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the journey

Heather Evans, BCom’16

While Queen’s University may have already identified Heather Evans, BCom’16, as “One to Watch,” celebrating her with the award in 2022, don’t ask Heather to predict her future. “I can tell you a really confident story. And then more likely than not, in about five years, I’ll be doing something radically different. I can connect the dots looking backwards, but it’s really difficult to know it looking forward,” she says.

Fortunately, Heather is fine with hindsight. That’s probably because being open to new experiences has already resulted in an exciting journey. Since graduating from the Commerce program in 2016, Heather has furthered her education with a master’s degree in global affairs from Tsinghua University in China, the first Queen’s student to do so as a Schwarzman Scholar. She’s worked as a senior adviser in artificial intelligence for the Ontario government, and she helped in Canada’s Covid-19 response as a supply-chain manager for rapid antigen test distribution at the CDL Rapid Screening Consortium. More recently, she was recruited as vice-president, digital private markets at investment bank JP Morgan Chase and Co. in New York City.

Of course, Heather’s career journey started at Smith, with support from alumni. She was a recipient of the Commerce 1993 Entrance Award and describes her time in the Commerce program as “fantastic”. She recalls myriad takeaways from the experience—from the numerous group projects that prepared her to work in teams to the friends and mentors she keeps in touch with regularly (she sees professors like Keith Rogers and Tracy Jenkin for lunch when she’s back in Kingston). But most influential was her involvement in starting her first company, leading teams through the Commerce Society and her five months abroad as an exchange student at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management.

Co-founding her first startup when she was 19, Heather fondly remembers her experience with the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI), where she worked with four other students to start Mosaic Manufacturing, a 3-D printing hardware company that’s still in operation.

For her second startup, Heather was recruited into an accelerator (Next36) where she co-founded Spreza, a deep-learning automatic speech recognition tool. While she ultimately closed the company, she’s taken what she learned about machine learning and artificial intelligence to many career roles since. That includes her time in the Ontario government, where she was involved in the establishment of the Vector Institute, a massive machine-learning research centre that is a pillar of the pan-Canadian AI strategy.

That experience no doubt helped to catch the attention of her current employer. She now leads JP Morgan’s AI and data strategy for a new product called Capital Connect, which helps connect private markets with capital, digitizing the startup fundraising process. “All these little experiences along the way, the conversations I’ve had with different people, give me the opportunity to make connections,” she says.

Going on exchange in Brussels provided another opportunity for connection, as well as inspiration for Heather to return abroad for her master’s degree. Attracted to the international character of Brussels and the opportunity for immersion in French, Heather says she loved studying subjects like economics, finance for entrepreneurs, as well as the history of Belgian cinema. Rooming with a fellow Queen’s student, she also attended startup conferences, where she promoted her own venture, travelled and made some of her closest friendships.

In her next adventure abroad as a Schwarzman Scholar in 2018, Heather joined 135 people from 31 different countries and 99 universities—“a truly global experience” as she recalls it. Besides becoming close with her fellow students, she also embraced many other experiences, from the opportunity to participate in a National Academy of Sciences roundtable in Washington, D.C., to the chance to brainstorm on artificial intelligence and technology diplomacy with Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia.

Through all these experiences, Heather has learned to embrace a career path that has taken her from startup founder to civil servant to a large investment bank. “I’ve always struggled with the fact that I am not a noun. It’s hard to put me in a box, to say, ‘Heather does this one thing.’ My skill sets are funny and simple; I really like people, I enjoy problem-solving and I’m very good at lateral thinking and managing ambiguity.”

While there may not be one word to describe her, Heather is fine with that. It might even shape her future. “I feel excited about the fact that before 30, I’ve had the opportunity to start companies, work in government, non-profits and a massive corporation. Working across all these different arenas has helped me understand how different powers shape the world that we live in, and how they’re similar and how they’re different. I hope that will help me be effective in how I try to be a good community member, a good colleague and solve hard problems.”

  November 2022

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