Serial entrepreneur, Valaurie Lee is the CEO and President of Building Bridges Holding Company, the organization that houses several ventures Valaurie owns. Her longest-running business, VB Consulting (VBC), is an IT software services firm Valaurie established in 2002. VBC specializes in software implementations and IT support services for colleges and universities. VBC has served several institutions across the United States and expanded into Canada in 2010. VBC has led several projects at leading colleges like Harvard, Stanford, Emory, Cal State, Arizona State University, and a host of others throughout the nation.
In 2019, Valaurie invested in Atlanta’s southside by purchasing several commercial properties to house her consumer-facing ventures. PopShopolis was the first of two retail spaces to open in 2020, allowing area entrepreneurs to try brick and mortar without substantial costs or long-term commitment. The Wellness Spot, her forthcoming fitness and day spa, is currently being renovated with an opening slated for early 2021.
Before establishing her own company, Valaurie worked for several Fortune 500 Companies including Waste Management, IBM, and Oracle (PeopleSoft). She credits much of her initial success to the experiences she gained at these organizations and the relationships she established during that period. Valaurie went on to venture into academia by splitting her time between leading VBC and serving as an adjunct professor at Clayton State University where she taught Management and Entrepreneurship.
Valaurie graduated from the University of Georgia where she received a BA in Journalism and Public Relations. She went on to pursue her Master’s Degree in Management Technology from Southern Polytechnic University, now Kennesaw State University. Valaurie is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at Georgia State University while leading BBHC and BVB Foundation, her 501c3, dedicated to supporting female entrepreneurs of color.
Valaurie has received many awards and is recognized for her philanthropic work. Valaurie has donated more than $200K to several organizations including the Twenty Pearls Foundation, Sisters By Choice (cancer research), Debutantes for Christ, and Women After God’s Own Heart Ministries. Valaurie is very involved with her alma mater- Woodward Academy, where teenage daughters attend school. She is a charter member of the Black Alumni Association and recipient of the Woodward Academy Distinguished Alumni Award for her outstanding accomplishments and contributions to the school.
In addition to being an active member of (AKA) Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Valaurie is also a certified member of the Women’s Business Enterprise (MWBE), and the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council (GMSDC). As an ordained elder at New Life Presbyterian Church, she is responsible for Spiritual Formation, Youth Church and Personnel. In her spare time, she enjoys shopping, reading, and spending time with family.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- Lack of funding for female entreprenuers and entrereneurs of color
- Managing work and home life
- The importance of ownership
- Pivoting your business
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business, and this is going to be a good one. Today, we have with us Valaurie Lee with VB Consulting. Welcome.
Valaurie Lee: [00:00:28] Thank you, Lee. Great being here. Very exciting.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] Yeah. I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about VB Consulting. How are you serving folks?
Valaurie Lee: [00:00:37] Well, happy to do that. We are an organization, a consulting firm, and we have been in business for almost 20 years, Lee. We service primarily higher education institutions and we work in the area of ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning. But we’ve also expanded our suite of offerings to include business process reengineering. And we’ve been working with municipalities lately, we’ve been working with the City of St. Paul. But our bread and butter, typically, is primarily with colleges and universities across the country.
Valaurie Lee: [00:01:18] Some of the colleges that we’ve serviced to provide training, business process reengineering, or implementations were Oracle, Workday, PeopleSoft, include Emory – that’s our client here in Georgia and we’ve start with them for about three or four years. But we’ve also worked with Harvard. We worked with Stanford. We’ve worked with one of some of the largest universities in the country, Arizona State University, University of Central Florida. We’ve worked with Los Rios Community College on the West Coast. We’ve worked with Maricopa Community College. Currently working with the University of Houston, UC Berkeley, Palomar, just a host of schools that we have worked with, Florida A&M.
Valaurie Lee: [00:02:04] So, we are really excited to share what we do because, I think, we’re kind of unknown here in Atlanta because most of our clients are not here in Georgia. So, this is a great opportunity for us to kind of share what we do.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:21] So, now, what’s your back story? How did you get into this kind of niche?
Valaurie Lee: [00:02:25] Wow. That’s a long story, but I will keep it short. I graduated from the University of Georgia with a Degree in Public Relations at the School of Journalism. Then, I went to Southern Tech, which is now Kennesaw State University, and I got my Master’s in Management Technology, you know, that’s very similar to an MBA. And during the course, we’re finishing up the MBA, they came and they were recruiting at the school, and IBM recruited me.
