Crystal Height began her career as a nurse practitioner. She became a small business owner when she learned her son had autism and found few professionals in Chatham County that could care for him or for others like him.
While working as a nurse practitioner and clinical director at a nonprofit community health center, Height developed professional-level credentials in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to provide a comprehensive level of care to children and adults with autism and other related conditions.
“I realized many families would benefit from the services of a local Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who was invested in the community with a desire to provide a desperately needed service for children and adults with autism,” Height says.
Fully credentialed, she began her own business in Savannah, providing services to local families. She soon realized that the need for the services she provided was even greater than she had realized.
She also wanted to ensure she was setting up her organization in an ethical and legal manner.
Height turned to Lynn Vos, then-director of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center office in Savannah. Vos helped Height set up her business, market it, and addressed questions about human resources, real estate and access to capital.
Vos connected Height with attorneys, accountants, and other business agents that would assist in creating a well-rounded organization.
Height opened Coastal Autism Therapy Center, Inc., in Pooler, Georgia, in June 2009, with a dozen clients and just one employee: herself. The business has grown steadily each year and now employs 17 people and serves about 50 clients.
Coastal Autism Therapy Center now provides services to families in Chatham, Bryan, Effingham, Long, McIntosh and Screven counties in Georgia, as well as Jasper and Buford counties in South Carolina.
In 2015, Height began working with SBDC consultant Becky Brownlee (now the director of the Savannah office) to expand her business plan and projections for the future. They worked together to develop a new business model to adjust for the rapid growth in business.
“The bankers wanted to see the numbers behind the expansion and if the business would have sufficient cash flow with the new debt services,” Brownlee says. She also helped Height search for a building with at least 6,000 square feet of space.
“Becky is instrumental to the center. She helped me realize that I needed a practice manager because I cannot do everything myself,” Height says. “She also helped with setting up interview strategies, discussed what our administration team should function like and how to project our growth over time and identify appropriate needs.”
“I really admire Crystal because she has evolved into such a smart business person,” Brownlee says. “She knows her clients and knows what the business will look like with the expansion. She has been very frugal, so she now has the financial capacity to expand.”
The center’s revenues have also grown consistently, but Height refuses to measure her success that way.
“I measure success by the number of kids we are able to help and the number of employees we are able to help grow into professionals,” she says. “Finances are just a fringe benefit.”
Height’s son, now 18, is working toward his high school diploma and future independence. Height says he continues to model the goals she has set for her business.
“Every child who receives our services receives the service I would provide him,” she says.