Meet Katie Gailes, who is always thinking about entrepreneurship and how she can help other people to realize the American dream. Learn about her journey from corporate America to Wake Tech Community College, and how her work continues to change lives and grow communities for the better.
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Welcome to Making Our Way Forward, a podcast where we share compelling life stories and learn from the experience of everyday entrepreneurs. At NACCE, we celebrate diversity and invite you to join the conversation. As we talk to entrepreneurs and leaders from all walks of life. We hope that by telling their stories, we bring you inspiration, empower you to take action, and ignite entrepreneurship in your community. Welcome to Making Our Way Forward, a podcast podcast. We're happy to be coming to you today from NACCE's Headquarters. We have a special guest; she was instrumental in our organization, locating at the Research Triangle. So, for all of our listeners a round the world, thank you for tuning in today. And welcome to Katie Gailes. Katie, thank you for coming on to our program.Katie Gailes:
Thank you. It's my pleasure. You know, I'm a NACCE fan. So I'm always happy to spend time with you, guys.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
We appreciate that. And I know we've spent time together in Terek County, and in different places. And you're always thinking about entrepreneurship and how you can help other people. Many times, people that don't have access to resources, realize the American dream or visions for themselves that seemed to be impossible. So, knowing you a little bit, I know a bit about your background. But I would love for you to share a little bit about your journey. And what led you to the role that you have at Wake Tech, which is changing so many people's lives for the better.Katie Gailes:
Thank you so much. Well, I'm native North Carolinian. And so I've been in this area my entire life, except for possibly eight years in my corporate career. And after leaving corporate, I started a small consulting firm focused on small businesses. And that led to a relationship as a counselor in a project called growing America Through Entrepreneurship through the North Carolina Rule Center, where I got to help people who had been laid off from their jobs, and figure out how to use the skills that they have to basically create a job for themselves. And then, through my relationship with Wake Tech, I got a consulting contract. And in that process, I got to define the role that I have now, Director of Entrepreneurship initiatives, and re envision the Center for Entrepreneurship. And when I did that contract, I had no idea that I would be the one doing the work. But when my contract was over, the college invited me to stay on and, and work the visions, I was very excited about that. Because I didn't get a chance to see the thing that I had defined, come to fruition and also work this job description that I had created. That's how I ended up at Wake Tech. Specifically, my job at Wake Tech is to look at the entrepreneurial fabric in our county, Wake County, North Carolina, see where the holes are, and develop programs and initiatives to plug those holes. So severe creative role. I love it, I'm having a ball. And my projects fall into two primary areas. Launch Wake County, which we're going to talk a lot about is my external program. I call it Community Based Economic Development. And then launch Wake Tech, which is my internal student focus program where I bring entrepreneurs into the college and get our students more involved externally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
That's great, Katie and I, as I hear you talk and as I've gotten to know you, I think of the wise saying of "Find something that you love as your career, and you'll never work a day in your life." But I know you are one of the hardest working people that I know. And I appreciate that enthusiasm. And I'd like to ask you, before we dig in a little bit to what's going on in Wake County. What are some of the things that help you keep going because a lot of what we see with entrepreneurs is they do have this relentless passion, but of course, they're going to come up against obstacles. So, I would love for you to share a little bit about how do you personally deal with obstacles and keep yourself motivated. And then in your role as an advisor, and a leader, and a teacher? How do you encourage other people to do the same?Katie Gailes:
Well, I celebrate the small victories, because small victories ends up... it helps you win the war. So, I try to celebrate progress. Nothing was built instantaneously. I know we have adjusted water society, but most things that are truly impactful and that are really going to be sustainable do not just develop overnight, because they need roots, and they need a solid foundation. And sometimes that takes time. So every time there's a little bit of progress, I celebrate that. And since creative problem solving, and helping entrepreneurs is a bit of a compulsion, I can't help myself, I have to keep going.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
You just can't stop doing it. (I can't), that is so funny. You know, there's a lot of colleges and universities, they have these entrepreneurs in residence, and they're individuals much like yourself, and some of them have bought and sold and created businesses, they do not need to work, but they can't not work. So, that is another amazing thing about you, and a good piece of advice to celebrate the small wins. Because really, if you think about it, having that entrepreneurial mindset is so very important. And I know you also are a product of a person who's certified in Ice House training, you'd had some connection to the NCIDEA Foundation. So, I don't know if you want to share a bit about that. And then we can talk a little bit more about some of the expansion efforts that you're involved in.Katie Gailes:
