“The best working years of their lives” at Happy Valley’s West Arete


By Holly Riddle 

More than two decades ago, Scott Woods and his wife Ieva Perkons left their jobs to travel and rock climb full-time. That love and appreciation for outdoor adventure led the couple to State College; however, they weren’t only seeking outdoor fun when making their way to Happy Valley. After the traveling, Woods wanted to start a company and wanted to do so in a way that would afford him a work-life balance, while also providing a proper work-life balance to his team. Happy Valley just so happened to tick all the right boxes.

Woods explained, “I wanted to start a business and we wanted more balance in our life. Out of all the places we visited — we considered Estes Park; Chattanooga; Bend, Oregon — State College wound up being this really cool balance of amazing outdoor recreation. It’s one of the best places in the country to train for long-distance trailing running…and it’s [a place] where you can grow a business without needing a ton of capital. There’s a really supportive community, really great outdoor recreation and [it’s] just a really wonderful place to live.”

So, in 2004, Woods founded West Arete, picking the name due to its connections with the climbing world (the arete is the sharp outside edge of a cliff, Woods said), as well as its meaning in Greek: “virtue” and “quality.”

However, when he first started, Woods admits he didn’t know anything about running a business. The Happy Valley entrepreneurial community and mentorship opportunities were crucial to his success. He joined the CBICC Business Incubator in his first few years and, from there, West Arete grew almost side-by-side with the Happy Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem, as more resources formed and the community grew. West Arete became a Ben Franklin Technology Partners company in 2017 (though Woods mentioned that Todd Erdley, director of Ben Franklin’s central region, was one of his first business mentors after he arrived in State College).

So what exactly does West Arete do?

“This is the software that runs universities,” Woods summed up. “We have one type of software that gathers all the research information for entire research universities and brings it together in one place for business intelligence, artificial intelligence and analysis. Another offering brings together all the student information for an entire university. These are the types of software we write… We tackle the really messy problems in higher education. It’s not just about creating a piece of software and marketing and selling it. We work really closely, hand-in-hand with the university on the messy parts of, how are they going to make it work?”

Software, data, analysis — to the average layperson, it can sound relatively mundane. However, West Arete’s mission is much more personal, and much deeper than just this surface-level understanding of what the company does.

When asked why exactly this is what he wanted to do, and why this was the type of company he wanted to found, when moving to Happy Valley, Woods said, “Life’s short and you want to spend your working days doing something that really matters, with people that you enjoy being around. The underlying purpose and mission behind West Arete is to give people the best working years of their lives… You have to do work that has a positive impact. Some of the things that we produced [have included] the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which has helped to increase the wages of millions of employees around us. It’s the standard now for what constitutes a living wage in the U.S. We also created software that’s helped with advances in nutrition and curing diseases and improving renewable energy. Higher education provides so many different opportunities for positive impact.”

We tackle the really messy problems in higher education.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking West Arete is only about providing those in higher education with the best working years of their lives, with software that makes meaningful, impactful work easier. That ethos heavily plays into West Arete’s internal culture as well.

Just as Woods’ love for outdoor recreation means he strives for a healthy work-life balance for himself, he makes that balance and a positive work experience a priority for his employees as well. For example, every employee at West Arete enjoys a mandatory, three-week, full-pay annual sabbatical in addition to their vacation time, sick leave and company holidays.

Woods’ approach to company culture is highly informed by his experience climbing and ultra-running. “It taught me so much about what really motivates people and how you get the highest level of performance from people,” he said. “You have to challenge people and set goals, and there’s a lot of hard work and discipline… But there [is] a sense of adventure, love, support and kindness to it all, too. Everybody really took care of each other and made sure that they were well supported… When I thought about business [and] how do I assemble the most amazing group of people and give them the support to do the best, most challenging work of their lives and have fun while doing it, so much of that revolved around being able to give people space.”

High-performing professional athletes don’t work all through the year, Woods noted. There’s always an off-season. And when other business owners tell him the sabbaticals are a waste of money, Woods heavily disagrees.

He said, “When people come back, they are brilliant and they're fresh and they're committed. The innovation that we get for it and the retention pays for it several times over.”

Another element that plays into West Arete’s focus on giving employees purpose and “the best working years of their lives”? The company’s commitment to sustainability. West Arete was one of the first members of 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of its sales to grassroots nonprofit environmental organizations each year. It’s also a Certified B Corporation, meaning the company has met rigorous third-party standards in environmental and social sustainability.

“There's so much overlap between creating a sense of purpose and giving people a sense that they're part of something bigger, that their work is more than just the paycheck. These organizations thread together really well [when] creating a high-performance team,” said Woods.

The underlying purpose and mission behind West Arete is to give people the best working years of their lives…

When looking to the future, Woods noted that he’s been deliberately capping West Arete’s growth, so that fast growth doesn’t negatively impact the company’s culture. However, over the next decade, he says West Arete plans “to revolutionize the way that universities collect and understand their own research information.” Woods also recently spun out on a brand-new venture, co-founding a new living wage institute, which works with top Fortune 500 companies to change the way employers think about investing in their people, and create broad change as to what wages look like in America.

In other words, the future is bright for West Arete, as it seems Woods is doing exactly what he set out to do: making a positive change with purpose, and bringing everyone around him along for the ride. Looking back on his Happy Valley experience, he concluded, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Custom Software for Higher Education | West Arete


Share on activity feed

Powered by WP LinkPress

Happy Valley Industry is the voice for innovation, research and industry in the Happy Valley region of Central Pennsylvania.

Powered by Affinity Connection

© Copyright 2024 - All Rights Reserved
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram