Danielle Proctor worked at three firms in the burgeoning niche of software product management and sales before an unexpected turn of events prompted her to start her own business in a sector far from the cutting-edge tech scene.
At 28, she launched Amelie Construction & Supply, a Saxonburg-based company that builds and repairs highway bridges and retaining walls.
"It was scary ... most businesses go down within three years, so [if that happened] I would be 31 at that point and was not married and didn't have kids so I could still get on my two feet," said Ms. Proctor, who is now 36 and married with a stepdaughter.
Her gamble paid off.
Amelie generates between $10 million and $15 million in annual sales from infrastructure projects in five states and employs between 30 and 35 people during peak construction season.
Ms. Proctor, who also owns a pet care franchise and a pilates and yoga studio, is one of several business women scheduled to share their stories of becoming entrepreneurs or managing innovation at existing companies during Friday's fifth annual Think Big Forum for Women at Chatham University.
Others include keynote speaker Beth Kaplan, president of health supplements chain GNC Inc.; Amy Hancock, president and owner, AdvantageCare Rehabilitation, Home Health Services and Consulting; Diana Block, former president and board member, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and Deborah Acklin, president, WQED Multimedia.
Ms. Proctor, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, moved to the Pittsburgh area when she was in the eighth grade and graduated from Sewickley Academy and Carnegie Mellon University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in industrial management in 1996.
She took a job immediately with Management Science Associates in East Liberty where she worked on marketing and developing new software products. In 2000, she left for what she described as "a very brief stint" doing product management at FreeMarkets, the CMU spinout later acquired by Ariba Inc.
Then came a job at Dutch software firm Temtec, which hired Ms. Proctor to open a Pittsburgh office. After a breach-of-contract issue, she received a settlement, left the company and decided to explore the possibility of running her own business.
While playing golf, she met people in the construction sector who encouraged her to consider that field because of opportunities for women- and minority-owned companies to bid on contracts.
In 2003, she wrote a business plan and then used a combination of outside funding and the resources from her Temtec settlement to start Amelie, which is Ms. Proctor's middle name. "I wanted a [business] name that started with a 'A' so it would show up near the top of listings" of firms bidding on jobs, she said.
With no prior experience in construction, Ms. Proctor "got in the trenches for the first year and a half" working as a laborer. She learned the management side of the business from a seasoned veteran of the construction industry who was "semi-retired and bored" when he signed on to Amelie, she said.
In its nearly eight years of operation, the company has worked on projects including ornamental steel for the 31st Street and Hot Metal bridges; and steel erection and repair along Interstate 79 at Kirwan Heights and Neville Island.
An accomplished golfer who competes in amateur golf tournaments, Ms. Proctor still encounters challenges doing business on the links because of her gender.
"I don't get invited to the men's grill room. I'm still upstairs in the mixed grill," she said.
She handles her role as one of few females in a male-dominated industry by "making sure I'm always prepared for meetings and stand my ground."
"They may think you're different, but if you think you're not, you get by just fine."
The Think Big Forum runs from 7:30 a.m. to noon. For registration and more information go to www.chatham.edu/events.
Joyce Gannon: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1580.