Hoya Highlight: Deanna Blackwell (C’14)

Owner & Founder, Gloria Becca

Career Reflections

What is the origin of your company’s name?
Gloria Becca is named for women from both sides of my family. My maternal great-grandmother Rebecca was a seamstress who gave me my first taste of fashion: I spent time with her in her basement while she sewed and would allow me to use fabric pieces to make clothes for my dolls. My maternal grandmother was also named Rebecca. She was also from the south and maintained that looking good was a symbol of confidence and pride. Lastly, my paternal grandmother is named Gloria. I’d play dress up in her closet with my sisters as a child and loved exploring her makeup and perfume collection. These women all dressed in elegant ways that we don’t see anymore. Part of their daily routine was making sure they looked their absolute best before they stepped outside into the world. That pride in appearance and elegance has been a huge inspiration to me, and I feel I’m paying homage to my family through my company.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
My older sister works in HR and has her MBA. I remember her saying “it’s not who you know, but who knows you.” This struck me as being profound because it’s true – it’s all about who is thinking of your business and your brand and what you’re producing. When people are talking about wedding dress companies, I want them to be talking about Gloria Becca!

What career advice do you have to share with others?
This comes from my grandfather, who was also an entrepreneur: “As long as you know there will be a point when you’re not always going to get it right, and as long as you know there will be moments of failure, you’ll be fine. You won’t have unrealistic expectations of always getting it right.”

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?
Being in the custom clothing world and in bridal specifically, I’ve gotten to create gowns for weddings and incredibly special moments in peoples’ lives. I feel a strong sense of reward when someone really loves their gown.

We service most of our brides remotely through technology, and it’s a pretty techy process! We create 3D avatars of shapes and sizes of brides’ bodies, and we mail their dresses to them. I don’t always get to see the faces of my brides when they first put on their dresses, but when I do, it’s really awesome!

What’s the hardest thing you’ve done professionally?
Deciding to become an entrepreneur and start a business! Fashion is not an easy field to get into – it’s really hard and it takes a lot of energy, patience, trial, and error. It’s a test of will and strength. The initial startup phase is incredibly hard and the overall entrepreneur lifespan is really short. Knowing that businesses often crash within the first couple of years is scary, and the competition is fierce.

One thing I learned quickly is that you have to show your face and personality more instead of hiding behind your computer. Clients don’t want to connect with a computer; they want to connect with you. So, I make a point to get out and socialize in the community and network often. Authenticity shines through, and you can’t be afraid to introduce yourself to strangers!

Your Time on the Hilltop

Who was your favorite Georgetown professor?
My favorite professor—Gwendolyn Mikell—changed my life. She is truly a gem on the Hilltop! She’s the first African American to receive tenure on Georgetown’s main campus and the work she’s done over time is incredible! She encouraged me to major in Anthropology, and instilled a strong sense of self-confidence in me. She made it ok for me to explore, to study the African diaspora, and to think about the use of Anthropology in the arts and in fashion. She helped me look at fashion in a totally new way: it’s not just fabric, thread, and style…fashion is the reflection of culture.

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?
During the warmer months of the year, my friends and I loved to bring out blankets and laptops onto Copley Lawn to enjoy the weather (even though wifi didn’t reach that far!). These outdoor “study sessions” usually devolved into just hanging out and socializing with friends, playing music, and having a great time.

How has Georgetown shaped you?
Georgetown instilled a strong sense of confidence and “you can do it” attitude in me. Coming from Georgetown you feel like you can do anything! You can have a crazy idea, and people from Georgetown will support you. Through Jesuit values, contemplation in action, and focusing on social aspects of life, my education encouraged me to think about how I can contribute to the greater good and make a difference in society. Georgetown really makes you feel like you can do anything as long as you are grounded in values and have the drive to keep going.

Something really important to me when I started my company was how we were going to give back and how we were going to make a change in the world. In the fashion industry, there’s gross abuse of resources, abuse of labor, and lots of waste. All of our dresses are made in the USA and our labor force is local people who are here in Philadelphia. We strive to meet standards of sustainability and responsible resource management.

A Day in the Life

What is on your desk right now?
I work from home preparing the designs and patterns before sending them to our amazing dressmakers. Usually you’ll find me working at my dining table. There I have my laptop, my sewing machine, sewing supplies, sketchbooks, and a cup of tea. My workspace is not conventional: I’m surrounded by supplies, big rolls of muslin and silk fabrics, and a Swarovski crystal chart that I have handy to reference at all times. Even when I’m not sketching or working on a dress design, I sit at my table. It feels good to always be in a space of creativity!

