Bringing a Little Indiana Jones to the Dilbert Cube with Dr. Marlo Rencher

Marlo Rencher, Ph.D. is an entrepreneur, anthropologist, and educator with over two decades of experience in startup and small business development. Currently, she is TechTown Detroit’s director of technology-based programs. She is a co-founder at Commune Angels, an inclusive network of angel investors. She is the founder of Tech Founders Academy, which helps Black and Brown women reinvent themselves as Tech Founders. She has also founded or co-founded three other tech startups.

Dr. Rencher was the co-author of digitalundivided’s 2016 #ProjectDiane report, which provided groundbreaking insight into the funding gap for Black women tech founders. She is currently engaged in research on developing inclusive tech accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces and entrepreneurial hubs.

Dr. Rencher previously served as vice president of innovation, entrepreneurship, and diversity at Cleary University. She also served as the faculty chair of the entrepreneurship department at the business-focused university. Dr. Rencher frequently speaks on technology entrepreneurship and inclusion and has been a presenter at TedxDetroit, Princeton University, and SXSW. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book Hard Reset: Framing Inclusion as the New Normal.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The importance of “fitting in” in your doctoral program
  • Tapping into the village, no one does this on their own
  • Talking to get perspective and identifying your superpowers
  • The power of communicating to the masses
  • Transforming a conversation into an actual business
  • Why all entrepreneurs need a buy button from Day One
  • Anthropologists helping start-ups
  • You’ve got to know the lingo to fit in

In this episode…

What would Indiana Jones do if the treasure map he discovered was an entrepreneur’s business plan for a new start-up?

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Marlo Rencher and Dr. Russell Strickland discuss the importance of fitting in…in your doctoral program, in your village, and in your professional community. Dr. Rencher brings the unique perspective of an anthropologist to her work with businesses, particularly in the tech start-up space with Tech Town in Detroit. Entrepreneurs must cross a chasm from having conversations about making the world a better place and helping people to making money making the world a better place and helping people.