So my, my relationship with Ice House actually started back in 2012. When I first found out about that I was not working for Wake Tech at the time. And we actually hired Wake Tech to train some of our counselors around the state, who were working with people who are getting into entrepreneurship for the first time, on the entrepreneurial mindset, so that they could then work better with those people who just trying to create a job for themselves. And then, when I found out a couple years ago, that is the idea had embarked on initiative to spread the Ice House methodology and training across the state, I was in the first group of 50 people to get certified. And we're really grateful to, to his the idea for doing that, because there's so much applicability for the entrepreneurial mindset training. So, most people who are entrepreneurial, are not going to start a business. In fact, we don't want everybody to start a business. Because if everybody started a business, where would those of us who start businesses find our employees, but everybody can be entrepreneurial. Because if you really think about it, and entrepreneurial minds, that is the life and leadership skills of the future, you have to be able to create your own opportunity. First of all, you have to be able to see opportunity, you have to be able to pursue the opportunity, you have to be able to take personal responsibility and accountability for your success in those opportunities and in life. So I believe that entrepreneurial thinking is a critical skill, and entrepreneurial characteristics are important, no matter what you do.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
I agree with you, Katie. And I know, for me personally, I really tried to cultivate that in my personal life, because I feel like I'm pretty good at it in my professional life. And I think some of us, particularly through the pandemic, and as our parents get older, and our family situations get more complicated. It's easy to become overwhelmed by all of the needs and demands. But you're right. If you think about entrepreneurial mindset, if you work at it, it really there isn't any problem. Normally, that can't be solved. I mean, my goodness, look at the pandemic. I mean, I thought we would have had a vaccine and we're closing in at 50%. So you can always look at it as what has yet to be accomplished. But I think that's an important reminder. The other thing that I know about you and about your colleagues, there are so many wonderful people that work at Wake Tech and full disclosure - where we're sort of just a couple of office conferencerooms apart, so I know (KG:
we are roomies) Yes, we're roomies, and which I we all love, because we love our space and are very grateful for it. But you know, one of the things is really seizing opportunity that comes your way and, and I think sometimes people feel I have to have this degree, I have to have X number of years of experience, I have to have this amount of space. And I'll be curious to find out from you. What are some of the success stories that you've seen through Launch Wake Tech, or I know there's a whole bunch of the Launch Apex, Launch Holly Springs, because it's becoming a bit of a franchise. What have you seen everyday ordinary people create with very limited resources?Katie Gailes:
So one or two success stories? Oh my goodness, it's so hard to pick because we have over 400 graduates in the Launch Wake County umbrella. And you mentioned we've got seven town, eight towns actually. And I have to name them in alphabetical order because otherwise I forget. We have Launch Apex, Launch Carry, Launch Garner will have their first program this fall, Launch Holly Springs, Large Knightdale, Launch Raleigh, Launch Roseville, and Launch Wake Forest. And so we're only missing four towns in our county. So, my objective is to have a launch program in every town because we are serving the main street businesses right there where they are we go to where they are, everything happens in their town. So it's hard to pick just one success story. Let me think. In the first launch, no, this might have been the second Launch Apex class. We had a a veterinary oncologist technician, I hope I get that right, who had started a fish market with his 12 year old son. And this was something they could do together on the weekend. So they would drive down to the coast, bring the fish back and sell them at the farmers markets. And this past year, he left his job and went full time in his business. And he now sells his fish at three different farmers markets on the weekends. He has customers that he delivers to during the week. I mean, it's become a full-time job that he now has his cousin and his son working in. And it's keeping him busy. So he just started with this dream. And it's now you know, a full time business and what I try to catch him at the farmers market. I get there and just about everything is sold out. So, he's doing very, very well. And he was recently on the cover of a local magazine.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
That's amazing. And I think it's what I've heard you advise and your colleague Cherith too, is find your passion. Yeah, it goes back to what we're talking about initially, if it's something that you're passionate about, and I know you and I've had long conversations we plan to attend talk for 10 minutes, and then an hour has gone by and we're still catching up. And to that point. One of the things that arrived on my desk this morning was the quarterly issue of Community College Entrepreneurship magazine. So, there was an article that you wrote that was published in in there, there's a picture of a young man who's one of your programs, giving your President Scott Rawls a beautiful haircut. So tell us about that article. And that celebration, because it connects also back to one of our funders, the Ratcliffe Foundation. So, share a bit about that. That's a great story.Katie Gailes:
