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Heather Dughaish Helps Lead Growth of Columbia Tech Scene

Heather Dughaish never expected to be involved with education, but now finds herself happy as Columbia campus director of The Iron Yard, a company devoted to training people for careers in technology.

“I never thought I’d be working in any kind of education, but it’s so desperately needed,” she said. “I’m an advocate for Columbia and I want Columbia to grow, and what better way than technology?”

Heather has been working in technology since the moment in college, when as an art history major at USC, she realized a life devoted to studying books and works of art would not give her the interaction with people she wanted. “I wanted to make stuff happen,” she said, and she has done just that in leadership roles with Mad Monkey, The Nickelodeon Theatre, IT-oLogy, and now The Iron Yard, and in serving on several executive and advisory boards in Columbia, including the Columbia Women in Tech group she helped start.

“The Iron Yard is not here just to crank out people,” she said. “They invest in the community. We’re redoing a whole building on Bull St. What other company does that?” She added that she believes Columbia is at a crucial turning point regarding continued growth.

“We’re right there,” she said. “If we don’t make that next step, it could be years until we see this kind of momentum again. We’ve got to make it happen.” She and SOCO co-founder Greg Hilton recently expanded on that idea in an op-ed for Midlands Anchor.

Heather has also launched her own startup, inspired by her experience registering for wedding presents. She explained that while registering, she thought “This is lame. I don’t need a blender. I don’t need towels… I want to go to local stores. I want to register for cool stuff.”

With Vesta, her new business, Heather is making it possible for people in the Midlands to do just that, with plans to expand to Charleston in the future. Vesta works with local businesses, allowing engaged couples to register for a much wider variety of gifts from dinner at local restaurants to a show at The Nick.

“A lot of these local stores don’t have a platform to create registries, so this is a free platform,” Heather explained. She added that many couples are not interested in traditional wedding gifts.

“They can be very creative with how they register… People are getting married later and later, so they don’t need stuff like silverware or whatever,” she said. Vesta also allows couples to request gifts which could be more sentimental than practical. “You can think of it as modern heirlooms. Like a painting from a local artist, you can give that to your children. You aren’t going to keep towels in the family.”

Heather said her work at The Iron Yard will not fall by the wayside as she launches Vesta, because though she never expected to work in education, she has seen the impact The Iron Yard makes.

“These people come and change their lives in 12 weeks, go out and get great paying jobs, quickly move up the ladder in the industry,” she said, adding that The Iron Yard also helps with job searches and keeps in touch with alumni. “We are there for them for the long haul.”

She said her commitment to The Iron Yard’s mission has grown as she has seen it’s impact on the students, including a young man who recently told her he was there because, as he put it, “I just want to use my mind.”

More information on The Iron Yard is available here, and more on Vesta available here.

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