MANSFIELD – Heather Tsavaris believes anything can be done from right here in Richland County.
Though Tsavaris has lived across the globe, she moved back to her hometown of Mansfield several years ago to put her diverse experience to work in north central Ohio, specifically at Idea Works in the heart of downtown.
By identifying the needs of local entrepreneurs, Tsavaris, who joined the Idea Works team in December, is working to fill the innovative co-working space that opened in July 2017 at 40 W. 4th St.
“I think amazing things have been happening here (in Mansfield) in the past three years,” she said. “And I’ve been living here, but I haven’t been working here, so I’m trying to figure out what are those amazing things and how can we corral a community of like-minded people and really enable those people who want to build something to do so.”
With hopes of making Idea Works into a “beacon of entrepreneurship,” Tsavaris says traditional thinking must be put aside. As a co-working environment, Idea Works provides office space, but its other amenities are what will set it apart.
Her job is to figure out what local entrepreneurs need to do big things and how to effectively bring those resources to Idea Works. She mentioned education opportunities and community building activities among other things in Idea Works’ future.
“If you have this passion, you want to do this thing, we aren’t going to say, ‘it’s impossible.’ We’re going to say, ‘it’s absolutely possible,’” Tsavaris said. “If you want to do Mars travel, we’re going to find the resources and the people in this country who are doing really interesting things on that because why wouldn’t we?”
Tsavaris began with career working in counterterrorism through the U.S. Department of State. Ultimately, she became an expert on why young people join terrorist groups and used this knowledge to make terrorism less attractive.
“What was interesting to me was the young people who joined terrorist groups tended to be people who were really passionate. They cared a lot about causes, and unfortunately they decided violence was the best solution to advance the cause that they cared about,” Tsavaris said.
In 2005, she met a group of social entrepreneurs in the Netherlands, which encouraged her to learn more about the positive power of entrepreneurship.
“What they were doing, it was almost the exact opposite of what people choosing terrorism were doing,” she said.
They were arguably just as passionate as the teenagers joining other groups, which led Tsavaris to a revelation that has since shaped her career.
“If you could channel someone’s passion to make a difference towards good, you would have world changers, people who could literally make the planet a much better place,” she said.
Tsavaris returned to the United States to complete her MBA at New York University, where she studied entrepreneurship. At this time, she also worked on youth engagement projects with the Gap Foundation and Cisco Entrepreneurship Institute.
About six years ago, the world-traveler came home to Ohio, where she continues to use her skills in economic development and youth empowerment. She started the Urban Center Entrepreneurship cohort program at North Central State College, taught entrepreneurship courses at Columbus State Community College and has served as the vice president of strategy and operations for Innovation Fund America, a Kauffman Foundation entrepreneurial finance and economic development project.
More recently, Heather has been working on entrepreneurship projects and youth engagement programming through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
“I feel lucky in that I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurship models, and I think there’s a real opportunity here (at Idea Works) to put the resources behind it and actually build something that has a track record, but also appeals to enough people here that it can be a real conversation changer.”
Read more about Tsavaris in this 2013 Richland Source story.