So, I mentioned that my projects are in two major areas, Launch Wake County, which is my external community based program. And that was the success story I just told you about with Tyrone Hightower and Apex Seafood. But the picture from the magazine is from my internal program Launch Weight Tech. I infuse 20 hours of entrepreneurship training into our standard barber school curriculum. Wake Tech has as a barber school, it's is six years old. We graduate two classes a year. And this year we were looking for because of the pandemic, we were looking for opportunities for the students to get the hands on training practice that they are required to have by the state. And it's difficult during the pandemic because people were coming not coming out for haircuts. Well, we have a relationship through Launch Raleigh with something called the Black Friday Market, which is a place where African American entrepreneurs get to sell their wares in a in a storefront in downtown Raleigh. And I went to them and said, you know, wouldn't it be great if our students could come and give haircuts in your facility on the weekends? On a Saturday? And we were looking at doing something for Black History Month? Hesaid:
"Perfect, let's do it." So very quickly, we put it together. And none of our students went down there and they got a lot of hands on practice. They get some experience working with real customers, the energy of being out there in the marketplace, and we had so much support from the college. President Ralls came down got his hair cut. My boss Vice President Anthony Caison does not have hair, but he brought his son down to get a haircut. The Dean Dean Pam Little came down to support, and one of the instructors in our natural hair program came down is Andrina Johnson. So, we had a lot of support down there. And it went, it worked so well that we did it for two additional weekends. And these students get to see how valuable they are to our communities. People really miss their barbers doing that shut down. And as you mentioned, the Ratcliffe Foundation made it possible for us to infuse this training into the Barber School but we also infuse training into nine hours, over six sessions into our Natural Hair Program, our Cosmetology Program and our Spanish Language Cosmetology Program. And in that same article, there was a young man profiled. He was a graduate of the very first Wake Tech Barber School class. So he was one of my guinea pigs. He was the class that I used to experiment to see how our entrepreneurship curriculum would work. Zin is from Morocco by way of New York, and always dreamed of having his own barber shop. Because when he was growing up, even after he came to the States, they could not afford to go pay for a haircut. So he came to visit North Carolina, fell in love with the state down here, went to the Wake Tech Barber School, graduated, did his apprenticeship as required by state. And then he opened up his shop in December of 2019, just in time to get shut down four months later about the pandemic. But he did lose faith, we were able to rally, since give some money to him through the Raleigh Fund for Small Business, that Wake Tech setup. And he's still in business. He's growing. And he's hiring Wake Tech barber school graduates to come and work in his shop.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
That is an amazing story. And I was invited to a call that I think you or someone set up that your former campus Dean, who's now State Representative James Roberson was convening some of these students to talk about that. And I think it just speaks to the pipeline, and what you were mentioning before about workforce development, that even if you don't ever want to be your own small business owner, developing those skills and that entrepreneurial mindset, and you had mentioned to me a little bit before, how nervous that young man was giving President Ralls a haircut. But he had the confidence to do it anyway. And I have to say, just looking at the picture, he did a very good job. I think that is the art, I guess, if you will of entrepreneurship, but it's sort of combined with the empathy and the social caring, because as we start to see some of things opening up as the pandemic certainly is still, you know, with us, but things are starting to starting to recover a little bit. And we're starting to feel more hopeful about that. So, a our time comes a little bi shorter, I just wanted to touc on something. And then we'r going to have a follow-u episode with you, Katie, wher we're going to dive a littl deeper into stories on equity But I want to say as a prou Bennett graduate, you are very instrumental in connecting NA CE with a number of Historica ly Black Colleges and Universit es in the area. And as you know, we have a growing group national y. So maybe you could just sp ak for people who may not be familiar with what t at terminology means and what t at experience has been like for ou now as a business leader here in North CaroliKatie Gailes:
