One of Groundwork Labs’ most valuable assets is our extensive and supportive network of expert volunteers. The GWL teams have ready access to a group of knowledgable, connected “gurus” who volunteer their time in order to see each startup grow and succeed. Having worked in this space myself (with a startup team), and now managing our community directly, I understand first-hand how invaluable this contribution is to our program.
Lauren Whitehurst is one of these volunteers. She generously contributes a couple hours of her time every week to offer her expertise on a wide variety of subjects. Lauren holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, and her career spans 20+ years with firms such as Boston Consulting Group, Goldman Sachs, Turner Entertainment and Duke University. She built Fuqua’s Center for Consulting Excellence and now teaches strategy periodically in the undergraduate program.
In addition to being very accomplished, she is wonderfully accessible and passionate about equipping promising startups in the area. I recently reached out to Lauren for more on why she chooses to volunteer her time with Groundwork Labs.
GL: Tell us a bit about your work beyond the doors of Groundwork Labs.
LW: Outside of GWL, I have about four “jobs” — none of which earn me a paycheck. First, I work with other companies in the American Underground and I am an active member of this community —I have a co-working space at Main Street; I read grant applications for NC Idea; I help to run Soar, our Google-sponsored organization focused on closing the funding gap for female entrepreneurs, etc. Second, I am Vice-Chair of the Student U Board and I play an active role in that non-profit. We’ve just kicked off a strategic visioning process, and I am the key Board liaison to that effort. Third, I currently play a similar role at my kids’ school, Durham Academy, where we are finishing a strategic planning process that I chaired as a Board Member.
Finally, but truly foremost, I am mom to 13-year-old twins, and since my husband travels quite a bit for work, I am everything from CEO of the house to bus driver!
GL: What inspires you to volunteer your time to work with startups?
LW: I spent most of my professional career up to our move to the Triangle in strategy consulting with BCG. Working with start ups allows me to keep using that experience but in a new way — It’s the best of consulting without the travel. I also love being part of the Underground community — this is a huge reward, as it took me quite a while to find my “place” in the Durham community after we moved about 7 years ago. I like being part of what’s happening here and knowing that my contributions are making a difference. In full disclosure: I’ve also loved that this volunteer opportunity has once and a while enabled me to trade my time/advice for tiny stakes —advisory equity. It’s only happened where relationships have gone pretty deep but it’s exciting to have a bit of skin in the game.
GL: How do you think the companies in our program may best utilize your expertise?
LW: I often answer that question quickly by calling myself “John 2” — I’m going to listen, ask questions and probe into your business model and your assumptions. I will make you set priorities, consider your customer segmentation and refine your pitch message. Because I’ve been exposed to so many large companies via BCG and now via my work with startups in the past 2 years of being down at The Underground, I have a sense of how to play up strengths, prod at potential weaknesses and test assumptions about the market and the business.
GL: Describe a moment when you felt proud of the work you accomplished.
LW: I have been really proud to be a pivotal member of the Soar team, along with John. Being asked to help create and manage this organization was a real vote of confidence in me and a demonstration that the community sees me as someone able to add value to what we are creating here.
GL: What is one piece of advice or encouragement you can offer to new startups entering our program?
LW: Take advantage of the enormous resources available via GWL — the gurus, the pitch practice, the connections to NC Idea, and especially John and each other. The biggest mistake I see people make in GWL is not spending enough time there to take full advantage.
GL: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
LW: To make time move more slowly so that when I have too much to do, or too much I want to do, I could have more time. (I might slow down my own aging process and that of my kids too )