As Dr. Rencher puts it, “I’m interested in people making lots of money and employing people,” because that’s how a good idea not only serves customers, but lifts communities.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique, and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:28] Hello, this is Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done and host of an Unconventional Life podcast. I am so excited today. I have with me Dr. Marlo Rencher. Dr. Rencher bills herself as kind of Indiana Jones meets Dilbert, and I am so excited to talk about that. She is an entrepreneur, an anthropologist who studies really the kind of the business culture she’s working to help her community in Detroit. And I can’t wait to have her share her story with you. First, I would like to remind you this episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done, we help adult doctoral students to complete the dissertation process as quickly and efficiently as possible. So if you’re getting ready to start your dissertation and you would like some help, some coaching, some guidance to get through the process, reach out to as at However, if you’re like a lot of our students and you’re feeling a little stuck, a little stalled, a little confused and frustrated, then certainly reach out to us at And we’ll have a quick talk, see if you might be a good fit for our Fast-Track Your Dissertation Coaching program, where we again help students finish their dissertation and generally about a year or less and always years faster than students would on their own. And if, by any chance you have moved on from the dissertation or you’re working in the expert space as a coach, consultant, public speaker, counselor, anything like that, there’s no better way to expand your authority to build credibility than to be a published author. And through our work, through our expanded authority program, we actually help bring people from the blank page to being a published author faster than they ever thought possible. So check us out at that’s if you’d like to become a public published author in that expert space. So, Dr. Rencher, thank you so much for joining me here today. As I told you, I’m excited before we we started the episode today, my kids were really interested in this whole Indiana Jones meets Dilbert thing, so I can’t wait to get to that. But before we do, tell me a little bit about your your journey going into the doctoral degree process. What prompted you to decide to do this kind of crazy thing of going out and earning a doctoral degree?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:02:59] Yeah. Thank you so much for the invitation. I really appreciate it. Yes. Now, education has always been something that’s very, very important to me. Both my parents and teachers, we have like a whole family that teaches my brothers a teacher. My husband is a teacher. You know, it’s just kind of always been a thing for us. And so I get my undergrad at Michigan State, get my MBA from the University of Michigan. And as I move forward, I really wanted to delve a little deeper into things. And the PhD seemed like a really interesting way to go. And I was really, really I had a specific path set up for me in terms of a PhD, and then it just kind of changed.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:03:53] Doesn’t life always just do that?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:03:55] Yes, yes, it does. You know, man plans God laughs, and all tha. But, you know, I would say that that that journey, you know, ended up being one that I would choose now, even though I would never have predicted it. And I really believe that having a PhD has helped to round out completely what I wanted to do.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:21] Yeah, I like that notion of, you know, be prepared, have a plan, be intentional about where you intend to go, but keep your eyes open for what life has available to you. There are all sorts of opportunities that are former doctoral students at Dissertation Done have taken advantage of after they graduated and they never told me about what we’re working on. And they hadn’t thought about it. It just wasn’t there. I certainly can’t imagine that I would have written hardly any chapter of my life before it started. I don’t think that’s the chapter I would have been writing. I always had a plan. I always have, you know, things that motivate me and strategically things that are important to me. But but when when the opportunity avails itself, you’ve got to you got to make those adjustments. So I think that’s good advice for for anyone. But particularly when you’re you’re starting such a brand new chapter in your life, be open to the opportunities that’s going to provide for you.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:05:19] Absolutely, I wholeheartedly agree.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:05:21] So what was the plan going into the two to the program?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:05:27] Yeah, so actually it was really well thought out plan. So I had this undergrad in marketing and it went to business school. And so I wanted to deepen that authority around business. So I was going to get a PhD in business and I had filled out all the applications. I was all ready to go, went to a conference around business. And when I got there or a conference for aspiring business doctoral students when I got there, what I found was that nobody seemed to be having fun in doing what it is that they were doing. At least most of the people. It seemed to me I just didn’t feel that connection except with one group of folks. They were at Northwestern University and they didn’t call themselves business students. They called themselves ethnographers. And so I was like, what’s this ethnography thing? And and it turned out that the person who was running the doctoral program in the business school at Northwestern was a cultural anthropologist and he was a traditional Farfield anthropologist, had done his research around the Irish fishing villages or something like that. And it just got I actually went traveled to Northwestern University, sat down, talked with the guy, and I learned a lot more about what anthropology is and how it can be applied to the field of of a business. And it actually ended up being the case that I was working at a place I was about to take a job which connects to the job that I’m in right now is the first time I was at that place and it was connected to Wayne State University. And Wayne State University happens to be the place where business anthropology was created. And so, you know that I had went to this conference connected with these folks. Talk to the guy who was at Northwestern who was this renowned anthropologist who told me that Wayne State University was a place that business anthropology was born. And it just turned out to be the case. I was about to take a job where my school, because of my connection, that job will be paid for at the place where business anthropology was born. And I was like, OK, maybe this is the path that I need to take. And it really helped me to, you know, like my MBA taught me to to to answer questions and with frameworks in my PhD taught me to ask much better questions.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:08] That’s that’s really good. The reminds me of a conversation I had when I was a graduate student. I was a T.A. For the person who was teaching kind of the the science class for students who are going to take another science class, you the freshman survey class. And somehow we got in this conversation heading back to the department one day that undergraduate professors. Their job is to to teach undergraduates so that they graduate, knowing that they know everything. The graduate professor’s job to teach the graduate students so that they they graduate, realizing that they know nothing. And it seems like a sort of a counterintuitive thought process. But really, that notion of growth, of recognizing, of being confident enough to say, I don’t know, because that’s something that is a little hard to teach or like teaching my kids that right now. And they’re fighting me tooth and nail on it like, no, I know everything. Of course I know everything. But getting to that point where you’re confident enough to say, I don’t know and then to ask good questions is so important. Absolutely. So you get into the the the PhD process. What was what was the dissertation process like for you? What did you what were you expecting going in and how did that live up to or refute your expectations?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:09:36] Well, it was a series of. Starts and stops, and that anthropology takes a while to do on average, I think it’s like 10 years because there is so much time in the field. And so for me, unlike any other degree that I had, there was no guarantee that I was going to finish. So, you know, I had gone through the whole kind of classroom part, the defense part or the early defense part. And then when I went through the dissertation process, what I wanted to find out more about was what are the sociocultural aspects of the entrepreneurial process like why? What’s the human side of entrepreneurship and within communities? And so it took a while for me to to do it. I had been an entrepreneur before and anthropology asks that you take an insider view of things. So I started a business and in that business I create my dissertation. And so it was it was very much a deep process that involved me changing my life. I remember my advisor told me that at one point it’s going to have to be your primary focus. And I didn’t believe that necessarily at the time. But I got to know that that is indeed the case. So there was a time in my life where I had to make it the primary focus, even with young children, even with being married. And I had to change my job and do something a little different. So so it was it was a challenging space, but certainly one that I navigated better with, with help with with a buddy with, you know, with structure.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:28] You say with help. What was what was that like you said you mentioned that you had like an accountability partner.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:11:35] Some of it was the help of my husband and being willing to to have me have a part time job for a while. Some of it was I I got the opportunity to do a couple of writing retreats. And at a point, you know, it it did take me going away, doing a writing retreat with a group of people, having a cousin that lived in many, many states away and and living with her for a couple of weeks to finish and writing because being a mother, you know, with the young children at the time, it it just it was difficult for me to have that focus that my advisor said got to have the focus in order to finish. So basically tapping into the village and saying, look, I need this help to to focus and finish.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:28] And you’ve mentioned a couple of the aspects that we found over the years are very important, actually. One of our students early on study this for her dissertation, like what type of support do you need in order to be able to finish particularly a dissertation you’re doing remotely? So, yes, if you’re a traditional doctoral student, if you’re in the university community, you’re going into campus every day. You’ve got the basement office with like ten other graduate students or something. You guys all create a culture there. There’s normative pressure to do the things you need to do. And you know what those things are? The older students who are ahead of you started to teach you what it was like to be a graduate student. And then as you grew through that process, you started teaching the the younger group of graduate students that same thing. But when you’re disconnected from that community, it gets to be much, much harder because all of those cultural aspects are gone.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:13:27] Absolutely.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:28] What she found is that there were three types of support that go into a doctoral process and the first thing she called operational support. And that’s just basically knowing what the hell you’re doing. None of us do going into this thing. Nobody came out of the womb understanding this is what a dissertation is. It’s a it’s a manmade construct. That’s that’s kind of counterintuitive in many ways. And you just have to learn what it is and be able to plug into it. So operational support someone to tell you how to do what you need to do and then emotional support, because, again, most of the world doesn’t do this sort of thing. Right. You have to have the confidence to know that you can do it. And that kind of emotional centredness and knowing this is something that I can make happen. And and there it’s important that people who are doing it or who have done it are part of your circle. So you mentioned that writing retreat where you did get to plug into kind of this culture and people who knew what you were going through could be supportive of you, because as great as your husband probably was, if he hadn’t been through this process before, at some point his support falls flat a little bit because you’re still questioning yourself and asking, can I really do this? And he can’t answer that question for you because he simply doesn’t know, well intentioned as he may be and as smart as he may be, if he hasn’t done this before, then he doesn’t know what it takes and doesn’t know whether you have what it takes or not. And one of my students from way back when illustrated that point for me when she said at one point she just got fed up with her husband, who they love each other deeply. They never fight until one day she snapped at him and said, shut up. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. And I said, why did you say that to him? And she said, Well, he told me, Honey, I know you’re so you’re smart enough you can get this thing done. And she was feeling that self-doubt and that, you know, I don’t know if I can do it. And his support came across as taunting to her. So it’s important to have people who know what this process is all about and been through it before. And then what your husband did provide for you, which was awesome, was what we call practical support. He said. And honey, you don’t have to work full time while you’re doing this, takes more time for your dissertation, drop down to a part time job. And and that was was probably one of the key things that you needed in order to make it happen. So it’s really interesting how your story really reflected those three different touch points that that one of my students found for research so long ago in terms of the support that that is important.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:16:02] Yeah, absolutely, and fortunately, I was I be able to return the favor a little bit later, so did he, he went through the process as well.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:10] Yeah. Wow, that is so awesome. Yeah, I hear about that so rarely. It seems like it would be a little more common that, you know, birds of a feather and all that kind of stuff. But it’s so rare that I hear of a of a husband wife doctorial duo. So that is really, really cool. Congratulations on that. Thank you. So so you mentioned some of the some of the issues as you were going through the dissertation process. But was there anything that you found that really beyond logistics, beyond just finding the time to do it? Was there anything you found that kind of got you? It really slowed down, stalled or stuck at some point? Was there any major challenge you had to overcome beyond the logistical?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:16:59] I think part of it is also recognizing that what I am saying is original and worthy enough to be said. Is there is there something there? And in the moment, because I’m so immersed in it, I’m not as. I’m not as clear that that is, you know, that something there exists as I’m writing it because I’m so immersed in that it is like, OK, I’m just seeing all this stuff and I don’t I’m not able to pull back and see the value of it. But I’ve gotten I’ve gotten over that and and it’s been valuable to me personally and just to other folks the the product that came from it. So that that but that. But in the moment, though, just convincing myself that this is this enterprise is worth it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:57] And where that issue was, was that like an imposter syndrome or was that a being too close to it? You know, not seeing the forest for the trees kind of thing?