Valaurie Lee: [00:02:55] So, I headed off, this Georgia Peach went to Los Angeles, which I’ve always loved California. I always wanted to live there. I lived there for about three years. I worked for PeopleSoft. I worked for IBM. In the IBM practice, I worked in management consulting. And then, moved into PeopleSoft. I left IBM to go work for PeopleSoft. And I helped IBM and PeopleSoft develop a rapid methodology for implementing, what at that time was called, the Student Administration System. And, now, it’s called Campus Solutions.
Valaurie Lee: [00:03:31] And so, with that suite – again, it’s an enterprise resource planning software – and we work with financial aid. We work with student financials. We work with enrollment. We work with graduation. We work with admissions. So, all of those areas that schools may need support with, particularly during the pandemic, we helped a lot of schools. We provided chat box to schools. We expanded our suite of offerings to include that.
Valaurie Lee: [00:04:02] And so, it’s just been a wonderful journey because I started out learning PeopleSoft. I had a girlfriend, who was with me at the University of Georgia, we would always do everything together, and she worked for PeopleSoft at that time. And she said, “Valaurie, you really should get involved with PeopleSoft. It’s a great company.” And, you know, the rest is history. I got into practice at IBM and with PeopleSoft. It has just been an extraordinary journey.
Valaurie Lee: [00:04:30] And I initially wanted to work in the area of H.R., but because I wanted to get into the PeopleSoft practice with IBM based on her recommendation, I was only able to get in on the student side. And at the time, like I said, it was a very new product, but it has been a wonderful adventure. It started out with just me consulting, and now we have over 20, 30 consultants that work with us. And it has just been extraordinary. It really has been.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:02] Can you share a little bit about the journey from kind of the mindset shift you had to have as an employee to now running your own show. I mean, because that’s a difficult, courageous move to make. I mean, you had something that was probably pretty stable and solid, but you wanted to do your own thing and you wanted to kind of aim higher and kind of carve your own path. That’s difficult. It takes courage. It takes belief.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:31] Can you talk a little bit about kind of your thinking at the time? Because I think the listener can really benefit from understanding because a lot of folks are in that same situation. Especially going through the pandemic where there’s a lot of change, maybe this organization they’re with currently is not going to be their long term future. And at some point, they would like to, but they are hesitant, you know, either for lack of funding, or lack of resources, or lack of even seeing someone who’d been there and done that.
Valaurie Lee: [00:05:59] Right. Right. Well, I will tell you, even as a small kid, maybe five or six, my favorite thing to do was play store in my bedroom. I played store, so I had an entrepreneurial spirit and I always knew that I wanted to have my own business. Now, I thought it would be a boutique, selling clothes because I love to do that. And I will talk a little bit about how I’m able to do that now. But when I worked for IBM and PeopleSoft, both companies, my job was a consultant. And as a consultant, you are heavily pushed and encouraged to bill hours. Now, when you’re a consultant working for these companies, if you are not on a project, you are very vulnerable. And so, because of that vulnerability, I started cold calling schools to see if they needed any support.
Valaurie Lee: [00:07:07] Let me rewind a little bit, too, and give you a little bit of history. Prior to IBM and PeopleSoft, I worked for waste management, and I worked for a recycling company before that. And both of those jobs were sales job, which I absolutely love. I think it’s just a natural ability or I enjoy, let me say that – I enjoy selling. I enjoy meeting people. I enjoy learning about people. And so, I used those skills that I learned at Recycle Fibers – which was my very first job – and waste management because I was a professional garbage lady.
Valaurie Lee: [00:07:51] I would drive around. I had a territory of commercial businesses and I would say, “There’s trash overflowing,” because there’s trash is overflowing in the back, I mean, this is what I did. I drove around and if it was overflowing, I would say, “Here’s an opportunity.” Here’s an opportunity, because maybe their trash was missed or maybe they don’t have enough days for trash pickup. So, I would go in and talk to the shipping director or whomever it was. And I also worked a lot of hospitals and see if there was a need to change their service.
