“Have you ever been sitting listening to something, and felt your whole body react?” That's what energy leader Jana Schey of Syzygy Plasmonics says when asked about the moment she was inspired to join the Women & Allies in Energy team for the TCS New York City Marathon.
It was this past May, and Jana, who is not a runner, went to the ALLY Energy kickoff event for the marathon team. She wanted to support participants and hear the speakers. “I had no intention of joining,” she recalls. “I was listening to Des Linden,” the championship runner who spoke at the event. “She’s fabulous, though I can’t identify with her as a professional athlete. But I could identify with other women in the room who were talking about having participated in marathons. They were everyday women with jobs and families.”
Suddenly, Jana says, “I could see it -- the crowd, the finish line, the camaraderie. I thought, ‘I want to be a part of that.’” She had a “physical reaction,” she says. “My throat closed up, my eyes got teary, and my heart started beating faster. I’m a big believer that you listen to your body -- your intuition and instincts. My body was telling me to go for it!”
She began training for the November race, originally with a plan to run-walk the 26.2 miles. “I’ve always had a lot of endurance, and was a distance swimmer in high school,” she says. “But I’ve never been a runner. Unless something was chasing me, I did not run!” She recently determined that she’ll join the growing number of people who walk the full distance. “The body is the boss, and my goal is to get to the finish line,” she says.
Jana notes that the more than 40 members of the marathon team are all approaching the race in their own ways, with different levels of fitness and preparation. To her, that's part of what makes it such a great metaphor for the energy transition -- and makes the team’s motto, “running toward net zero,” so apt.
“All the companies involved are contributing something different to get to the net zero goal. We’re working at different paces, and we’ll inspire different people.” But that doesn’t mean holding back, she adds. “It takes work every day, every week to get you to that end goal. That's what you have to sustain.”
‘Something that’s never been done’
The challenge can feel especially daunting when you’re paving uncharted terrain, as Syzygy is doing, Jana says. The startup, fueled by technology developed at Rice University, is working to build all-electric chemical reactors that use light instead of heat combustion from fossil fuels, as part of an effort to decarbonize chemical manufacturing.
“We are doing something that’s never been done before,” she says. “It takes an incredible amount of dedication and the ability to get through the hard days while still maintaining excitement for what we’re doing.” Jana is so inspired by Syzygy’s founders and her colleagues that she is dedicating her marathon to her fellow “Plasmons,” as they call themselves.
As Director of Sustainability Programs, Jana focuses on 3 main areas. Her work includes environmental sustainability, helping ensure Syzygy is walking their talk as they strive to prevent a gigaton of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere by 2040. She’s also working to create organizational sustainability, which includes ensuring an “open and inclusive workplace based on trust where people are safe to speak up,” she says. “We need to make sure the company culture reflects our core values so we can be innovative and work safely at all times.”
Jana also helps to build the Syzygy community ecosystem which includes fellow startups, business coalitions, education institutions, and community organizations. This means investing in and helping local organizations that serve our community. “We are very intentional about giving back to the communities that host our company to ensure they also realize the benefits of what we are doing. And in the process, we are building a pipeline of future Plasmons.”