Robin Hamilton does not look like the typical tenant at the Cambridge Innovation Center. No spiky hair. No nose ring. No hipster knit hat.
However, as Boston Globe innovation columnist Scott Kirsner once noted about the startup incubator near Kendall Square, “an astonishingly high percentage of cool startups in town start off in this space.”
By that yardstick, Hamilton, the mother of three adult children in their late 20s, fits right in with
the hundreds of young entrepreneurs around her. Her startup, Boston Business Operations Group, has earned its cool factor due to a distinctive value proposition.
“After I earned my Master’s in Project Management from Northeastern in 2012, friends and colleagues urged me to go into business fixing companies from an operational standpoint,” she recalled. “I resisted it because, when you go into an established business, you have entrenched politics and resistance to change. I didn’t really want to be doing that.
“The Project Management degree was so timely… It gave me tangible, hard skills, complementing the softer skills of the Leadership degree. But then I had this lightbulb moment,” Hamilton said. “What if I did this for people who are just starting their businesses — companies that aren’t entrenched in politics yet and might not have too much change management resistance?”
Thus, Boston Business Operations Group (BBOG) was born. BBOG occupies a unique niche between outsourced operations companies and business consultants who offer prescriptive advice but little hands-on assistance.
The business is tailor-made for Hamilton’s skills, which combine the understanding of process and problem solving abilities of a project manager and the behavioral insights of a human resources expert.
All of this is happening for Robin Hamilton at a time when many of her peers are looking ahead to retirement, not embarking on new ventures. But she displays the drive and focus of someone determined to fulfill a long- deferred dream.
Road to entrepreneurship
“I had tried college right out of high school, but it wasn’t a good fit at the time,” she remembered. “Around 1979, I started taking a few courses, but then I got married and started a family.”
Hamilton devoted herself to being a Navy wife, traveling from post to post with her husband Allan and working as an administrator at Camp Dresser McKee, a leading engineering firm. When Allan finished his five-year stint in the service, she shifted her focus to caring for their children, David, Keith, and Katherine.
“I worked as needed to help support the family,” she said. “I was in the child support payment division of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I worked as a pharmacy technician. When the kids got a bit older, I worked at SEEM Collaborative, an education organization, ultimately taking on the role of Coordinator of Program Support Services. I worked mother’s hours until the children were in high school.”
By this time, the Hamilton family was back in Massachusetts. The needs of the family were always Hamilton’s top priority, but the early experience of working at Camp Dresser McKee revived her interest in furthering her career through education.
“As my children went off to college, I thought, ‘I want to get what I never got,’” said Hamilton. She set her sights on earning a bachelor’s degree, because “in today’s corporate world, if you haven’t earned a bachelor’s degree yet, you almost feel like a bit of an impostor.”
However, just when the timing seemed right, family needs again took precedence.
“I intended to finish my bachelor’s in one fell swoop, but then I had to care for my father, who had Alzheimer’s disease,” she said. “So I took a few more courses to finish up my associate’s degree in Liberal Arts, fearing that if I didn’t walk away with something, I might never get the chance to go back again.”
On the fast track
Robin Hamilton’s dreams did not remain deferred for long. One day, she received a brochure from Northeastern promoting its Fast-Track accelerated degree completion program offering a bachelor’s in Leadership.
“The bachelor’s program built on the subjects I had studied for my associate’s degree — sociology, communications and history — but delved deeper into them by focusing on things like motivating workers and team building,” said Hamilton.
Signing up for the program became a pivotal moment in Robin Hamilton’s life.
“Not only did I get very close with my cohort — we were together for 18 months nearly nonstop — I also got very close to a number of our professors,” said Hamilton. “One of them, Maggie Chernin, overheard me talking to one of my classmates toward the end of the program. I was saying, ‘I thought I would do nonprofit work, but now I’m not sure.’” Chernin recommended a career coach, who helped build Hamilton’s confidence and further refine her career path.
Having finally earned that bachelor’s degree in 2010 — nearly 30 years later than originally expected — Hamilton immediately set out to earn a Master’s in Project Management.
“The Project Management degree was so timely,” she said. “It gave me tangible, hard skills, complementing the softer skills of the leadership degree.”
All three Northeastern degrees are helping Hamilton build her business today.
Networking at the Venture Café
“I’m in the early stages of client development,” she said. “I’ve gained several clients through personal relationships that I’m developing, and I’m starting to get referrals from people I know. And I go to the networking events at the Venture Café here at the Innovation Center.”
Hamilton is advising a number of budding entrepreneurs and connecting them with appropriate resources from her network of business contacts. While most of her clients are just starting
out, she said, “I’m in discussions with someone who has a 30-person company who thinks I might be the right person to analyze their operations and help them set priorities and accomplish some unfulfilled goals.”
Meanwhile, the family that has always been her top priority is right behind her.
“My family has been wonderful.” she said. “My husband said, ‘I don’t care if this takes three or five years to take off. This is your time. I always thought that you had so much to offer, you’ve always succeeded. Now it’s time for you to do something for you.’”
Northeastern has been instrumental in making it all possible.
“I don’t think I would be here right now on this path had it not been for my experiences at Northeastern,” Hamilton said. “Northeastern helped me find myself.”