HBCU stands for Historically Black College or University. And as you mentioned, I'm a proud graduate of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro; it was called the Vassar of the South at one time. And when I started there, we had 565 students. It was the largest enrollment in history at that time. And I was the first in my family of 12 siblings to go to college. And then I'm number 11. So, it was a big deal to get into a college and baby to survive for four years, and HBCUs are known for wrapping a blanket of support around their students, because they were formed at a time when African American children did not have the option to go to the larger universities, even the state supported ones that were paid for by their tax dollars. So the HBCUs had a very important role in our history. And then it was the right place. For me it was small, I got a lot of opportunities. I ended up getting hired right out of Bennett by IBM, which set me on the course to work with small businesses for the rest of my life and also paid for my my MBA from Duke. I cannot complain at all about that trajectory, although it was by accident that I got to be in business and the business curriculum at Bennett. In addition to being a proud Bennett College for Women graduate, I have to show gratitude for the local HBCUs that have been so instrumental in my large programs Shaw where we have taught five Launch Raleigh classes and they donated the space to us. And St. Augustine's University, where they have been supportive and holding information sessions and participating in the planning for our for our Launch Raleigh programs. I want to thank those HBCUs here as well for being great partners.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
Yeah, but you know, when you think of it, what is truly accidental, right? Because when you look back, and you reflect, you think of what you're doing now, you know, within your own community during your work hours. And I know you also volunteer for NACCE on other times, like, you know, on weekends and off hours and, and I'm excited for our listeners to hear about some of that work, because I think it's very life changing. Our podcast co-host, Jeff Smith, does a lot of that work with you on the equity, inclusion, diversity front. And, you know, we see that companies like IBM and many other good companies in this area truly value that. So I think that's a story that has a lot of layers and many things yet to be told. But I would love to end on the note of something, Katie, that you're very hopeful about. I know we've shared with each other and our many colleagues about, you know, people that have survived, you know, through the economic recession, and then the pandemic. But what are some of the things that you're hopeful for in the remainder of 2021, and going into 2022?Katie Gailes:
I think that the pandemic taught us a lot of things that forced us to be resilient to develop that muscle to be creative. I had one entrepreneur tell me, one entrepreneur, that we had given an award a financial award tosay:
"My business is stronger, because I was forced to take another look at it, so that I can survive. And the changes that have made have put me in an even better position. " So I think that some of us are coming out of the pandemic stronger. I think, I hope that we learn that we cannot do this alone, that we're all in this together. And I hope that society learned that small businesses anchor our economy and our and our communities, and that we will continue our focus on them.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
That's right. And that, too, is tying back to the work that you and Jeff and many others lead in the equity front, that what I personally and professionally love about community colleges. But HBCUs as well, is often that is the pathway to the middle class and beyond for people because you have generations that have been left behind that have no tradition like yours or experience with higher education. One of the things I know about you, Katie is you are tenacious, in every aspect of your being, which is one of the things that we love about you. But not everybody is born with that level of tenacity. Somebody tells them, no, you can't do it, they might just give up. So we need to have leaders like you and others around the country that will not give up on students. Regardless if they have learning differences or what they look like or what whatever makes them different from other people, we need to celebrate and lift them up. So I appreciate you so much all of us that may see how you in our champion circle, because you just are out there swinging and doing amazing work for Wake County. So I would just encourage people to learn more about your work if they wanted to find out more about the programs that you run, where would they find out more information?Katie Gailes:
Well, they can come they can Google startups that are at Wake Tech, or Laun h Wake County. And they will ge to our web pages or they can co nect with me on LinkedIn. Ka ie Gales, I'm the only one ou there. And I can send you wh tever information you needDr. Rebecca Corbin:
The one and only. So, well. Thank you everyone for tuning in today t Making Our Way Forward, w celebrate Katie and really al of the everyday entrepreneur and people working in higher e that are doing this work, s make it a great day. Thank yo so muchJeff Smith:
Thank you so much for joining us. We hope the listening to this podcast will help you to explore the many ways we might define entrepreneurship. Join us every other Wednesday for more episodes as we celebrate opportunity, learn from one another and grow together. Subscribe to this podcast connect with us on social media and learn more about today' speakers at nacce.com/podcas . We look forward to makin our way forward together with ou.Dr. Rebecca Corbin:
Have you heard about our latest book IMPACT Ed, how community college entrepreneurship creates equity and prosperity? This is our roadmap for building back better in 50 states and globally. In each chapter, we share the inspiring stories of everyday entrepreneurs, and explain ho community colleges play crucial role in their success Visit us at nacce.com/impacte to order your copy now, and j in us in this work.