Article and photos for an alumnae publicationGirls Preparatory School
Profile of a Chattanooga entrepreneur and alumna for an alumnae magazine
Copywriter and Photographer
Heather’s career in politics began at the top, working for Senators Elizabeth Dole, Bill Frist, and Bob Corker. With a degree in Journalism from UTK and a Master’s from UNC in Public Administration, Heather was beginning the career she’d always planned for. However, entrepreneurship soon found her. One of her two younger brothers, Andrew, also a McCallie graduate, was involved in co-founding Delegator, where Heather currently works. Delegator is a web design and development company focused on providing clients with measurable and observable success. It supports growing companies and driven entrepreneurs, much like the founders themselves.
Andrew and Steven Culp, a very successful and well-known local entrepreneur who founded Smart Furniture, were in the process of getting Delegator off the ground while Heather was working in D.C. and completing her master’s program. She remembers that “Just hearing [Andrew] talk piqued my interest, and when I started having different frustrations with either my job or just how the federal government worked, it was interesting to hear how quickly he was moving and doing things.”
Exciting developments were happening with Delegator, and Heather decided to join their then-small team. She was hooked when she heard Steven Culp talk about an idea he had had in the 90’s, for a business called Causeway. Heather and her team helped flesh out the details of Causeway while working full-time at Delegator. Speaking about the first stages of planning, “We decided we just needed to get started, it didn’t have to be a perfect idea, we just needed get started and pivot as we went along. See what worked, see what didn’t work, and be transparent in our failures and successes so that the community could learn with us and we could learn from the community.”
The Causeway idea, originally, was to create one place online where Chattanoogans could rally around causes that they cared about. A physical presence in the community could come later. Website design and development were what Delegator’s team knew best, and they put those skills to use building an online platform. Initially, Heather and her co-founders managed Causeway in addition to their full-time jobs. Delegator has a deep commitment to community involvement, giving its employees a percentage of their time to work on not-for-profit projects. In this way, says Heather, “Causeway became Delegator’s way to give back to Chattanooga.”
At first, Heather wore many different Causeway hats, from managing day to day operations, meeting with lawyers and accountants, buying ad space, filing taxes, and working with designers. She found that “Being able to think on your feet is a huge skill,” and that GPS really taught her “how to continue to learn. I will always be learning in this role, and being able to enjoy that aspect of my job probably stems from learning to love learning.”
The major philosophy behind Causeway, as Heather says, is that “as citizens we have to take some responsibility for how things are around us, the government can’t do everything. This is a great way for citizens to take ownership of the city. We talk a lot about how Chattanooga is our business, and as citizens we should approach it that way. If you see a need, let’s do something about it. Everyone has something to contribute.” Causeway is all about making those connections, and, as she explains, “a lot of people do have ideas, they just don’t know what to do with those ideas or how to execute them. Bringing those folks together and giving them some tools or guidance that they might not have had could really make an impact from small ways to large ones.” Anyone can go to causeway.org and create a profile, through which they may donate or start a cause.
Startup culture is uniquely productive and fun, and Heather says that, ”there’s a ping pong table in the office. I’m not wearing a suit anymore; there is no employee handbook. There is no HR department. Change is supposed to happen frequently, and you’re expected to come up with ideas and act on those and run with them yourself and make it happen.” While tech startups, in particular, tend to be male dominated, Heather sees that as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage. She says, “I would say a GPS girl is in the best position for that kind of environment, because most GPS women that I know don’t get intimidated easily. I think women are seen as more of an asset and a lot of companies are looking to hire women. They want someone with a different viewpoint; they’re trying to diversify. I wouldn’t take it as something to be intimidated by, I would look at it as an amazing opportunity.” Now a mom to 14-month old Ella, Heather is encouraged by the flexibility this unusual business environment offers her. She was able to travel to Germany with her husband and work remotely for a short time, and she currently spends two days a week home with Ella.
Looking back at her years at GPS, she says that the school “helped shape me as a more well-rounded person who was willing to share my opinions and thoughts, which is really important now, working in startup culture, where your ideas and opinions can affect the direction of the company.” She mentions that Mrs. Mines and Mr. Vey, as well as a love of history, instilled a lifelong intellectual curiosity. She even says that she uses her algebra skills. When asked what she might tell current GPS girls and future entrepreneurs, Heather remembers trying out for and joining Terpsichord. She says that experience “was so outside my comfort zone and new to me. Learning to be comfortable in my own skin, on a stage in front of a lot of people, can translate into so many other things. I think GPS as a whole just provides so many unique opportunities. Depending on the girl, you can find what you need there to help you grow into the woman you’re going to be later.” She emphasizes that trying new things, especially when they are intimidating, is really vital.
Asked if she sees a return to the public sector in years to come, Heather says that “The momentum and the excitement and the passion of the people involved has sparked a passion and interest in myself, and I don’t see myself leaving this type of work. At this point, it’s just too exciting to step away from.”