Sheryle Bolton (68c)
Award: 2013 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award
Achievements: As a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Sheryle Bolton’s (68c) specialty is leading technology start-ups or companies that are “re-starting,” such as moving from traditional print products or legacy technologies to online or mobile products. Her success in entrepreneurial ventures throughout her career demonstrates her enthusiasm for bringing innovation to science and technology education.
“My approach is to choose an area I feel passionate about — technology, education, health care — and look at the probabilities of success,” Sheryle said. “That means thinking carefully about the risks and choosing the situation with the highest probabilities of managing the risks.”
After attending Berry, Sheryle received a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in linguistics from the University of Georgia and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. She began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia and a teacher in Georgia public schools.
Earlier in her career, Sheryle was an executive at HBO and Rockefeller & Co., and an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Her decision to leave the field of investment banking is chronicled by Stanford Business School, in one of two published case studies about her career used in the college’s Entrepreneurial Studies program.
“The birth of her son with a life threatening illness made Bolton reconsider her professional ambitions,” the study’s authors explain. Sheryle had to choose between an offer from a venture capital fund or a position in a start-up that focused on using the latest technology in neuroscience to help children with learning disabilities learn to read. The experience “grounded her in the belief that whatever she did professionally had to serve society.”
As a result, she became CEO of Scientific Learning Corporation, an educational technology company that develops scientifically validated reading programs based on neuroscience research, and led the company to both stellar growth and substantial financial returns.
Over the course of several years, she grew sales from less than $1 million to nearly $30 million. Later, she successfully guided taking the company public, which resulted in nearly $35 million in new funds for the business.
“Bringing a startup company from product testing to commercial launch, and then through growth to financial success, requires an unusual combination of business and people skills” said James Mills, head of business development at Scientific Learning Corporation.
“CEOs like Sheryle, who are demanding, but also supportive and inspiring, can lead their teams to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.”
Estimates are that the software product line has helped improve reading skills for more than three million people around the world.
Sheryle is now CEO of Sally Ride Science, Inc., an educational technology company which the late Dr. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, founded to ignite interest in and passion for science and technology in teachers and students.
Sheryle said her goals at Sally Ride Science “are to scale the company from one based on science and technology print books and in-person professional training for K-12 teachers to include high-value online professional development training, tools, and a resources network, focusing on science, technology, math, and engineering, for the K-12 market.”
Recently, Directors & Boards magazine named her a “Director to Watch,” while Watermark, a premier Silicon Valley organization for technology executives, honored her as a “Woman Who Has Made Her Mark.” Her Harvard Business School classmates honored her with a “Making a Difference” award for bringing neuroscience research to reading.
She is also a director of The Small Business Banking Network, which trains bankers in developing economies to make small-business loans. She serves on Berry College’s Board of Trustees and is a previous member of Berry’s Board of Visitors.