Building a Career at the Intersection of Engineering and Entrepreneurship

When it comes to leadership, Bill Higginbotham, CE 76, has learned many valuable lessons from the 13 businesses he’s founded over the course of his long and successful career.

Actually, that number only includes his “real” businesses—in geotechnical consulting, energy and environmental management, construction, venture capital and more. But Higginbotham is a natural entrepreneur who has started businesses over the course of his life doing everything from cleaning pools to landscaping to buying and selling vintage sports cars.

“I have a low boredom threshold,” Higginbotham said. “I never wanted to be the guy who just did one thing.”

He believes strongly that all business opportunities are learning opportunities, and great things happen at the intersection of engineering and entrepreneurship.

On Feb. 6, Higginbotham shared the wisdom he’s acquired over the course of his varied career as the featured speaker for the Kenneth Hyatt Distinguished Alumni Leadership Speaker Series.

A native Atlantan and life-long Yellow Jackets fan, Higginbotham grew up attending Yellow Jackets football games and eating at the Varsity with his father, who encouraged him to go to Georgia Tech and become an engineer. Higginbotham followed his father’s advice and enrolled at Tech, where he studied civil engineering and started a thermal solar system design and construction corporation a year before he graduated. After earning his civil engineering degree in 1976, Higginbotham focused on building his career but wasn’t very active as an alumnus.

“I gave to the Alexander-Tharpe Fund and Roll Call, but that’s it,” Higginbotham said.

However, that all changed about a decade ago when he decided the time had come to get involved at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“My time is more precious than my money, and I needed to be in a position to give both,” Higginbotham said. “The more you’re here, the more you realize there’s a role for alumni to give back. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Higginbotham has become an active alumnus who’s contributed significantly to the School. For the past six years, he’s served as a member and chairman of the External Advisory Board, which provides guidance to the chair of the School. He’s donated money to support the Mason Building and other CEE facilities, created the Higginbotham Beyond the Classroom Experience Fund to give students opportunities to apply their knowledge in real-world situations, and recently endowed the Higginbotham Family Professorship.

His latest involvement at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering is as an instructor. In January 2020, Higginbotham began co-teaching a course called Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Civil Engineering Systems with Professor John Taylor and Academic Professional Robert Simon.

His new role as a teacher was born from his belief that all CEE students should graduate with basic business knowledge to make them more well-rounded candidates when they enter the job market. He hopes to inspire more entrepreneurial opportunities within the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering to complement the excellent engineering curriculum that’s already in place.

“Engineering and entrepreneurship are like children—you don’t love one over the other, you love them both,” Higginbotham said.