To celebrate Black History Month, the Loudoun Chamber’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility Committee is spotlighting several members of the Chamber. Today’s Spotlight is on Susan Mitchell, President & CEO of Guardians of Honor LLC (GOH) and owner of Athari BioSciences Inc., who is also the Chair of the Chamber’s GovCon Committee, and a member of the DEIA committee.
Where were you born and raised and, if it was someplace else, when and why did you come to Loudoun?
As an Air Force dependent, I was born in Edward’s Air Force Base, California. I lived in Arlington, Virginia while my dad was stationed at the Pentagon. Our family moved to Misawa, Japan for a few years then returned to the states and settled in Hampton, Virginia for his Langley AFB tour. I graduated from Norfolk State University and Hampton University, both HBCUs in the Tidewater region then got married to my husband of 34 years; my better half and GOH business partner before moving to the DMV. I lived on Bolling AFB in DC for a stint when I accepted my first position with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of General Counsel straight out of college. We moved to Maryland and enjoyed traveling and working before starting a family. After having my second daughter, we longed for a scenery change with excellent schools (just in time for my oldest daughter to enter first grade) and chose Loudoun over 20 years ago for the next chapter of our family story.
How long have you been in the industry?
I have been in the GovCon space for decades. I entered the life sciences industry in August of 2021.
How did you get into this line of work?
Prior to GOH, I worked in the Office of General Counsel for various large private and public organizations including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Elections Commission, the United States Postal Service, Unisys Corporation, and the aerospace engineering firm Rolls-Royce North America. Learn more about how GOH protects people, programs, and performance here: https://gohnow.com
My heart beats for philanthropic and community service activities, which tend to spill over into the types of entrepreneurial endeavors I pursue. I am always looking for ways to improve access to and success in education, healthcare, workforce, and economic development. My hope is to combine both worlds – from the lab bench to the boardroom. I strive to ensure that people from all walks are represented and that DEIA is not just aspirational, but attainable in real-time – in business and bio today and beyond. My latest venture and passion project, biotech startup Athari Bio’s mission is to strengthen communities, develop future leaders, and build generational health, wealth, and well-being through life sciences.
Athari Bio is a genetic services and diagnostic information provider that was built to address underrepresentation in genomic and innovative research, disproportionate health risks rooted in persistent inequities in healthcare, and limited access to educational and career opportunities in high-growth STEMM fields.
Have you had any special mentors or inspirations that guided your career?
Way back when the Guardians of Honor (GOH) government consulting practice began (2004), a downtown Leesburg boutique owner and GovCon guru took me under her wing and prepped me for my first 8(a) prime contract to provide program management and logistical support for the National Science Foundation. This brilliant Black woman was instrumental in preparing me for next steps and teaching me that success has many facets. Her support and guidance kept me grounded. I think of her often and wish I could share my continued adoration and current journey with her.
Fast forward to present day, I have a team of special mentors, advocates and allies who illuminate my life sciences startup path. Loudoun County Economic Development has been instrumental in lending both a hand and much needed non-dilutive funding to purchase equipment and begin equitable employer efforts. A George Mason University and Loudoun Small Business Development Center collaboration provides me with a dedicated mentor who has decades of biotech, product development, and operations expertise to keep me on the right path for scaling Athari’s solutions. The beauty of her mentoring is the inclusion of self-care concepts that help me deliver a better me. Having a direct line into the Statewide PTAC Director has been a Godsend, helping me quickly navigate the nuances of required registrations that will prepare the lab for federal, state, and local contracts. I am grateful for all the words of encouragement, how can I help calls, and moral support received – keep it coming!
What is the best part of your job and why?
The best part of both my GOH and Athari Bio career is getting to work every day with a multi-disciplinary, multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-ability team with 100+ years of combined expertise in Research & Evaluation, Research & Development, and Technical Assistance with a direct link to historically underserved communities and stakeholders. It also brings me joy to see a young girls’ eyes light up when entering the Athari lab. My heart skips a beat when she dons a lab coat and goggles, then excitedly watches our scientists demonstrate pipetting techniques. It is music to my ears when the young lady expresses an interest in being part of our future Queens of STEM program. I am grateful for the many blessings that allow us to support all communities and the relationships and collaboration with allies and advocates that make delivering that support possible.
What is it like doing business in Loudoun?
By serving in several community service-oriented leadership capacities that support organizations such as the Loudoun Chamber, the Loudoun Economic Development Advisory Commission, BCT – The Community’s Bank, the Executive Advisory Committee for Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun Campus and Reston Center and Virginia Career Works Northern Region, I have the distinct pleasure of cultivating relationships that make doing business in Loudoun easier.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Black History Month means many things to me. It is so important for so many reasons. The time comprises celebration, representation, and integration. By sharing celebrations of talents, history, and recognition for those who have gone before us with society in its entirety, we allow individuals and groups to feel seen, heard, and begin the healing process. Black History Month is a time to reflect for us all to acknowledge and experience the rich heritage of African American cultures, an opportunity to promote understanding and variety, and a chance to ultimately tear down the walls of fear and replace them with knowledge and love. Black History Month is a time to reflect upon and promote the achievements of the Black community while at the same time addressing the continued work that needs to be done. To me, Black History Month is a celebration for every day, not just the month since we live it 24 x 7 x 365.
Favorite things to do when you are not working?
When I am not working you can find me attending charity events that support a great cause, gaining new perspectives from the pages of a best-selling novel, intently watching Hollywood classics on TMC, or planning the next family and friends beach get away.