By Nick Erickson
Kate Heath, M.B.A. ‘10, returned to George Washington University in November as the new director of student entrepreneurship in the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE). Heath brings a wealth of global experience from both the public and private sectors, from Capitol Hill and NATO to Facebook, Walmart and Boeing. Her most recent corporate role was head of marketing strategy and operations for Instagram. In 2020, she also became the in-house executive marketing and branding adviser for Embarc Collective, the largest and growing hub for startup talent out of Tampa, Florida.
As a GW graduate student, Heath was a Potomac Fellow, president of the International Business Society and a F. David Fowler Career Center peer career coach. GW Today asked her about the vision she has for her new role in OIE and how GW can continue to be a leader in innovation.
Q: First of all, what brought you back to GW?
A: I was part of the first cohort to go through the newly revamped full-time Global MBA program, back in 2008. The curriculum had been restructured around the pillars of ethics, leadership and globalization, and the culture was one of collaboration, not competition. I distinctly remember walking into Duques Hall for the first time and seeing the bright blue decal going up the stairs: “Who says you have to step on someone to get to the top?” I felt instantly at home. There weren’t a lot of business schools that literally met you at the front door with a message of kindness and compassion—or that were willing to talk about what it means to behave honorably. I saw the decal again recently and actually teared up. I’m so proud to have gone to a school that visibly leads with those values. It means even more to me today than it did then. So, coming back to GW was not a hard choice.
I had actually been considering a return to academia for a long time, albeit in a student capacity. I was looking at master's and Ph.D. programs in entrepreneurship and social innovation, with an eye to teaching or consulting in the future. [School of Business Vice] Dean Liesl Riddle, my former professor, was generously helping me weigh my options when the opportunity at OIE opened and she encouraged me to apply. I had just moved back to D.C., and it all seemed like a bit of a perfect storm.
Q: What vision do you have for the position?
A: My goal is to make sure all students can see themselves in our programs, regardless of what they’re hoping to do after graduation. Not everyone wants to be the founder of a company, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have entrepreneurial skills or want to hone them. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, just like innovation, that can be applied anywhere. It’s about creating value, thinking differently, solving problems, effecting change. I can’t think of any job where those skills aren’t required. This is why you’ll be hearing a lot more from us about intrapreneurship too—how do we give students the experiences and the confidence they will need to be changemakers inside their future organizations?
Q: The New Venture Competition (NVC) has become a nationally known staple at GW (it was voted the third-best university entrepreneurship program in 2020). How do you hope to build on its already laid foundation, and what are some ways you hope to incorporate your own ideas?
A: The NVC is a rich inheritance. Over the last 13 years, my predecessors grew it into a nationally ranked program, and I intend to keep it that way. We have an entirely new team running it this year, and while we aren’t making any major changes to the competition format, my priorities are threefold: increasing our diversity and inclusion efforts amongst judges, mentors and participants; staying laser focused on learning as our main objective; and making sure that NVC fits strategically into a larger, comprehensive program that keeps all our stakeholders involved, all year long. We have hundreds of students who compete with remarkable ventures and don’t make it to the final rounds, and many more who choose to explore their ideas outside of the competition. I will ensure that our ongoing activities include and support all those students, regardless of what their dreams are or how they pursue them.
Q: Given its location next to the federal government and proximity to policy makers, what makes GW unique as a breeder of innovation and entrepreneurship, and how do you see OIE capitalizing on that?
A: Part of what drew me to this role was the ability to have broad impact. The opportunity to own and drive a truly inclusive strategy for entrepreneurial program development—one that meets each GW student where they are—was too compelling to pass up. Our team has some extraordinary real-world experience to draw from, but we’re also very careful not to over apply our own perspectives in our coaching and mentoring. Our experience enables us to see around corners, understand the secondary and tertiary effects of decisions and have a solid sense of what counts as value. We help students consider all the angles, connect the dots and play the long game—much like in the classroom, it’s about teaching students how to think, not what to think.
I’m very keen to partner with the faculty and staff to augment their curricula with high value, experiential learning opportunities that students can’t get anywhere else. We should be capitalizing on GW’s unique strengths—our location in the nation’s capital, our commitment to global perspective and citizenship, our accomplished alumni—to build an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem that no one else can build.