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Eastman: Two San Diego women are making history today

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

I adore history. However, when asked to opine about women I admire for Women’s History Month, I didn’t wish to merely describe a detached reverence of distant and historical figures. I wanted to focus on living, breathing ones who are currently making significant contributions to fields of great importance to Californians like science and business. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce two San Diegans I deeply respect: Heather Shepard of Wiser Ventures and Melissa Colburn of Burly Inc. They are dynamic, creative entrepreneurs in environmental operations that require a combination of technical knowledge, business savvy and interpersonal skills. They’re two women who can truly serve as icons of Women’s History Month.

After Shepard partnered with the founder of Wiser Ventures, Tamara Kullback, she and I would have business discussions while our sons played together. We would spend hours discussing how to bolster our businesses via the Internet, as well as various environmental compliance and regulatory matters. Shepard (who has a master’s in International Affairs and Public Policy from UC San Diego and has over 15 years of experience in management consulting, strategic planning and business/public policy development) wanted to take a new direction in her professional interests and promote “green technologies.”

“Wiser Ventures tries to kick-start companies that are developing clean technologies,” Shepard said. “My business focuses on small and medium-sized businesses that have new processes or materials that are close-to-market. Our goal is to launch innovative concepts swiftly so that the public has more green choices. We want to get things to market sooner rather than later. I am really excited about this business, because there is NO one-size-fits-all solution to enhanced energy efficiency; I am thrilled to be part of a process that makes more solutions available to the public.”

I have had the pleasure of working with Colburn, co-founder of Burly Inc., during a wide variety of remediation projects that involve hazardous materials. Colburn has had over two decades in the chemical emergency response and remediation business, and recently opened her new company so she could continue addressing the needs of clients who must comply with the requirements of many state, national, and local agencies.

“My business is split into essentially into two components, “ Colburn said. “The first component is environmental health and safety compliance to address issues pertinent to numerous entities – EPA, OSHA, DEA, Homeland Security, the local Fire Department, and the DOT. The second component is methamphetamine remediation – cleaning up meth lab sites and meeting the state’s criteria for site handing. Because of the emergency response nature of my operation, I never know what each day is going to look like. This is one aspect of my career I really appreciate. I like new challenges.”

Both of these entrepreneurs note, just being women adds a unique perspective to their business equations, as their respective industries tend to be numerically dominated by men.

“You stand out as a woman in this business,” Shepard said. “With Wiser Ventures, I have found that if you are extremely well prepared, and can explain your ideas intelligently and with great confidence, that CEO’s will really listen to you – because they truly want your ideas.”

Colburn concurs with Shepard’s experience and adds, “Business owners respond positively to me, as a woman, because safety and environmental compliance is essentially nurturing and care-taking in nature. They are usually keen to have my input.”

When asked if she had any advice for young women contemplating a career in similar fields, Shepard said a key component of her success was networking.

“You should have a good, diverse network of contacts – men and women in all fields of business. A truly successful enterprise is built on personal relationships. Women must network using new communication technologies like golf games are used by men to network – we have a lot to learn from men on how to support each other in business.”

Colburn also indicated she has learned much from the men in her field as well.

“I started out trying to rely more on brawn at the beginning of my career, like the guys. I discovered that if I stepped back and used my brains instead, I was going to be more successful. Wisdom and a good plan often solves problems more quickly and efficiently than muscle.”

One of many blessings in my life is that I have networked with, worked alongside, and learned from many energetic and creative men and women in the course of my career. Heather Shepard and Melissa Colburn are two of the most outstanding entrepreneurs I have known, and I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to share their stories with San Diego as part of Women’s History Month.

Leslie Eastman runs an environmental health and safety consulting firm, Eastman Enterprises, and is a founding member of the grassroots organization, Southern California Tax Revolt Coalition.