Lauren Bernard, Head of Product

Going into college, I fell into the same group as about 65% of the rest of my freshman class—I had no idea what I wanted to do. Throughout high school I had explored various interests and activities, hoping that I’d be more prepared walking into my college experience. 

By the time the second semester of sophomore year came around and the deadline for declaring a major approached, I had settled on communications. I figured I couldn’t get boxed into a specific career or industry with that! 

I was correct in my assumption, but as the shadow of job hunting crept closer, the excitement of graduation was coupled with the realization that I had too many options. A search for jobs that use a communications degree will reveal that the list is endless. Luckily, around that time,
I was introduced to a young company called Startup Space.

Despite having no background in anything related to entrepreneurship or economic development, I said yes and jumped in, excited to continue learning. And the best way to learn on the job is trial by fire, no? 

My first full-time role with Startup Space, recently rebranded as Economic Impact Catalyst (EIC), was that of Associate Director of Client Experience. From client experience, I tackled  support services, and eventually transitioned into my current role: Head of Product.

So yes, I planned my college background and experience around being open-ended, but product management? In technology? At first, the idea seemed way out of my wheelhouse; yet learning on the job seemed to be one of my fortes, and I was excited about the new opportunity.

As it turns out, I was much more prepared than I thought I’d be. 

If you look up a job description for the role of Head of Product, most sources will give you a general description along the lines of aligning a company’s product strategy with its overall business strategy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce defines it further by stating “[the] primary function is to ensure the company’s products meet the needs of its customers.” And though my tenure in this position is still young, I can tell you that communication is one of the key components of product management.

One of my guiding principles—and EIC’s—is that the key to good product management is having constant communication with our clients. If our product isn’t working for them, then what is its purpose?

While a benefit of this communication with our clients is of course an improved product, it is also incredibly inspiring to hear about the work that each of them are doing across the nation (and beyond!). Listening to their stories and use cases helps us to deliver more value in our relationship and hopefully makes their jobs a little bit easier. 

Listening is personally my favorite portion of communication, but as Head of Product, I not only decode messages, I encode them, too (see, I use that communications degree!). A key role of mine is not only aligning our company’s priorities with the Startup Space platform but also then communicating those changes with our team and our clients. And experiences do come in handy: skills from my stint as a newspaper writer and editor through high school and college turned up in the form of our bi-weekly Product Update Newsletter; the Speech Team boosted my speaking abilities that paid off in training, product demonstrations, and webinars; and my education in the processes, concepts, and theories of communications fit surprisingly well into the facilitation of product development.

All that to say, education gives incredibly beneficial knowledge that can prepare you for a specific job or industry, but experiences give you the skills to succeed in whatever it is you do. While I may not have a degree in computer science, business, or information systems, I am prepared and proud to represent the product team at Economic Impact Catalyst.

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