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:18:09] I think it was more being too close to it because. I felt that this was I mean, I felt some level of confidence kind of generally, but just in the in the stuff of it, it was just kind of surrounding me. And and I didn’t see this. The special stops until until being able to step back from it a little bit.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:37] And how did you do that? Because I think that’s important to a lot of folks, probably face that type of issue.


Dr. Marlo Rencher [00:18:45] I think. So a lot of it was in the stories and being able to reflect back those stories to other people. So just having conversations about it and actually this is something that I’ve taken with me. And still deal with to this day that, you know, sometimes I don’t realize that the things that I know that are second nature to me, that I’ve accumulated over just a lot of time and experience that I don’t think are so special are are really. Not so easy for everybody else. Really valuable for everybody else, and just because it’s easily accessible to me and something that I know doesn’t mean that there are a lot of people out there who who would appreciate having that that information.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:19:39] That’s something that so many people in that expert space don’t realize. And that borders on what we were talking about earlier with the imposter syndrome is that, you know, you have spent a lot of time creating this this valuable experience set, but you just don’t value it as much as other other people do. And sometimes that’s hard for for people to see in themselves is how how valuable what you’ve been through what you’ve done really is. Because certainly when we start talking about a doctoral degree, you’re putting yourself head and shoulders above most of the competition there. You’re in the one percent at that point. So. So this is a really good point. So understanding the value in the framework, I get that. What about you mentioned in talking with people, some of the connections came out. Was that an issue of. You know, by teaching, you were clarifying for yourself or is that an issue of getting feedback from those people and finding out what the valuable moments were and what the ah-ha’s were from other people? Where did that, where the benefit arise?

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.