My favorite quote is: “Be ready, so you don’t have to get ready.” – Heather’s grandma Something people don’t know about me: I’m a germaphobe
Empowering people to be self-actualized
COMMIT TO THE CAUSE. Heather Hiles has dedicated her life to helping people realize their academic and professional dreams. Their current enterprise, Imminent Equity, is a private equity fund dedicated to acquiring and scaling tech-driven businesses powered by a diverse workforce. Founded in 2022, the company is the latest in a trailblazing 30-year career during which they have successfully established public and private sector organizations that help people have access to opportunity.
"I've always been motivated to find a big problem and discover a solution that hasn't existed," Heather explains. “What excites me is closing opportunity gaps. I gain joy by increasing access to more education, better jobs, capital for companies, and director seats in the boardroom. I am also inspired by challenges of scaling and those related to healing the planet.”
Heather remembers the crucial moment that shaped their entrepreneurial path. While studying at UC Berkeley, they grabbed an opportunity to join Break The Cycle, a non-profit tutoring program for young children falling behind academically. The experience ("was the first time that my eyes were open to the opportunity gaps in life") motivated them to embark on a career that continues to focus on empowering people and solving large-scale problems.
After completing an MBA in finance at Yale, Heather worked alongside renowned entrepreneur Amy Errett to launch a boutique consulting firm. By the time they were 27, the company was sold, and Heather used the opportunity to build SF Works, an innovative non-profit launched in the late nineties that offered job-skills training to women on welfare. Its success sparked several rewarding ventures, including the Hiles Group, which provided philanthropic consulting and services to individuals and foundations.
In 2012, Heather was the sole founder of Pathbrite, the first cloud-based digital portfolio platform. It was a near-instant hit; by 2015, it had six million users and was used by many of America's top universities, leading them to sell the company to a billion-dollar publisher. Its enormous success meant that between 2012 and 2018, Heather was the black woman founder to have raised the most venture capital and have the largest exit.
THE FREEDOM OF INDEPENDENCE. A defining quality that ties together Heather's varied entrepreneurial journey is their self-determination, a characteristic they credit to their childhood. Brought up by a hard-working single mother in Los Angeles, Heather says her early years were as "a latchkey kid", which meant they quickly learned how to self-motivate and appreciate their accomplishments, even if they fall short of their intended goal.
In that regard, one of Heather's most challenging professional experiences was founding Calbright College. As the Chancellor and CEO of Calbright, this highly ambitious enterprise involved building California's first fully online community college from scratch with the goal of placing 10 million underemployed people into living wage jobs. "I underestimated what launching a startup in the public sector meant and the political heat that comes with that," they admit. "However, I did my best by building the first employer-led skills platform and getting our first thousand students hired by top tech companies, so I still feel a sense of accomplishment in that regard."
With a career built on a desire to leave the world better than they found it, Heather says one of their proudest achievements is co-founding BlackOps. Launched after George Floyd's murder, it's the first venture capital fund to invest in black-founded tech companies exclusively. BlackOps is another example of how Heather hopes their lasting impact is "a person who decreased the headwinds for all marginalized folks; people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ folks.”
"I've spent my whole life feeling like the odd person out who had to fight hard for everything. If I've been able to reduce some of those headwinds for generations to come, I'll consider that a win. As I get older, I'm learning to recognize the wins because no matter how small, they're all important."