Valaurie Lee: [00:08:27] So, I used the skills that I learned as a young, you know, 21, 22, and I used those skills at IBM and PeopleSoft. And when I was not on a project, like I said, I would cold call. So, I started seeing that I was bringing in a lot of business because I was cold calling. And that wasn’t really even my job. And because of that, I started saying, “If I can do this, if I can cold call, land opportunities for IBM and PeopleSoft, why am I not able to do that myself?”
Valaurie Lee: [00:09:03] And so, I was at a conference with a client that I still have to this day, the University of Louisville. We presented at a higher education users conference. And after our presentation, we got so much encouraging support from the folks that attended the seminar and they wanted us to come and help them, “Come help us at our school.” I mean, there were several people that came up to us. And at that conference, I made my mind up because I’ve been thinking about it already. I put in my resignation at that conference because that was confirmation for me. That was the last straw that I could do this on my own, so I put in my resignation.
Valaurie Lee: [00:09:48] And I had a six-week project with a school in Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr. And my mom in particular said, “Are you really going to leave your comfortable job where you’ve got a 401k, and you’ve got all these benefits, and you’ve got stability, for a six-week job?” And I said yes. Part of the reason was, I wanted to do that job, but I was also in the process of working with this woman who had a boutique. Again, remember I told you that I wanted a boutique. So, I worked with her on the weekends and she would train me about it, because I was prepared to buy her business at the same time. But I discovered that her business, the books were not the way that they should have been. And so, I shifted back into I.T.
Valaurie Lee: [00:10:36] And so, that six-week project turned into multiple projects. I just started getting higher ed, the very small industry. And I was getting projects word of mouth, and I landed a two-year gig. And so – 20 years later almost, in February of next year – it will be 20 years that I have had VB Consulting. And I really just counted all the blessing. And I try to give a lot of the things that I learned with just jumping out into the deep. And, you know, entrepreneurship, basically – someone said to me and I love this – is navigating ambiguity.
Valaurie Lee: [00:11:15] Yes. During the 20 years that I have been in business, I’ve had some have highs, I’ve had some lows, I’ve had two children. And as a consultant, you know they basically buy you. They want you to come in and do the work. But I was able to convince several of my clients, University of Central Florida, Louisville, I’ve got some folks that could do this, but I’m available to you so I wanted to scale my business. And I’ve been able to do that because, now, I don’t work on the projects. I bring in consultants that work on the projects. And it’s been phenomenal. It really has been phenomenal.
Valaurie Lee: [00:11:51] So, I would encourage anyone who is considering entrepreneurship – because I believe there’s an entrepreneur in everyone – I mean, it does take courage. It does take tenacity. A lot of folks, when you want to be an entrepreneur, sometimes it takes waking up at 4:00 in the morning. Sometimes it takes getting two hours of sleep. But that’s the work that you put in. That’s the sweat equity that you have to put in.
Valaurie Lee: [00:12:18] I’m a serial entrepreneur. We just opened up a Wellness Spot here in downtown College Park that’s got fitness, it’s got spa, manicures, pedicures, facials, and we also have events in the space. So, I love entrepreneurship. I think it’s amazing. I think it’s fantastic being your own boss. And I love the ability as an entrepreneur to help other entrepreneurs to provide jobs in the community, to help other families. It’s more than fulfilling for me.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:53] Right. When your job has the kind of impact that yours does now, the more resources you have at your disposal allows you to share those resources with others and help other people get to that next level. And it sounds like that early on, you didn’t look at your work even when you were working for someone else as kind of a job. You always looked at it as they were your client. Even when you were at PeopleSoft and IBM, you were looking at it through the lens of an entrepreneur that, “Hey, this is my client. If I don’t have more clients, then they might fire me. So, I better help them get more clients to keep me here at this.” So, that entrepreneurial mindset has stuck with you probably since the beginning.
Valaurie Lee: [00:13:33] It has. It really has. And people say, “Well, look at your career.” A lot of what I do is a calling, because when you meet people – networking is so important. I have connected with folks that I knew back from my waste management days, back from my Recycle Fiber days. I tell people, “Anyone that you meet, there should be some kind of connection and don’t ever lose it.” And you’ve heard this saying before, your network determines your net worth. Because even though you might not have something in common today, you don’t know, a couple of years from now, there may be something how you can mutually benefit each other. And so, I really look at connections in a very special way, and I value those connections.
