Mary Burke heads nonprofit aiming to connect women through online community

Building Brave, a nonprofit company headed by former gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, is creating an app-based online community that aims to connect women from a variety of industries while supporting other nonprofits and charities.

“My vision is that we become a grant-making organization for girls and women’s groups throughout the world, because we’ll be bringing in more money than we need to sustain and grow our platform,” Burke said at a Madison meeting of 1 Million Cups, a national entrepreneurial network.

Community members will interact through a “digital platform that supports and brings together other women’s organizations throughout the world for deeper and broader impact.”

According to a promotional video for Building Brave, it will be “a place where women can be their most real, badass, non-perfect, brave selves, and cheer on other women to do the same.”

The platform supports many features found on other social media sites. Users will interact through profiles with pictures and text, and will have the ability to make posts with original content, like and share others’ content, and join customized groups.

One unique feature is Brave Boosts, featuring daily challenges users can take on to improve confidence and communication. Challenges will relate to things like speech, body language, setting boundaries and more — all to push back against societal pressures that restrict women, Burke says.

A Brave Boost shown in the video, called “Aye, Aye… Eye Contact,” challenges women to practice conscious eye contact. To complete the challenge and earn BB points, users would have to practice making active eye contact in conversation with three people, holding eye contact for four to eight seconds and making note of their eye color.

These points can be spent as votes towards giving donations to a charitable organization or other nonprofit helping women and girls. As users complete more challenges and rack up points, they can play a part in deciding which groups will receive more donations.

The idea to create Building Brave was born in 2014, when Burke lost the race for governor to Gov. Scott Walker.

“I took that experience and made it into something that was positive,” she said. “I could have crawled under a rock. That’s what a lot of people do after losing in such an incredibly public way, but I decided to tap into it and created Building Brave.”

She says going through the campaign process actually helped her to feel stronger and more confident, and wanted to share that sense of strength and support with other women.

“As I reflected over the next few months, I realized that getting dragged through the mud for 13 months and losing was the best thing that had ever happened to me,” she said. “I had discovered a me that I almost didn’t know existed, and it was something that I wanted to bottle up and share with other women, realizing that many of us, probably because of social conditioning, ‘play smaller’ than we really have the potential for.”

One group already on the site is “Women in Tech.”

“This will be the first of what we hope will be hundreds of groups that will exist in Building Brave,” she said. “It needs to be a supportive community, and that is first and foremost.”

The Medical College of Wisconsin will have a dedicated closed group once the platform is in a later stage.

“They want to have a work environment that is thriving and supportive for women, so we are using some of our beta testers, some of our groups, to also see how they [could see that] happen in their organizations,” Burke said.

Burke says Building Brave is also working with the Madison chapters of Lean In, a women’s professional organization, and Delta Sigma Theta, a popular African-American women’s sorority. It is also partnering with Filament Games, a learning-games company based in Madison, to develop strategies for boosting engagement and making the platform fun.

“We created a lot of the practices within Building Brave based on research, but then we have a panel of psychologists led by Dr. Janet Hyde at UW-Madison, along with life coaches who review every single one,” Burke said.

The project is currently funded by donations, but Burke has some big ideas for how that can change.

“My vision is that not only are we self-sustaining through corporate sponsorships–so you could see those boosts, maybe one on body-language sponsored by Nike–you have corporate groups, any for-profit groups would be charged a fee, and another huge group is conferences.”

The platform is still in its closed beta stage, with the open beta testing stage set for April. The public launch is planned for June.

Take part in the closed beta by following this link:

–By Alex Moe