WIELD Presents: True Stories - Starting a Design Firm

Join AIA|DC WIELD for an evening of compelling stories from entrepreneurs who have built thriving local design firms. Learn from their successes and challenges as they discuss building their own businesses.

This presentation will feature a lively moderated discussion to follow the presentations combined with audience questions. The conversation will focus on similarities between each story and understand big takeaways for those interested in starting their own business. Presenters will provide resources, guidance and advice to those who have just started their own business or may be interested in taking an entrepreneurial career path in the future. Bring your ideas, thoughts, and questions for this interactive discussion!

Moderated by: Olivia Morgan 
Olivia Morgan has had a passion for fabrication her whole life, leading her to start her own model building business, Model Space, in 2016. Previously she was the lead East Coast model shop manager for ZGF Architects. Initially hired to develop a new shop in the company’s Washington, DC office, she oversaw the purchase of new equipment and redesigned the space to accommodate the production of large scale models and product mock-ups on site. Several competitions and exhibits have brought her work to the attention of the DC architectural community, resulting in invitations to develop outreach/education programs. 

Presented by:

Kathy Dixon, FAIA
Kathy Denise Dixon, FAIA, NOMAC, LEED AP+ CDT, NCARB, has been a contributor and respected leader in the architectural industry for nearly thirty years. She has been involved in every stage of the design and construction process and has experience in educational, commercial, residential and government projects. During her career, Kathy has worked in various organizational structures including corporate, institutional, federal government, nonprofit, and private industry. ​A graduate of Howard University’s School of Architecture, Ms. Dixon continued her secondary education at UCLA, matriculating with a master’s degree in Urban Planning, with a focus on Housing and Community Development.      


Kelley Oklesson, ASLA 
Kelley Oklesson is the founder and principal of Groundsmith Collective, a local design studio based in Hyattsville, Maryland. Her studio provides conscientious landscape design services with a focus on promoting responsible social and environmental change.  Kelley has eleven years of experience in the landscape architecture field, focused on identifying, facilitating, designing, and managing an inspiring assortment of sustainable projects. The design studio lives by the words of thought leader Mickey Fearn: "Innovation, creativity, and systemic solutions grow in the gaps between the disciplines." Kelley's true passion is to discover and reveal opportunities for supporting environmental kinship while building relationships between people through the design experience. 


Ileana Schinder, AIA
Argentina-born Ileana Schinder, AIA is an architect in Washington, DC. She has nurtured her passion for design since first hearing the click of LEGO®  bricks at the age of 4. She graduated with a B.A. in Architecture from Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, an M.A. in Communications from American University. In 2014, she started her own studio in Washington, DC, and in 2019, she was awarded “Best Architecture Firm” in Washington City Paper’s "Best of D.C." competition.


At the completion of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Describe local and national resources available to entrepreneurs building a new business; 
  • Describe resources for starting a design firm; 
  • Understand how to create and support a more diverse network of entrepreneurs; and
  • Describe the future of entrepreneurship and how emerging entrepreneurs can contribute.