A Conversation with Jessica Bussert on Transgender Awareness Week
Written By: John Kregler, StartOut
This week, we proudly recognize Transgender Awareness Week. A time to come together and celebrate the achievements of trans members of our community who’ve endured incredible challenges and successes throughout their lives.
As part of this celebration, we’ve reached out to trans members of the StartOut community to share their stories. One of those members is none other than Jessica Bussert (she/her), Founder, President, and CEO of Wave Therapeutics, Inc.
Wave Therapeutics is a healthtech startup with a unique, patent-pending therapeutic technology that can help prevent pressure injuries. Their initial product is an active therapeutic wheelchair cushion that will change the market, and we are designing a fleet of products to reduce the risk of pressure injuries everywhere. Jessica’s passion for caring for others is evident in everything she does and truly embodies the unique spirit of trans people everywhere.
Here’s what Jessica had to say about her journey as a healthcare professional, a born-to-be entrepreneur, and a fearless, barrier-breaking trans woman:
Jessica, could you please share your entrepreneurial journey with us?
My father worked for himself for most of my childhood. He was an artist and advertising executive who owned his own agency, and I guess growing up in that kind of environment normalized being an entrepreneur for me. I was a nerdy kind of kid myself — I taught myself electronics when I was 10 and learned to program when I was 12. This was back in the earliest days of the personal computer revolution and businesses were just starting to move from paper ledgers to PCs and most people had no clue what to do with those expensive machines.
So when I was 15, I started going door to door visiting the local small businesses. I’d offer my services to help them decide on a computer. I’d buy it for them from a local dealer whom I had an arrangement with and then I’d set it up and show them how to use it. That was my first real business venture. Later, while I was in college, I created a c-corp to formalize the business. I ran that consulting firm for a dozen years before selling it and taking a job with a Fortune 100 company. I ended up moving to London, England, to lead their business consulting efforts for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. I was in that role when I transitioned and ultimately lost my career due to discrimination.
What was your personal transition like? What effect did it have on your experience as an entrepreneur?
After I lost that job I found myself pretty much blackballed in the industry. My spouse and I needed to move back to the US and we were terrified about the prospects of our future. I was frustrated with the job search and struggling with a lot of depression at the time. Knowing that helping others had always been a good treatment for my own dark feelings, I made the decision to join my local volunteer fire department. That decision proved to be very fortuitous and I quickly found an affinity for the emergency medical runs.
I trained to become an EMT and then decided to continue my studies and earned my degree in registered nursing. I quickly moved into the ER as a staff nurse and after a year became a travel nurse working at various hospitals around the country. We bought an RV and took nursing contracts at beautiful places all over. It was a particularly lovely time of our lives, plus it had a rather nice side benefit. If I found myself at a bigoted facility where I wasn’t treated appropriately I could always split and go elsewhere. The need for travel nurses was, and still is, so large that I always had dozens of contracts on offer. Sadly, I needed to do this a couple of times while I was on the road. I came up with the idea for Wave Therapeutics while I was nursing and I eventually stopped traveling to focus on building that business.
When did you join StartOut, Jessica? What’s your relationship with the organization been like?
I’ve been a member of StartOut for about a year and a half and wished I had learned of the organization much sooner than I did. I can’t remember who originally told me about the group but I owe them a great amount of gratitude! The StartOut community has been amazing from the very start. Over the last year I’ve been a volunteer on the VC & Fundraising programming board and I’m also a mentor to a couple of other founders. I would highly recommend StartOut to any LGBTQ+ founder, investor, or ally. It is really a great organization!
So with this week being Transgender Awareness Week, what does it personally mean to you?
Until relatively recently, trans people and our gender spectrum cousins were often relegated to the back of the bus. I remember growing up and being painfully aware that the only time trans people were represented in the media we were portrayed as either the psycho killer or the butt of some joke. Transgender Awareness Week is our effort to change all that. We want to be seen as the valuable and amazing people we are. We want the same opportunities as anyone else. We want equality.
We completely agree and we’re so glad to have someone like you spearheading this discussion. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
All the rights secured by the LGBTQ+ community over the last few decades came as a direct result of a bunch of uppity trans rockstars who stormed out of the Stonewall Inn and raised some hell. Your right to marry? The end of discriminatory laws? All of it was a direct result of their fight. That sounds like a wonderful reason to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week!