From near-death to Silicon Valley CEO

As a 22-year-old Marine in 1984, Ramona Pierson was hit by a drunken driver while running. Her body shattered, she spent 18 months in a drug-induced coma. When she woke up, she couldn’t walk, talk or see. Without any family, she was shuttled through VA hospitals, then sent to a senior citizens’ home in Colorado.

Pierson is now a Silicon Valley CEO, reports the San Jose Mercury News. She sold her first startup, an educational software company called SynapticMash, for $10 million. Investors have put more than $5 million into her new company, Declara.

Pierson’s comeback started at the retirement home, where the seniors helped her learn to speak and walk. It took three years. Still blind — after 11 years, a corneal transplant restored her sight — Pierson enrolled at Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely. She went on to earn a doctorate in neuro-clinical psychology.

Declara’s “radical collaboration” engine uses a “very powerful cognitive map” to help teachers connect with other educators trying to solve similar classroom problems.

Designed initially as a tool to connect educators to information and analysis about how people learn, the software was shaped by Pierson to mimic her own experience, particularly her years in the old folks home. “I think that helped me see these elders as experts,” she says, “and that’s where the radical collaboration came from.”

The technology is in wide use in South America and Australia. Pierson hopes to expand in the U.S.

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