Deb McMahon, President and CEO, Scitent

Deb McMahon, President and CEO, Scitent

Scitent is an eLearning company focused on creating profitable and sustainable online education programs for nonprofits, corporations, membership organizations and healthcare organizations.

What are you innovating on right now?
We are experiencing a period of high growth, adding new employees across the company, migrating customers to our new SCIDEA learning management system (LMS), and broadening our service portfolio.  

We continue to innovate with regard to our business models.  We work with different types of clients, so a one-size-fits-all business model would not work for our business.  

For example, with one of our largest clients, the American Heart Association, we shifted our business model to accommodate the maturation of their eLearning portfolio.  Our non-profit partners, on the other hand, have different needs as they enter into the commercialization phase with their products.  

What inspired you to follow an entrepreneurial path?
I would have to say my natural curiosity and tendency to challenge how things are done.  As a researcher in Pathology, I was trained to problem solve and challenge accepted models and theories.  I found that this drive to confront complex problems served me well as the President and CEO of a growing and entrepreneurial company which needed a heavy dose of problem solving coupled with the ability to be flexible and change direction in order to grow. 

Tell us what you learned from your biggest failure?
I have to reach back to graduate school when I was at the bench.  As with all good experiments, one starts out with high hopes for immediate success, but then reality sets in, and you see that it’s more challenging and vexing than originally thought.  

In my case, an entire series of failed experiments forced me to push and change course several times to find the right solution.  I learned the importance of perseverance, the need to adapt, and consider new possibilities. It also reinforced a belief that was instilled in me by my mother that: “in the ends, things will work out.”

How does Charlottesville as a place support or fuel your innovation?
Charlottesville is chock full of smart people, and that, in and of itself, fuels innovation.  Organizations like CBIC and activities like Startup Weekend inspire and amaze me – seeing the ways in which people create new business models and take the type of risks that pay off while encouraging others to do the same.

What would you change or keep the same in Charlottesville?
I think we need to keep attracting a good mix of professionals, some of whom are up and coming innovators blazing new trails in business, and some who are seasoned upper-management level professionals.  

In our business, we’ve found that it’s a challenge to find people, right in the Charlottesville area, who can step into a senior leadership position.  We shouldn’t have to recruit leadership from Northern Virginia or the DC area if we need seasoned executives.  

What is your biggest need right now to advance your innovation?  
From a practical perspective, we are focused very heavily on building our sales program and would like to find an innovator, leader and visionary in the area of sales.  

What is the view from your office like on a typical day?
We are lucky to be located right at the intersection of downtown and UVa, a very short walk to the downtown mall.  When I look out my window, I see the engines of our local economy: retail, UVa, county/city services and the very essence of our community-based culture.   People from all around the world, young and old, walk by my office, traveling between the downtown mall and UVa, contributing to the vibrancy of our city.

Looking to the horizon, I also see what makes Charlottesville the beautiful and inspiring city that it is: the beautiful central VA landscape of trees, greenery, historic buildings and rolling hills. In short, I see activity and life happening right before my eyes, every day!