Heather Galt is the new VP of Startup Programs at Communitech and works tirelessly to support the young companies she works with and set them up for success. We were very lucky to connect with Heather and hear about her recent exploits, her motivations, and her wisdom.
Congratulations on your new position as VP of Startup Programs at Communitech! What programs are you most excited about/proud of? What new programs are launching that we can share with our community?
I’m really proud of our Rev and Fierce Founders accelerator programs, both of which Communitech has been running for a few years now. We have some awesome stories of companies that have hit major revenue and investment milestones as a result of these programs, and many of our alumni have become mentors for the newer cohorts. I love seeing that happen and I hope we can encourage more of it going forward.
I’m really excited to see our Edge program, which we launched last year, emerge as a new learning opportunity for companies that are starting to get revenue traction. Edge now has a clear focus on early revenue growth and is attracting some awesome companies.
I’m also excited to be building more workshops for our founders, focused on everything from sales and marketing tools; to how to think about investment; to how to think about user experience and design; to self-care for founders (a topic that’s close to my heart!).
Before coming to Communitech, you led the Marketing functions for some successful tech companies. How have you drawn from that experience as work with start-ups and develop programs to support their growth?
What I find most interesting about working with our start-ups is how each one needs to learn something different from each of their coaches, and at the same time, how many things early stage companies have in common with one another. I’ve had times where I’ve drawn on experiences I had very early in my career, and I’ve had times where I’ve learned something totally new in the process of coaching a company. That’s one of my favourite parts of my job.
What are you most proud of professionally?
I’ve been a leader for a number of years now, and the thing I’m most proud of is how the people I’ve worked with have grown and developed in their careers. I’ve seen them move around the world (Bermuda, Australia, Latin America, and California, among other places) and take hugely different career paths – and I’m so proud of what each of them have accomplished! I like to think I’ve had a little role to play with each of them in how their careers have developed, and they’ve had a profound impact on me as well.
What sparked you to pursue this career path?
Funny enough, I actually fell into tech. It wasn’t a deliberate choice at all! When I finished high school, I needed a job for 12 months to help me save up for university. I ended up as the 13th employee in what we would now call a tech start-up – and stayed while the company scaled to over 700 people and then got acquired. It was an unbelievable journey and I got totally addicted to that environment. I’ve continued to work in similar environments (and with some of the same people!) for the whole of my career.
Working in the tech industry can be very demanding, what do you do outside work to maintain energy?
I do a lot of volunteer work in totally unrelated industries. I was honoured last year to be nominated as the new chair of the board of the KW Symphony, and I’m loving that opportunity. I enjoy being able to draw on things I’ve learned in tech to help the symphony – and vice versa! I also read a lot, and spend a lot of time with my kids.
What is most exciting about the changing KW tech landscape that you’ve witnessed over the years?
I was actually born in Waterloo. I lived here until I was 8 and have come back twice to live here again. It’s been really interesting to see the whole community evolve as the tech community has grown here – and to see that we’ve managed to hold on to a lot of the values that made us a community 45 years ago (or more!).
I’ve also seen the tech landscape evolve from one big company (RIM) to a lot of really early-stage companies, to a great mix of emerging and scaling companies with a hugely diverse mix of founders. I think that’s our best opportunity as a community – embracing the diversity of our community, embracing the values we share, and embracing the growth we’re going to continue to see as tech in K-W becomes even better recognized on the Canadian and global stage.
What advice do you have for leaders and entrepreneurs looking to hire great people and establish a strong culture?
When I work with start-ups at Communitech, I encourage them to focus on understanding their customers: what they care about, what keeps them up at night, how the company and its products can help make their lives better. I believe that as leaders build their companies, maintaining a focus on the customer is a fantastic cornerstone of a strong culture. It’s also a very helpful filter for hiring amazing people.
You’ve recently travelled to the Yukon and scoped out the growing tech scene there. Tell us what that experience was like.
The Yukon is a fascinating place, and I would encourage every Canadian to make their way up there at some point. I totally fell in love with it, even though we were there when it was -35C outside! I was impressed to find that there is a well-supported emerging tech ecosystem in the Yukon, including companies, an incubator/maker space, investors, government and academia.
There’s a focus on cold-weather tech (not a huge surprise) but also a big appreciation for the contributions of our indigenous communities and new Canadians (both of which are well represented in the Yukon). The team there were eager to learn about what we’re doing in K-W, and were equally eager to share what they’re working on. I’m excited to head back to Whitehorse again, hopefully when it’s a bit warmer!
You’re a champion of women in tech. Is there any advice you have for women just starting out in their careers?
I would encourage young women (and everyone else) to find and use their voice, even when it feels uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, advocate for yourself and what you need, and to make decisions based on what’s right for you.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a wide variety of experiences in my career, and it’s really helped me to grow as a person as well as as an employee. I would encourage anyone (female, male or other!) to travel (especially outside of North America), to open themselves up to new experiences, to take risks and to grab any learning opportunity they possibly can. The world is an incredible place – and each of us should take every possible chance to experience it.