Seeing a Need: Entrepreneurship at Chatham Hall

Joe Hefta
How has Chatham Hall maintained its vibrancy and relevance through 126 tumultuous years that spanned two world wars, multiple shocks to the global economy, and revolutionary changes in girls’ education? In a word: entrepreneurship.
The idea of entrepreneurship has received significant attention in the last few decades as the receptivity to new venture creation has substantially contributed to our global trade and economy. Yet Chatham Hall has been committed to entrepreneurial endeavors for more than a century, demonstrating the keen opportunity perception and risk tolerance to innovate and change. Seeing a need. Embracing uncertainty. Investing all of one’s resources to bring an idea to fruition. Adapting along the way. These actions constitute the work of the entrepreneur, and so it is with Chatham Hall. Fulfilling the mission - and in particular the call to prepare girls to better the world - demands a vision of the future and the girls who will lead it.

Beth Barksdale, Chatham Hall’s chaplain and herself the CEO of a successful business, puts it this way, “Just by the nature of a Chatham Hall education, our students are empowered to lead productive lives. We help them discover their voice and agency in every dimension of their School experience. But we also challenge our students to consider the intersection of their passion and purpose, asking the question, ‘What do you want to do with your one wild and precious life?’* The new entrepreneurial program we launched last fall formalizes this inquiry into a comprehensive curriculum, and equips our students to achieve the dream they have conceived.” 

Uniquely designed by Barksdale for Chatham Hall, the two-year program consists of three essential pillars that ensure our students have a hands-on learning opportunity to create value in their school, their local community, and the wider world. In each of these experiential locations, students test, launch, and scale their own entrepreneurial ventures that can be implemented and scaled as viable businesses. 

“Upon completion, students have the communication and leadership skills to confidently embrace the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship and have the practical knowledge, financial intelligence, and business acumen to be successful,” Barksdale adds.  

Last year, when Chatham Hall piloted its first year-long course, Global Entrepreneurship, the response ensured the approval of Global Entrepreneurship II. Together these courses explore fundamentals of business and economics, teach skills in business planning, market diagnostics, presentation and pitching, and guide each girl through a discovery process and on to incubation of a business she designs. “If we are dreaming bigger,” Barksdale says, “I would like to see entrepreneurism woven into our culture, recognized as a foundational value, and touching every Chatham Hall student we serve.” 

The School is already beginning to see this take hold through the visibility and integration of student projects. From social impact ventures responding to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic to an Etsy business selling healthy horse treats, projects showcase the creativity and drive Chatham Hall students bring to their endeavors. They also reveal something every Chatham Hall community member understands: the world’s problems are theirs to solve.

Chatham Hall has thrived because its community and leadership have infused it with entrepreneurship, attracted investment in its mission and its girls, and adapted to constant change. The new entrepreneurship program is this same Chatham Hall spirit made manifest, nurtured by a commitment to honor and mission, and powered by girls.

Originally published in the fall 2020 issue of the Chat.
An all girls boarding and day school in Southern Virginia, Chatham Hall prepares girls for college and for productive lives. Our innovative academic program offers Advanced Placement courses, global study and travel, as well as project based learning. Our athletic teams regularly compete at the State level and our exceptional riding program is nationally recognized. We foster the intellect and character of each student and, through our Honor Code, live in a community of trust. Grounded in its Episcopal heritage, the school welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds.  
800 Chatham Hall Circle | Chatham, VA 24531 | 434.432.2941 | admission@chathamhall.org