Name: Valrie Grant
Business: GeoTechVision and Marlie Technology Park
Tanya: So, question one – what was your path to entrepreneurship?
Valrie: I kind of got there a little bit around about. I was a senior manager in government. I’m a science person. I studied geology at university and then I ended up getting into geographic information systems purely by accident. I ended up leaving the private sector and going into government and it was while I was in government, I was young. I thought it would have made a big difference and a big contribution. And I realized that some of the things that I expected were not quite so. So, I decided that I wanted to venture out on my own.
In 2008, I decided that there was a need for the services we were provided in a customized way, especially in the Caribbean. And so we wanted to be that company that provided our clients with customized geospatial solutions. And so that’s how I ended up starting GeoTechVision in 2008.
Tanya: I love when I ask this question, because every single entrepreneur that I know it’s not a, ‘oh, I woke up one day. I decided to be an entrepreneur and I became one.’ – there’s always a journey. So, what would you say, outside of starting your business, was your boldest business move to date?
Valrie: There have been so many. I’ve had quite the entrepreneurial dance. I have taken on corporate bullies. I’ve taken on the government. Right now, I have a major lawsuit with the government of Jamaica for a $16 million contract, which they terminated without… they just terminated without basis. So, I would say that my boldest move is not sticking to the status quo, but just trying to stretch and trying to not let people set limits for me.
And that often happens when you’re in the tech industry when you’re a woman when you’re Black and you’re in this space. But it comes down to not limiting myself. So sometimes, you do it afraid, but you make those steps.
Tanya: I love how you put that. Even how you said entrepreneurial dance because it really is.
What would you say was the biggest financial turning point for your company? Your kind of like, “Okay, I made it” moment?
Valrie: I think that turning point was in 2014 when we secured our largest contract to date at that point in time. And it was a $1.5 million contract at that point in time. It kind of put us in a place to be able to figure out moving forward.
Tanya: Yeah, absolutely. One big win leads to other big wins, for sure. How would you say the lens of being a woman in your industry has helped you? You’re a Black woman in the tech industry, a very specific area of tech. So often, we talk about the obstacles and the hindrances, but do you think that there have been times where being a woman has helped you in your business, in regard to your industry?
Valrie: Yes, I do believe so. I always believe that being prepared for opportunities is the most critical thing, but not just being prepared for the opportunities. I have had a lot of my, especially male counterparts because my business is very male dominated. And in some ways, after they’ve seen what you are worth, and you have worked 150% to get your foot into the door and they understand the value of what you bring, I find that in some ways, they start looking out for you.
Tanya: That leads perfectly into my next question of what do you see as the future for women in your industry? I know that the numbers are always low. It’s like 2% Black people in tech or whatever it is, but do you see that changing just in terms of like more girls being interested in it from a younger age, or reaching out to you to be their mentor?
Valrie: I believe that we have to help to create that future. And so that’s what I’m really doing. I just graduated with an MBA on May 1st, and a couple of friends asked “Where should we send flowers? Where should we send a gift?” I told them I want you to contribute to my girls in STEM scholarship fund. I believe that as persons in the industry, we have an obligation to pay it forward. And so I’m trying to do my part to do that.
Tanya: I love that you turned your triumph, congratulations, by the way, into an opportunity for people. Don’t send me flowers. Send these girls to school. That’s beautiful. What has been one of your business’s greatest triumphs? What are you most proud of that you’ve accomplished with your business?
Valrie: That’s an interesting question. I’ll give you two answers.
During COVID, with everything that has been happening and the fact that kids were forced into online learning literally overnight, we started to realize that people in underserved communities just did not have the devices. So instead of going to online learning, they simply stopped learning. I used a grant from We Empower and we donated tablets to close to 500 people from low income and from underserved communities.
During this period, we have also come out with our laptop line. So even though there was a challenging period in the world, we were able to do some good and we were able to come out with new products as well. I believe that’s the one that is very near and dear to me.
Tanya: Wow. Wow. Wow. What I find interesting, we have only been talking for 15 minutes, all of your biggest wins are still rooted in the service of others. Every single moment, other than maybe like the financial turning point, all of everything that I’m asking you about your business in terms of your greatest triumphs and et cetera, is really still about how you can help the community, the people around you.
Tanya: How can clients and companies support Black women at this time?
Valrie: I don’t think that we’re looking for anything special. I think we are looking for fair. We just want a fair opportunity to prove ourselves, to deliver our services, and give our products a chance, evaluate them. So, make a deliberate effort to see what’s out there.
Tanya: My last question, how do you find a balance between your personal and professional life?
Valrie: That’s always hard. But I have girlfriends who remind me about self-care. Especially in COVID, I believe that it has become extremely hard because the lines have become so blurred. You don’t know when the professional stops because we are all doing from home and all of those things. I don’t strive for work-life balance anymore. I think I strive for integration. I strive to make sure that there are moments that are for me.
Tanya: It was amazing to chat with you. I loved hearing what you’re doing for young Black girls back home. And thank you for letting me be a part of your hair moment because I know that that’s very precious to us as Black women, our time in the salon is supposed to be our time away. So, I appreciate you letting me scope creep into your personal life, it was really, truly a pleasure to chat with you.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur and Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree, Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 20,000 and a non-profit providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO.