A Brief Overview
I bring joy to empowering people improve themselves and the world around them. I am the founder of Improve, a company that improves leadership, teams, and impact using improv inspired techniques supported by research. To put some simple labels to me...I'm an entrepreneur, startup advisor, author, speaker, illustrator, philanthropist, improv comedian, and recovering venture capitalist. I started my first company at age 14, did early stage venture capital, was a Director at a Silicon Valley unicorn, have written and published several books, and have performed on some of the same stages as comedy legends.
A Continued Not-So-Brief Overview
I am the creator of Improve, which improves leadership, teams, and impact using improv inspired technique supported by research. Improve helps some of the largest and fastest-growing companies and their leaders innovate, solve critical business challenges, and improve performance. This all happens using a unique, fun, engaging, and effective framework that combines improv comedy, business and leadership tools, behavioral research, and neuroscience. It's like giving people M&Ms that are packed with vitamins! They taste good AND they are good for you! Improve also has a product focused on improving wellbeing. Anyone can join to improve joy, connection, creativity, and reduce anxiety and fear, both at work and in life. In my TED talk “How improv can improve your leadership and life” I share the fundamental principles that underlie this work.
I was instrumental in creating and building an innovative philanthropic fund that helps entrepreneurs make contributions to good causes they care about.
Throughout my career so far, I have worked with tens of thousands of leaders and thousands of companies as an operator, investor, and advisor. I helped startup companies, including Plenty, Ozlo (Acquired by Facebook), True Link Financial (YC S13) and Fixed (YC S14, Acquired by Lawgix), and other ventures with growth, marketing, business development, fundraising strategy, and culture. I worked with R/GA Ventures to find, invest in, and support connected commerce companies. Previously, I was a Director at SoFi, a multibillion dollar online lender, where I led a marketing team, built out the business development team, and ran SoFi’s entrepreneur program and investments in startups. I also worked at an early stage venture capital firm, concentrating on investments in online marketplaces, e-commerce, and automotive IT.
While running my first business, Iorio Gelato, and investing in startup companies, I started doing improv comedy to help me as an entrepreneurial leader and human experiencing loads of anxiety. When I realized the positive impact improv comedy made in my work and personal life I decided to bring it to more people developing the frameworks underlying Improve over the course of a decade as an entrepreneur, investor, executive, and training as an improv comedian at The Second City in Chicago, The Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC, The Groundlings, among other improv theatres, alongside current and future famous improv comedians. I created Improve combining improv comedy techniques, business and leadership frameworks, behavioral science, neuroscience, and other research-backed techniques, to help leaders and teams solve business challenges, improve their effectiveness, and develop important leadership and life skills, such as improving communication skills, strengthening empathy and emotional intelligence, connecting with others, handling stress and anxiety, dealing with uncertainty, and making new strong choices to grow and improve. My work has empowered leaders and teams all over the world to improve -- entrepreneurs, business and nonprofit leaders, small startups, Fortune 500 companies and top universities, including Google, Lyft, Pfizer, TED, the University of Michigan, Fordham University, KPMG, Square, Patreon, TechStars, CBSi, R/GA, 500 Startups, among others.
I am a graduate of the University of Michigan and have studied improv comedy at The Second City and The Annoyance in Chicago, Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC, The Groundlings, among other improv theatres. I released my debut comedy special Living With My Parents in January 2022. I created and hosted Startup Late Night, a late night comedy show featuring business leader guests, and have performed improv and comedy all over the country, including at Gilda Radner’s Laughfest, The Punch Line in San Francisco, and the Lady Laughs Comedy Festival.
For more about what I'm up to now and what I've worked on in the past check out my LinkedIn profile.
A book about life and friendship told through the story of a girl and her horse
Greeting cards & gifts to deliver delicious joy for any occasion
Uniquely customized to your company or event, I deliver an engaging, energizing keynote, empowering imagination, impact, all while laughing and having fun! Invite me to captivate your audience with my ability to speak on a range of topics including entrepreneurship, improvisational leadership, improving team collaboration and belonging, employee wellness, and overcoming difficult challenge. I inspire audiences with my storytelling, humor, and engaging presentation style. I have spoken on global stages from major conferences to corporate events at Fortune 100 companies, at startup accelerators, top universities, fast growing startups, and on the same stages as comedy legends.
Take a peak below to see some speaking highlights...
Select Speaking, Performances, Presentations
International Leadership Association 2020 Conference (Virtual)
TED Women 2020 (Virtual)
TechCon 2020 (Virtual)
TED Women 2019
The University of Michigan Positive Business Conference 2019
Agile 2018, 2019
The University of Michigan Guest Lecture "The Art of Leading"
* Entre-SLAM *
* The University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture Applying Improv to Entrepreneurship *
For more short clips, check out the videos on Improve, YouTube, and Startup Late Night
For longer versions (30 minutes+) please email me
If you are interested in having me inspire at your webinar, organization or event, please contact me with more information.
What people are saying
Here's what people are saying about me...
New York Times
“If every time I go for a run I stub my toe or twist my ankle, I’m probably not going to be excited to go for a run again,” Ms. Lemmer said. “To have those conversations go so poorly — that really created a fear.”
Prioritize your health, always. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing we need. As a part of our series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Lemmer. Mary brings the worlds of wellness and humor together, to empower individuals and teams to improve their lives...
Taking one day away from technology each week has helped me realize my resiliency, and inspired confidence.
The University of Michigan
At age 15, Mary Lemmer, BBA ’10, savored the taste of entrepreneurial success when she co-founded her first company, Iorio’s, a family run Italian ice catering business that later opened retail gelato shops...
Late night comedy show Startup Late Night was created to bring the world of technology to the late night comedy scene. Up until the pandemic, the group held live shows in New York City. Now, all of the group’s content is produced and shared online.
If you want to read more, just "Google" me :)
Interested in collaborating?
People usually reach out to me when they want to grow their business, improve their teams, improve their lives, entertain a corporate crowd, entertain a non-corporate crowd, commission an illustration or writing, have some other creative idea they want to bring into the world,
or otherwise want to say "hi"
Please send me a message!
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