By Dave Flessner
Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
In 1906, Girls Preparatory School was started in Grace McCallie’s Oak Street home, in part, to prepare Chattanooga’s girls for the academic rigors of college in an era when most women were not expected to go to college.
GPS was later influential in launching the city’s first basketball league for girls as well as the first academic contest to include women.
Autumn Graves, the new head of school hired last summer to lead GPS, is determined to build on the school’s trailblazing legacy for women — not just for GPS but for the Chattanooga community as a whole.
“Our founders were really social entrepreneurs and we want to continue that vision to identify ways to help our girls become more entrepreneurial to play a key part in the future economy,” she says. “Entrepreneurship is a type of creative problem solving that we need to encourage and nurture for whatever type of career our graduates pursue.”
So within a couple of months of taking the top job at the 585-student school — while still finishing her doctoral thesis and preparing to give birth to her son — Dr. Graves began pushing for an entrepreneurial conference to help inspire and propel more female-owned business startups. In late February, the fruits of that dream were presented in an all-day community forum dubbed “Mad, Bad and Dangerous.”
The event showcased successful women entrepreneurs, and helped connect investors and mentors with those either playing with business ideas or those determined to pursue their startup ventures. The event included a 24-hour generator which assembled female students from different schools to work as teams on business problems under the tutelage of CoLab and the Public Education Foundation.
The conference was designed to inspire women to “ditch expectations and start something.” The name, Graves says, was developed by a branding company, Tiny Giant, to highlight how women need to be more unconventional, bold and willing to take risks.