TechLounge: Central Ohio Technology | Entrepreneurs | Innovation
In recognition of Global Entrepreneurship Week, each day this week TechColumbus will bring you the story of an entrepreneur whose work is changing our world. Please enjoy reading these intriguing journeys.
Some might call Carol Clark lucky. Lucky to have founded a tech-based business; lucky to watch that business successfully remain relevant throughout a tumultuous three-decade history; lucky to have survived the dot com bust; and lucky to have sold that business to an Irish company who still maintains its U.S. headquarters in Dublin, Ohio.
But luck had very little to do with it. In fact, Carol Clark’s entrepreneurial journey demonstrates the foresight, flexibility and fortitude that are mainstays of any successful entrepreneur.
Foresight: Carol Clark was one of the first and the few women to choose a career in high tech at a time when most women were pursuing more traditional careers. At the time, earning a degree in mathematics meant that she came out of undergraduate school with a teaching certificate. Who could have imagined what was in store for a woman with a math degree in the 1960s?
What Carol did was go to work for IBM. There all new employees were required to undergo a two year training program in systems engineering. This didn’t mean that the employee spent two solid years in training. Rather, training was self-directed at the employee’s own speed with the expectation that the curriculum be completed in two years.
"I might spend a month out of the office working on a computer in another location, then be back in the office for two weeks before going into the classroom for three days,” says Carol. “Through this, I witnessed colleagues learning at their own pace, and assimilating information in very personalized ways. As a teacher, I found this self-directed learning methodology intriguing."
And, although she may not have known where it would ultimately lead, her first experiences with training would be instrumental in helping Carol launch her own company, MindLeaders, Inc.
Flexibility: MindLeaders was co-founded by Carol, along with Fran Papalios. The two women met while working together in the IT department of BankOne (now JPMorgan Chase).
In the late 70s, when you talked about computers, you were talking mainframes. There were no PCs, let alone the Internet, email or the cloud. All technical staff – whom Carol refers to as “techies” – had to work for large organizations who could afford mainframe computers. This meant that techies were usually very scattered around the country and getting a concentration of them together for training was prohibitive from a time and cost perspective.
The two women began to develop self-paced training modules (called courseware) for the IT department at BankOne using proprietary authoring software to create custom training materials. The response to the courseware was highly favorable and in 1981, the two launched MindLeaders (originally named DPEC) to develop self-paced training modules for other companies.
MindLeaders was started as a consulting company to write custom, one-of-a-kind trainings for large organizations. But as the PC began to dominate the scene, MindLeaders morphed from a consulting model to one that developed off-the-shelf courses that could be sold multiple times to multiple customers.
“If you want to grow a scalable company, you have to find a way to turn your ideas into products,” says Carol.
To stay relevant in the face of rapidly advancing technology, MindLeaders continually had to adapt to new distribution models, transitioning from distributed CDs to eLearning systems distributed via the web. And, as PCs and the Internet made self-paced training more widely accessible to a larger audience, demand quickly grew for more, new and diverse training modules.
Successfully adapting to all this change, Carol demonstrated a second key characteristic of a true entrepreneur – flexibility.
Fortitude: 1996 was a year of major transition for MindLeaders. Fran decided to leave the company, selling half her shares to Carol, while venture investors were starting to take an interest in MindLeaders. Four venture groups, all with varying terms, agendas and approaches, agreed to put money into the company and by 1999 the company was preparing for an IPO.
Carol took MindLeaders through the SEC application process, got three investment banks on board and was waiting to leave for the Road Show to price the shares. In April 2000, her lead banker suggested they might want to wait just a week before starting their Road Show because of some anomalies in the market. Carol waited one week, then another and another. By September of 2000, it was obvious that MindLeader’s IPO plans had been dashed in the dot com bust.
Carol's determination was the driver of Mindeleaders continued growth, especially internationally, and in 2007 the company was bought by Third Force plc, an Irish public company. Carol was named to the board of directors where she continued to help guide the company until 2009 when Third Force took the company private.
In true entrepreneurial style, Carol continues to share the lessons she’s learned with other tech-based startups and business professionals. She serves on the board of EdMap Inc., is a member of Ohio Tech Angels, provides business consulting and serves as president of the board of WELD (Women for Economic and Leadership Development), a non-profit organization that works to increase the number of women in leadership positions within central Ohio.
Turns out, Carol’s a teacher after all.
Are you interested in commercializing an idea? Would you like to take your business to the next level? TechColumbus gives innovative companies and entrepreneurs what they need to grow: start-up mentoring and consulting, business plan development, a strong pathway to capital investment, marketing assistance, and affordable, high-end office, meeting, and lab facilities for our incubator clients.