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Venture Out: Pathbrite


Heather Hiles wants to remake the way applicants are hired by employers and accepted to universities.

Employers and universities aren't getting the whole picture of their applicants, contends Heather Hiles, the out founder of Pathbrite.

"We are not the sum total of our bubble-test data, and I intend to prove it," she said.

Her new startup aims to change the way employees and students present their life, learning and projects. Pathbrite is a digital portfolio that helps collect, organize and beautifully publish a lifetime of learning and success.

Students can build academic portfolios, for example, that show all the evidence of their learning, including research projects, collaboration and any other completed product. This type of presentation is appreciated by faculty because it enables assessments that go beyond the standard "bubble" test to get more "qualitative assessments of cognition, understanding and knowledge," said Hiles, who is also CEO of Pathbrite.

Hiles argues that anyone trying to advance a career uses portfolios that go well beyond the "flat" resume and instead present a more "holistic" view of their individual capabilities and accomplishments. Referred to as "artifacts," items in a Pathbrite portfolio can include a traditional resume, as well as videos, photos, and documents of any kinds, including scans of transcripts or diplomas.

"Recruiters love portfolios because they get a better sense of a candidate's 'fit and finish' for any given opportunity, which results in lower rates of expensive bad hires," said Hiles. Employers can also use portfolios to help employees track their work product during an evaluation period. Then at the end of the period, there is proof of an employee's accomplishments.

Hiles, who earlier in her career was the CEO of SF Works, a welfare-to-work program under the Clinton administration that successfully trained and moved women into jobs, also served on the San Francisco Unified School District board where she saw first-hand the impacts of stubborn achievement gaps among the city's most vulnerable students.

"I'm so passionate about what Pathbrite portfolios can do to help people address the critical gaps in their lives that might prevent them from getting the education or job of their dreams, or promotion they deserve," said Hiles.

But Pathbrite faced a series of obstacles before launching, mostly financial. Without her family and circle of friends and angel investors, Hiles admits the company would not have emerged. "There were moments that were really tough, where I wasn't sure if I could pull it off," she said. Pathbrite has most recently received its Series A financing. Hiles, who describes herself as "stubborn," said that she truly believed in the idea and just kept pushing.

The man she calls "employee number 2," Robert Collins, recommended Hiles check out StartOut as a resource earlier this year. "Start-ups are a lot of perspiration, and StartOut provides a lot of critical inspiration when you might be running low, it's so important to see that it's actually possible to achieve your dreams -- that other people like you are making it in the world," said Hiles. Since learning about StartOut, Hiles attends presentations and networking events on a regular basis. "One of our angels who recently joined the company to run sales and marketing for us, Derek Gordon, who also happens to be gay, often joins me," she said.

Hiles, 42 was married to her wife in California during the brief time when it was legal. She has been "out" most of her adult life and was pretty open with colleagues and friends from the start. "I guess as a woman, a person of color and a lesbian, I've got three strikes against me where Silicon Valley is concerned," she said, "but the truth is I never really encountered any discrimination or blockers around any of that stuff."

Hiles' advice to other entrepreneurs is to get your pitch right and be open to refining it as you share it with potential investors.

For Pathbrite, that could mean it one day uses the underlying data collected via all the portfolios people build to help them set goals and then benchmark progress toward meeting those goals against others with similar objectives, as well as other datasets.

"If a student hopes to land a job as a financial analyst after college," she said, "we can look at what they've got in their portfolio so far and illuminate for that person exactly what they need to do in terms of learning and internship experience to attain their objective."

But the first step is to believe in your idea. "First, I'd say do your research and be very clear that you have an idea that is either completely novel or makes something that already exists better."

For more information on Pathbrite, visit For more information on StartOut, sign up for the monthly newsletter. This is a monthly series highlighting a successful business within the LGBT community that is involved with StartOut. The organization strives to educate, inspire and support entrepreneurs. It fosters LGBT leadership in the business community by including social programming opportunities, providing role models, connecting mentors, and promoting equality.

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