Sewing machine with pin cushion and scissors . dress sketch with pencil and pen

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?
My husband Jordan (also a Hoya) says “make sure you’re doing a life-giving activity every day.” I love fashion, and being in this world was a life-giving activity before it became my job. Now that it’s my job, it’s turned into something different, so I need to find other things that are life-giving so that I continue to love my work. I love to run, walk, garden, and cook, and it’s important to do something that I love that’s not fashion-related. If you do too much work-related stuff, you’ll burn out and get tired.

I also try to stick to a schedule so that I can spend time with my husband and my friends, watch TV, relax, etc. There’s this perception that entrepreneurs have to be working 24/7, and I try not to do that by giving my day designated start and end times as much as possible.

Who or what is a source of inspiration in your life?
God first and foremost. Work is tough, but when you feel passionate about something and you put in the effort, and you see things eventually lining up, it’s proof that God is working on your behalf.

Who is your favorite author?
Toni Morrison.

Words to live by?
“Work is a form of worshipping God.” Remember that, and you’ll always put out your very best.

Hoya Highlight: Deanna Singh (L’04)

Chief Change Agent, Flying Elephant

Career Reflections

What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
Chart your own course, and always do what you think will have the most impact.

What is the hardest thing you’ve had to do professionally?
Pivot to something different when I knew I wasn’t in alignment with my purpose. Lots of people advised me to, “Go for the title! Go for the money! Suck it up!” I tried, but I was never good at it. For me, being in strong alignment with my purpose gives me confirmation that I’m doing the right thing mentally, spiritually, and intellectually. Especially when I was young, it was tough to move away from a comfortable job to pursue work that was in alignment with my purpose. But now, I can’t imagine working any other way. Once you’ve acted in your purpose and know how good that feels, it feels awkward to be out of it.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?
There is no one big rewarding moment – instead, there have been lots of small rewarding moments. The common theme throughout all these moments is that I feel rewarded when I get to see other people thrive. Knowing I had some small part in helping people get to where they want to be is incredibly fulfilling. In my career I teach, I write, I support amazing organizations, coach social entrepreneurs, I give presentations, and I help deliver babies as a doula. All of these provide me with moments when I am able to help others reach their potential.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?
I would have started writing earlier. There is power in putting pen to paper that I didn’t fully understand until later in my career. I’ve always really liked writing, but I never thought about it as something I would pursue professionally by becoming an author. Writing really came out of my desire to be more efficient and effective. So many people were reaching out to me for guidance on similar topics, and I was struggling to find the time to respond to all the questions and to share insights with everyone. So, I wrote books! Personal Hustle and Boy and Girl of Color came out of this desire to be responsive to all the questions I was getting. These books allowed me to participate in helping to change existing narratives, and to respond to everyone who’d written to me. There is so much power in the written word and through writing I’ve gotten to address deep issues: equity, inclusion, empowerment, etc.

Your Time on the Hilltop

Who was your favorite professor at Georgetown?
There are too many to name them all! But Dean Bellamy, Professor Roe, Professor Emma Jordan and Professor Edelman were some of my favorites! I kept the materials from Professor Edelman’s class for over a decade, and I found myself referencing articles he shared with us in my work. I had a chance to visit with him in Fall 2018 when he was on a book tour, and I finally got the opportunity to thank him for the impact he made on me. He did an amazing job of making us look at things objectively and providing us with the historical context we needed. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be around so many brilliant people!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?
The program my classmates and I developed in our Street Law class comes to mind immediately. We were tasked with putting together a Street Law program for Milwaukee, WI, and we spent the whole semester creating this project. Finally, we got to come to Wisconsin and implement it. Now, the project is in its 15th year of operation!

I also fondly remember the people who worked on campus at the Law Center – especially the security guards. There were four security guard who knew me by name. Knowing they were looking out for me and that they took the time to know who I was made a big difference.

Finally, as part of the Black Law Students Association, I helped to organize the largest demonstration ever at the Supreme Court for an affirmative action case that was brought before the Supreme Court. Leading that as a student with the support of others on campus was amazing! I was called to the podium to speak in front of thousands of people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The history and impact of that moment hit me hard – where I was standing and why I was standing there. That whole experience was made possible by my being at Georgetown: I got to use the city as an extension of campus.

How has Georgetown shaped you?
I loved that I found a place that nurtured me to use my law degree in a non-traditional way. My professors and fellow students and alumni were all encouraging of how a law degree can be used toward the greater good of others.

A Day in the Life

Who is a source of inspiration and strength in your life and why?
My children. I see the way they look at the world and their vision of how the world could be. I want to make their vision a reality. They see a world where people are treated with respect and love and encouraged to be creative.

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?
Starting every day with 15 minutes of prayer and reflections of gratitude, followed by cuddling with my kids.

