How one business can make a world of difference

Austin Ambrose
December 8, 2016

Lauren McCulloughLauren McCullough, MPA 14’, BS 12’, always dreamed of pursuing a career where she could make an impact. Whether it was her youthful naiveté or growing up in a small, rural town, her view on how to accomplish this dream was limited. She saw the influence of criminal justice, so when she went off to study at Ohio University on a track scholarship, she decided to major in sociology-criminology. Little did McCullough know that she would end up spending more than seven years in Athens.

Her dream of helping people never wavered, but throughout her college days it evolved into a comprehensive understanding of the various ways to benefit communities. One class in particular stood out as an influential experience: Associate Professor of Political Science Michael Burton’s political leadership course.

McCullough described the course as discussing the ways to affect change, and weighing decisions between what is right and what is wrong.

“The class made me take a step back,” McCullough said. “I learned that no matter what field or discipline you’re in, you can do better and create change.”

The development of her understanding of entrepreneurship and social welfare continued into her graduate school years. As she continued to be eligible to participate in track, it made sense to go straight into graduate school at Ohio University. Her undergraduate studies gave her a wealth of knowledge that she was ready to learn how to apply through the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs Master of Public Administration (MPA) program.

The School’s pragmatic learning approach intrigued McCullough and she made her experience at the Voinovich School all that it could be. She said that learning the theories was great, but if she didn’t have the applied research component, there would have been less value in the experience.

As a second year MPA student, McCullough stumbled into a graduate assistantship with TechGROWTH Ohio.

“It was in grad school where I truly began to see and learn how entrepreneurship can really help a community grow through the companies giving back and providing to the community,” McCullough said.

Although her time as an Ohio University student came to an end, her time in Athens had not yet expired. The Innovation Center offered McCullough a new position as client services coordinator, and she began working directly with some of southeast Ohio’s newest startups. With the job being a new position, her roles shifted to determine how exactly the position would be structured.

“I was unaware of how much went into helping clients,” McCullough said. “I became influential in their companies and was surprised at how highly my advice was taken.”

However, the time finally came for McCullough to leave Athens, and continue her work in a new community. Thrilled by the thriving entrepreneurial community of Durham, North Carolina, she headed south to work as a consultant with ArchiveSocial, which provides a platform for archiving and managing social media presences for government agencies.

But McCullough eventually missed the project management side of the work, which is when she accepted a position as the program manager for NC IDEA Foundation, which offers grants and programming for  early-stage ventures in North Carolina. In this position, McCullough manages the foundations Seed Grant program and assist with managing data and strategy across the foundation.  

Although she knows it’s a cliché, McCullough said she continues in the field of entrepreneurship because she truly believes that it can make a difference for a community. It is fast-paced work, but she likes being around the type driven young professional aspiring to solve real world problems.

“There are two types of people: Those who want to make money and be successful and then those who want to make real change and want to be successful,” McCullough said. “There has to be this desire to make the world better. It’s hard to accept feeling any other way.”