island”. Sarah speaks of how such conversations like these drive her to seek solutions that can help people adapt to these impacts and brings meaning to the work done by Invena. Furthermore, becoming a mother herself additionally encourages her to find answers no matter how hard the task. “I want to make sure that my son and the generations after him will be better positioned to enjoy the island life and world that I was lucky enough to grow up with.”

Invena’s first project is in coastal protection in collaboration with the Self Assembly lab from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. The project aims to develop an alternative to sand pumping and dredging for beach erosion and island formations. “Having exposure to land reclamation and construction, we saw a gap in sustainable solutions for coastal protection which laid the groundwork for Invena”, Sarah explains.

When considering external factors of success, Sarah mentioned that facing challenges as an entrepreneur is daunting and sometimes hard to overcome. But It’s important for entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people that believe in their vision and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Imposter syndrome can creep in and Sarah mentioned that even she second guesses herself at times and feels like she is not a domain expert in the business world, especially when it comes to working with financial institutions to structure financing for tech development. “However, over the years, I have grown to be comfortable in the unknown and ambiguous and I now understand that you don’t necessarily have to be an expert at everything and can tap into the right ecosystem and support when required”, she says.

To conclude Sarah touched on how to cope with dynamic and fast changing situations as an entrepreneur through her perspective of coping with challenges in innovative and blue sky projects, where the goal post nearly always changes due to the fact that the project is years out from materializing: “Managing expectations and investor confidence to align on a vision that’s far out, especially during challenging business climates is difficult and stressful”, she explains, “However, if you are solving for a problem and you are bringing a solution that can provide exponential benefits, trusting your gut or intuition and staying laser focused but agile has been my north star in overcoming this challenge.”

Unearthing inspiration behind the sole word “Focus”, Sarah believes that nothing disruptive comes without setback and adversity. It’s all part of the entrepreneurial journey, so stay focused on your vision and execute with full passion. “The time was yesterday to take charge of your life and do good for our planet”, she says.

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