What is on your desk right now?
I always keep a picture of my family within my line of sight. At the end of the day, they and God are who measure me and that it’s their opinions that matter the most.

Who is your favorite author?
Toni Morrison

Words to live by?
At the end of my life, I want to be able to tell God I’ve used everything given to me. I use this desire to guide my life. I ask myself all of the time if there is something else I could be doing that would be more impactful? How do I multiply the blessings, opportunities and experiences I have received?

Hoya Highlight: Luisa Santos (C’14)

luisa-santos
Luisa Santos (C’14) is the Founder of Lulu’s Ice Cream, and was the recipient of the 2018 GEA Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Rising Star. Luisa’s liquid nitrogen ice cream business is based in Miami, FL.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

I received a lot of great advice from my many mentors over time. The best piece of advice, and one that I apply every single day, came from Alyssa Lovegrove, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship in the MSB. She said, “Problems are going to seem insurmountable if you try to tackle them all at once. Think about the absolute smallest step you could take to solve the problem in front of you, and break the problem apart into small steps to work toward a solution.” Anytime I have something huge to figure out, I think through what is the absolute smallest thing to do to start to figure out how to solve problem. In business, this usually means doing the least costly thing you can to test out how to solve the issue you’re facing.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Seeing my team achieve their own financial goals through the jobs they had at Lulu’s and through our financial literacy training program. We’ve set up a network of financial literacy advisors for our staff members to learn from, and the results have been incredible. One of our team members was able to pay off a pile of debt; another team member started saving for retirement. This program has helped to de-stigmatize issues around financial literacy and has given my team confidence and tools to plan for the future.

What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do professionally?

Having to close a shop in December 2016. This was really hard because it was the first time I had to objectively look at my business and make decisions based on numbers without emotion. People lost their jobs. It was really scary. And there were difficult consequences to navigate. At the end of the day, I realized if I didn’t make hard decisions early on, I could ruin everything else I’d worked so hard to build.

Who or what was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Professor Michael Ryan who teaches Personal Finance in the Business School. His classes were incredibly impactful at Georgetown and beyond. He’s a genuinely caring human who values his students, and he teaches from a values standpoint on the subject of finance. This is hard to do, and it made his classes super interesting and relevant. I also loved the entrepreneurship classes I took. I started Lulu’s as a project for one of those classes!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

The first time I made ice cream! It felt like every single person on campus somehow contributed to allowing me to make my ice cream on campus.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

I don’t think I could have done what I’m doing without Georgetown. The competitions I participated in gave me my initial capital for starting Lulu’s; the unparalleled access to mentors in the startup world gave me a support system; and the classes I took gave me the ability to learn the basics of starting and managing a business. My debut ice cream making happened at Georgetown events…Georgetown laid the groundwork for where I am now.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

My mentors are a source of inspiration for me, and so I want to be able to give what I got from my mentors back out into the world. I’m a mentor for everything! From the startup club at Florida International University to women’s college groups, I want to be a mentor and a source of advice to as many people as possible.

What is one part of your daily routine you could not live without?

Personally: journaling and working out. Professionally: I look at our cash flows Every. Single. Day.

Who is your favorite author?

Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl was incredibly impactful to me.

What are your words to live by?

Every day, I ask myself “How can I do the most good today?”

View Luisa’s story and other alumni stories on the Hoya Highlights page of the ACS Website

Interview with Dirigo Advisors Founder Patrick McGinnis

Full Name & Georgetown School and Year

Patrick J. McGinnis, SFS ‘98

Professional Title & Organization

Author, The 10% Entrepreneur and Founder, Dirigo Advisors

Career

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Combining all of the experiences and lessons learned from investing in fast growing companies on five continents into a book that encourages everyone to be an entrepreneur without quitting their day job. My goal was to reach a global audience and that’s been truly rewarding. The book has been translated into a bunch of languages and I’ve spoken on the topic of 10% Entrepreneurship in a diverse set of places, such as Argentina, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Mongolia.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I wish I had been more open to working on side projects as a way to explore interests, learn, and generate opportunities for upside. I was heads down and all-in on finance, which didn’t work out so well during the 2008 financial crisis.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

Entrepreneurship is going global due to the falling cost of innovating and the now indisputable fact that talent is borderless. As a result, you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley or New York or London to succeed. You can be almost anywhere.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

I’m credited with coining the term FOMO while I was a student at Harvard Business School. Staying focused, even when it’s not fun or profitable to do so, never gets easier.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

Find something you want to be known for it, write about it, establish your authority on the topic.

Hilltop Memories

How has Georgetown shaped you?