Valaurie Lee: [00:14:29] Business and entrepreneurship is all about relationships. People do business with who they like. And so, it’s very important to nurture the relationships that you have with folks. I really think that is critical to the longevity of, if you want to be a serial entrepreneur, if you just want to be an entrepreneur, you got to nurture relationships.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:53] Can we talk a little bit about, now, as your career has evolved and your impact has kind of widened, now, how it’s important for you to help other especially female and entrepreneurs of color kind of get their foot in the door and get to the next level? Like, how did you orchestrate your life to enable others to benefit from your learnings?
Valaurie Lee: [00:15:18] I love that question. So, with VB Consulting, I thought one day I said – you know, I am very active in my church as well. I’m an elder in my church and I really support that effort. But I thought, in addition to that, how can I help support female minority aspiring entrepreneurs? And we set up a 501(c)(3), that is BVB Foundation. And I think I mentioned earlier that I have two teenage daughters, one is Baileigh and one is Blaire, and that’s how we came up with BVB Foundation.
Valaurie Lee: [00:15:59] And I love this organization because what we do is we provide grants and scholarships to aspiring entrepreneurs that may need help. Particularly, we wanted to focus on these ladies during the pandemic, because a lot of them were not able to take advantage of the PPP Loan. A lot of them just needed some support. And so, that’s what we’ve done. We have provided over $20,000, $30,000 in scholarships to aspiring female African-American entrepreneurs. And so, they can just go on to bvbfoundation.org and apply.
Valaurie Lee: [00:16:41] But, in addition to providing the funding, we also mentor, we also have a location that is right next to VB Consulting headquarters in downtown College Park. And this location is called PopShopolis, it’s a pop-up shop. And what we do is, in addition to the scholarship, we provide a location, we provide an avenue for aspiring entrepreneurs to use the space. Because a lot of times, folks can’t afford a year lease, a six-month lease, a three month lease. They can use it for a day or a weekend to showcase soaps, candles, artwork, fashion. And we’ve had several other entrepreneurs use it for pop-up candy shop, pop-up weddings. Just whatever you want the location to be, you have access to it. So, it’s an entrepreneurial incubator, if you will, and we are very proud of that.
Valaurie Lee: [00:17:44] We’ve got another entrepreneur who’s our BVB ambassador that’s using the space now. We have another entrepreneur who sells t-shirts and she’s using the space. So, if someone wanted to do a Facebook Live or an Instagram Live, they can use the space as well. But we are just really proud of having that space for entrepreneurs. And it’s upstairs and downstairs. Upstairs, basically, it’s a storefront and entrepreneurs use that. Downstairs is also an area that could be used, but that’s a space that a lot of people use just to think and be very creative. All of the spaces that we have are very eclectic and we hope that they foster creativity.
Valaurie Lee: [00:18:27] So, we are really excited about BVB Foundation as well as the pop up shop that is right next to our headquarters. And something else that we took the time to set up is, we have a podcast or, really, it’s a studio in our headquarters location, and a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs who want to have a podcast, they can rent out the space as well. So, we’re just really excited about giving back to entrepreneurs, mentoring, and assisting in any way that we possibly can.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:04] It has to be such rewarding work to see your kind of career blossom like this. You probably didn’t know how the story was going to end, but the journey has been amazing.
Valaurie Lee: [00:19:16] Yes. Yes. You’re absolutely right, Lee. And I’m so grateful because one of the things that we also teach the entrepreneurs that we have an opportunity to mentor is to own the space that you occupy. Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing. But when you’re able to own the space that you occupy, that really takes you to another level. One of the things that we did starting in 2019, I looked and I said – we’ve rented out space for a lot of our consultants when we have meetings. A lot of what we’re doing, we have to rent out space – “We should have our own space.”
Valaurie Lee: [00:20:01] And so, when the opportunity presented itself in historic College Park, right across the street from Woodward, next door to Break Pad, there was office space. And so, we bought the space, that’s now PopShopolis. Then, we bought additional office space. And then, next to that, we have what we are really excited about, particularly this week because we had our ribbon cutting and grand opening last week, is the Wellness Spot.
