Chatham, jellyfish and the White House: three things you’ll see on Rebecca Harris’ resume. In 2009, Harris became the Director of the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. “When I moved to Pittsburgh with my family 3 and ½ years ago I couldn’t think of a business to start,” she says. “I have started a number of companies, but when I came I didn't know the market or what the city needed; the job provided me with the opportunity to help women start and grow their businesses, and enabled me to be an intrapreneur—think and act entrepreneurially within an existing organization. It has been a perfect fit!” Since she started at Chatham, Harris has brought in such big names as Build-A-Bear Workshop founder Maxine Clark and Chief Creative Officer and Lead Buyer of ModCloth Susan Gregg Kroger. Chatham students definitely take advantage of the networking opportunities: “They come to our business leaders breakfasts,” she says, “they attend our annual Think Big Forum, we have an entrepreneurship club, and students intern and do projects for our companies.”
Harris proves that a woman can enter business without majoring in it.“I majored in Communication Studies,” says the Northwestern alum, “so I knew I would do something where I spent time communicating important information.” Post-grad, Harris immediately put those skills to use. “After college in Chicago I moved to Washington, D.C. I applied for every PR position I could find. My first job was with one of Ralph Nader’s groups as a public relations coordinator.” When she turned her attention to business, Harris earned her MBA from Temple. While she has worked in everything from the food industry to publishing, she’s a constant innovator and successful inventor across the board. One unexpected company she started? “I invented a net to swim in so people wouldn’t get stung by jellyfish,” she says. “We sold them in the Chesapeake Bay Area which has lots of jellyfish in the summer. I got a patent!”
Twenty years of business excellence earned Harris the position at Chatham and a trip to the White House: she just returned from the White House Business Council Conversation on Jobs and the Economy where she presented the Center’s position paper, “Opportunities to Increase Job Creation for Women-Owned Businesses.” She explains that while women business leaders are flourishing, they’re much more conservative about hiring than most men. One of the Center’s goals is to help female entrepreneurs create jobs without risking their business. Classes and lectures offered right on campus are a major step toward success for female entrepreneurs and interested students alike. “I believe everyone should know about business whether you plan to start a business or not,” she says. “All jobs, both for profit and nonprofit, in any field, require a knowledge of basic business skills.”
All of Harris’ work stems from her childhood dream: “to be like my parents, hard-working, dedicated to making our community better.” Only time will reveal how many female entrepreneurs Harris will inspire in our Chatham community.
To learn more about business opportunities on campus, visit Center for Women's Entrepreneurship's website.
Photo Credit: Chatham University website