I like to joke that I have the most SFS career I could have imagined. Without question, the intellectual foundation and language skills that I got at Georgetown are fundamental to everything I do. I all have been heavily influenced by the values of cura personalis and social justice that I discovered on the hilltop.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

“International Political Economy” with Prof. George Shambaugh and “Problem of God” with Julia Lamm

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Winning a ticket to see Bill Clinton speak at Gaston Hall my freshman year. I loved that Georgetown gave tickets out so democratically. It is still the greatest speech I have ever seen in person.

Your Inspirations

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

If you pay attention, you can find inspiration all around you, even in the little things. I try to pay attention and stay grateful for the little things.

What is on your desk right now?

A Oaxacan black clay skull from a great store called Tienda MAP in Mexico City. It’s a good reminder to make the most of each day.

Who is your favorite author? 

F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

I hate monotony, so I rebel against routine, but no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I will always start my day with a cup of very good coffee.

Final Word

What are your words to live by?

Always make sure to have more than one string to your bow.

Interview with the Co-Founder of Solemates Monica Ferguson (B’00)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

There have been a lot of rewarding moments as an entrepreneur, but I think when Oprah Winfrey devoted a half page in her magazine and called my invention/product “genius”. It was great.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I wish I had learned basic HTML/CSS earlier in my career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

As a retail brand, we are constantly navigating the changing face of brick and mortar retail (i.e., its decline), as well as how to strike the right balance in the digital space with the investment that goes into our branded website in a world dominated by Amazon.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

For sure it was the decision to leave Goldman (the second time) to start my company.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown helped me understand what it was to have the courage of my convictions; and the importance of acting in accordance with my beliefs.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Advanced Financial Management (unlikely a common answer). It was the first class that showed me how numbers tell the story of a business. Accounting did not do that for me!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Any memory that involves spending time with my friends; whether it was a class project, a dinner, or just sitting around our house. It was all so much fun.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

My parents. They raised 4 children, have demanding careers, more friends than they can handle, and they have always made time for everyone and everything. I am inspired by their work ethics, sacrifice, and their energy.

What is on your desk right now?

An old fashion (paper) date book, an amazon Echo, a bottle of Smart Water, a to-do list, and a mess of sample products and packaging.

Who is your favorite author? 

Amor Towles, Jonathan Franzen, and Kristin Hannah

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

Coffee and exercise

What are your words to live by?

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder (Gilbert K. Chesterton), but I erroneously attributed it to David Brooks for years.

 

Interview with Halo Top President and COO Doug Bouton (COL ’07)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

If I had to choose, I think the fact that we employee more than 100 people right now. It’s very rewarding to create great jobs for great people.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

Unfortunately, my “career” has largely been Halo Top so not sure I would’ve done anything differently. I went to law school out of college and practiced law for a year or so before Halo Top. My legal background helped tremendously with the founding of and raising money for Halo Top so can’t say I even regret that aspect of my short career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

There are plenty of trends in the food industry. When Halo Top started, it was in the middle of the healthy eating trend that continues to this day, which Greek yogurt largely spearheaded. In that sense, we’ve been fortunate to have the right product, right time – aligning with food/beverage trends like low-calorie, high-protein, and low-sugar. As far other trends, non-dairy/vegan is a big one that will last for a long time. I suspect things like gluten-free are more fad than trend and will pass but time will tell.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

The first few years of Halo Top were really tough, really stressful. I would’ve been easy for my business partner and me to give up. Persevering through those 3-4 years, in hindsight, was probably the hardest thing that I’ve done professionally. I’m also most proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished because I know personally just how hard and precarious it was. We could just as easily not be here today, Halo Top wouldn’t exist, and I would be personally bankrupt if we didn’t catch a bunch of lucky breaks and keep on keeping on.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

If you’re not happy, stop talking about it and make a change.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown has shaped me in more ways than I can count. I think the two most important ways in which it shaped me are:

  1. critical thinking (especially as it relates to self-reflection)
  2. holistic education

Georgetown was the first time that I was really challenged to critically think about all of my beliefs and opinions, and the importance of critical thinking – in business and in life – cannot be understated in my opinion. Georgetown also emphasized the importance of a holistic education – focusing on activities, relationships, and social education beyond the classroom.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Professor McKeown – Problem of God

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

House parties, Georgetown Day activities, 2007 Final 4 trip to Atlanta, pretty much all of my theology classes. Too many to count.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

The easy answer is my parents. The values they taught me, the work ethic they instilled in me, and the love and support they have given me are the main reason why I am who I am and have accomplished what I have accomplished.

What is on your desk right now?

Papers, clutter, and more crap than I care to admit.

Who is your favorite author? 

Don’t really have one. I read anything – biographies and other non-fiction, fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Literally anything.

What are your words to live by?

Pick just about any Drake lyric.