Valaurie Lee: [00:20:32] Now, my area of expertise, as I mentioned, my journey involves public relations. It involved I.T. It involved mentoring. But this Wellness Spot has become my other baby, and I’m very excited. It is a 4,000 square foot facility that has fitness at the top. At the bottom, again, facials, manicures, pedicures. And the back has got garden space. It’s got a patio for special events. Because we wanted to bring something particularly to this community on the south side. There are many luxurious places on the north side of Atlanta and Georgia that folks can go to, but we wanted something here on the south side. And we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from folks that are saying, “Wow,. This is what we needed on the south side, relaxation, wellness, fitness.” And so, the Wellness Spot ATL on Instagram and the wellnessspotatl.com is our website. And, of course, we are on Facebook. But it has just been phenomenal.
Valaurie Lee: [00:21:45] Now, I’m a certified Zumba instructor, but I just really wanted to make sure that this community had something where they could get all of those things wrapped up into one. And, again, because it is in historic College Park, we spent over a year renovating the space to make it exactly what we wanted, something different, something eclectic. And so, I really hope that the audience will have a chance to look at the transformation, because it is posted on our website of what the space was at one time and now its current state, because we’re really proud of the environment that we had created there. We like to think of it as kind of a sanctuary here in historic College Park. So, very excited about that.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:31] Now, you mentioned earlier the importance of relationships. Can you talk about why it was important for you to get involved with the GWBC?
Valaurie Lee: [00:22:39] It’s very important because one of the things as a minority woman-owned company, you want to connect with those that are like you. And the other reason is because we respond to a lot of RFPs, particularly on the government side, of course, you know, when we work with colleges and universities. And so, this organization is a phenomenal group of women that we can share and exchange ideas about how is your business operating in the pandemic, how did you pivot, who did you meet. And so, those relationships within the organization are critical. And you can get customers, you become a customer. It’s just a wonderful place to network and share. It is a great organization, and I’m so happy that we are part of the organization.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:35] Well, if somebody wanted to learn more about your firm, is there a website that they can go to, to connect with you or somebody on your team?
Valaurie Lee: [00:23:45] Absolutely. Like I said, we have so many organizations. And I didn’t mention, too, that we have our umbrella organization, it’s Building Bridges Holding Company. So, Building Bridges Holding Company, you see from the name Building Bridges, that that automatically talks about networking. My maiden name was Bridges, so I wanted to make sure that we preserve that. But, again, under that umbrella, we have the wellnessspotatl.com. You can always connect with us there. We have popshopolisatl.com, that’s the website. And we’re also on Instagram and Facebook. bvb_foundation.org, that’s our 501(c)(3) arm where we help aspiring entrepreneurs. And vb-consultinginc.com, that is our I.T. arm.
Valaurie Lee: [00:24:42] And we’re just so excited about everything that we’re doing now. And you’re right, Lee, I did not expect this to be a part of the journey. But I feel so blessed and privileged just to offer whatever I can to any aspiring entrepreneur. And just to continue to see the businesses grow. I would love to have a Wellness Spot in California. I mentioned that was part of my journey, I used to live in California. And so, I’m excited about the possibility of having a space there as well.
Valaurie Lee: [00:25:17] So, you know, when you’re a serial entrepreneur, you always want to think of how to get better, how to do more, how to serve more, because that’s really the way that I like to think of myself. I’m a servant. I’m a servant to my clients. I’m a servant to the folks that I mentor. I like to serve and I like to give back, because, like you said, it is extraordinarily rewarding. And I’m thankful to be able to do that at this point in my life.
Valaurie Lee: [00:25:48] And, Lee, I didn’t even mention to you as well that, because I love entrepreneurship so much – a lot of things happened during the pandemic – I made the decision to go back to school to get my doctorate degree at Georgia State. And it’s a business degree, but the focus on entrepreneurship and, specifically, African-American entrepreneurs and how important it is for wellness and how we can prevent burnout.
Valaurie Lee: [00:26:21] Because a lot of people hearing me and they say, “Valaurie, we don’t know how you’re doing all that you are doing.” But part of that is because I have a fitness routine, because I try to take care of myself. It’s because of the Wellness Spot, that really helped me find balance. And as a serial entrepreneur, it is critical to make sure you find that balance and you find that center. Because if you’re not, well, you can’t help others. So, that’s something important that I wanted to mention as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:54] Well, congratulations on all the success. Thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work, And the ripples throughout the community that you are kind of the catalyst for are real, and we appreciate you.
Valaurie Lee: [00:27:09] Thank you so much. I just appreciate the opportunity to share.
Lee Kantor: [00:27:14] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.