Originally from Chattanooga, TN, Dr. Laura Jean McGuire, founder of The National Center of Equity and Agency, returned to a familiar place to launch and bring to life a childhood dream. After gaining valuable experience doing sexual violence prevention and victim advocacy at The University of Houston and the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Dr. McGuire was more than qualified to go off on her own.
"As a kid, my ultimate dream was to own a business that allowed me to work from home," she said. "Once I earned my G.E.D. and then BA in my mid 20s, my personality was always geared towards starting my own business. Much of that comes from the fact that I did college online and was home-schooled. I knew at an early age that for my personality, I excelled when I worked independently or in a leadership role."
While still living in Kings Point, NY, and working at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Dr. McGuire's grandfather, who resided in Port Orange, passed away. As a result, the home he lived in was left vacant. As Dr. McGuire shared, this unfortunate situation presented an opportunity she might not have otherwise been afforded.
"I was out of money in New York," she said. "The cost of living was extremely high and something I didn't fully anticipate when I first moved there. Having lived in Port Orange before, and with the house available, it was the perfect opportunity to move home and start my business."
Before she even moved, Dr. McGuire started planning for the launch of her business. She bought people coffee to pick their brains and reached out to mentors and consultants for guidance. She read books and utilized the resources from SCORE and SBDC. By the time she arrived in Port Orange, in May of 2018, she had an accountant lined up to help her with the paperwork. A month later, Dr. McGuire officially launched The National Center of Equity and Agency.
"We are a consulting firm that focuses on sexual misconduct prevention and diversity and inclusion training," she said. "We exist at the intersection of these vital topics and work with agencies, companies, and institutions to increase retention, safety, and inclusion while decreasing liability and marginalization. Most people know about the #MeToo movement by now. We're the solution to the concerns and awareness brought up by this conversation. We believe that change starts with self-awareness through educational empowerment and that equity births equality."
Dr. McGuire, who sees her position in life as more of a vocation and a calling, as opposed to a career, feels extremely blessed to be where she's at. She's good at talking about topics that most others can't stomach and has a way of making it engaging and approachable. Looking ahead, she's considering different ways to grow the business, including offering certifications for organizations looking to prove to their customers that they're serious about these issues and are willing to receive proper training. Dr. McGuire wants her business to be a household name and, in the past few months, she's taken significant steps towards that goal by hiring nine relationship managers to get out and spread the word and by writing two state appropriation bills in 2019.
What advice does Dr. McGuire have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "First of all, it's easy to romanticize about being your own boss," she said. "Most people would love to have someone not telling them what to do. However, you need to ask yourself if you have the personality to be extremely self-motivated and disciplined. If not, that's perfectly okay. Some people can love being an employee. You might not need to own a business to do big things. If you really want to own and run a business, my advice is start while you have security. You don't have to quit your day job. Lastly, as a queer person and someone who works closely with the LGBT community, I'm always telling people who belong to communities that face high levels of unemployment (i.e., those with disabilities, immigrants or other minorities), that becoming an entrepreneur can be very beneficial. Starting your own business and doing your own thing is a way to find financial freedom and not loose any part of your identity in the process. Instead, you get to use the things other people might look down on as your strength."