Vickie started her career at Mitsubishi Semiconductor as a hardware design engineer after earning her electrical engineering degree at Duke University. The experiences there made her realize that there is a large communication gap between the technology and business sides of the house. Seeking to be a bridge between those two sides and with the long-term goal of launching her own business, she attended UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School (KFBS) to earn her MBA in 1998.
Since then she has worked at a number of high-tech startups, including OpenSite, Art.com, Motricity, and others. Her focus has been in launching new products and gaining market traction. In addition to her experiences with hightech start-ups, Vickie has helped grow a non-profit, Street Hope, which is focused on empowering women in Thika, Kenya, to leave survival prostitution. She also spent 3 years with Viacom and has launched three businesses as a co-founder: a men’s clothing store (nv clothes for men), Albright Digital (SaaS marketing software for auto dealers), and Marlow Consulting Group.
Since business school, Vickie has continued to be involved with the Entrepreneurship Center at KFBS as a coach, mentor and advisor for a number of classes and programs. She has been involved in the general entrepreneurial ecosystem in RTP as an advisor/mentor, and she was one of the co-founders of Soar Triangle, whose mission is to close the funding gap for female entrepreneurs. In September 2018, Vickie joined the Entrepreneurship Center at KFBS as the Executive Director to expand her work with entrepreneurs and support the ecosystem in a more direct way.
1. What is in your pockets?
I always have my phone with me. I have one of those little pockets on the outside of my phone now so I can actually carry a credit card and my ID, so pretty much that’s it. The only other thing I have consistently with me is ChapStick.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
I started in this position as Executive Director for The Entrepreneurship Center back in September. The Entrepreneurship Center is part of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. We are a Center that brings together teaching, research, programs and outreach around entrepreneurship to teach students entrepreneurial skills as well as an entrepreneurial mind-set, to help create entrepreneurial leaders who are going to be positive change-makers in the future.
I just finished up the first school year leading the Center and we had a couple of exciting things. So one thing is that our theme for this year was “test and measure” and so what we did is we took all of our major programs and tested something to see what happened, and were measuring it to see how we can get that continuous Improvement which is one of the foundations of entrepreneurship. So for example, in our apprentice program we tested the executive coaching, which has gone over very well with our apprentices. For the Carolina Challenge in the spring we introduced a brand new week-long Make-a-thon program that was a cross campus adventure where we had over 30 teams—including 50% freshman students and very interdisciplinary with 47 different degrees—with both digital and physical prototyping tracks targeted towards social impact.
At Launch Chapel Hill, our accelerator, we just launched our first-ever student only summer accelerator. We’re really excited to see how the students can engage with their own businesses and business ideas and we can help accelerate those. So all of those that we are testing and measuring have been really exciting. The other key thing is that we just wrapped up our strategic planning. So this is really exciting as far as charting a new course for the Entrepreneurship Center and really continuing to position us as a leader nationally.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
My favorite coffee shop is Bean Traders, which is on Highway 54 near Fayetteville Road in-between Durham, Chapel Hill and RTP. It is locally owned and operated and been around for almost 20 years. It’s just a great local spot that’s quiet, which is great for working, and they have great coffee.
4. What keeps you up at night?
I’m really passionate about improving diversity in entrepreneurship. So going back a few years, I was one of the co-founders along with Adam Klein, John Austin, Lauren Whitehurst and Kimberly Jenkins of SOAR Triangle. The purpose was closing the funding gap for female entrepreneurs. SOAR Triangle is now under the umbrella of NC IDEA, and it’s still focused around female entrepreneurs. But we learned a few things in that process. One of the things that we realized is it’s beyond just female founders, it’s also minority founders.
The second thing we discovered is that it’s not only getting through the funnel to funding but it’s also the fact that the top of the funnel is a lot more narrow for the underrepresented groups in entrepreneurship. So since then I’ve really been passionate about trying to attack the top of the funnel and make sure that entrepreneurship is more inclusive and that everyone sees it as a possibility and has access to it. And that’s one of the reasons that I came back to Kenan-Flagler and to this job is because one of the ways to do that is through our students and through our next generation so that they see that as a realistic option for them and that they understand the opportunities that it provides.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
I have two. One is Pizzeria Toro in downtown Durham. They have great pizza, it’s an awesome place to meet folks after work because it’s quiet and tucked away a little bit. They also have sparkling bubbly on tap, which is one of my favorites, and their kale salad is delicious.
The second one is Fusion Fish, which is in Meadowmont (in Chapel Hill). It’s on my way home because I live in Raleigh and it’s a great spot between Durham and Chapel Hill, and I end up seeing a bunch of different people there. Those are quiet and off the typical beaten path, but both amazing places.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
As I mentioned before we have just wrapped up our strategic plan for the Entrepreneurship Center and with that we have some very clear strategic priorities going into next year, so it’s going to be making that a reality. The first of those is around diversity and inclusion. This is something where us as the Entrepreneurship Center and also Kenan-Flagler, we’re not where we want to be and so we are going to be very intentional over the next year about trying to make strides in the area of increasing the diversity of our mentors and advisers, our own makeup, and of student participation. We know that we have a lot to learn in this space and we’ve got some work to do. So that’s one big area of focus to start with.
The second is around relevance and what I would call student pathways. If you think about entrepreneurial skills, and the mindset that is required to become an entrepreneur, these are things that we are teaching the students that go through our programs and go through our classes. All size companies and organizations in the world are faced with a very dynamic environment and what they need are really smart students who are graduating, can think critically, are resilient, and are creative problem solvers, and all of those things we are teaching our students with entrepreneurship.
So part of it is helping students realize the value of those skills and apply them in a variety of contexts and then also making sure that we are relevant not only to students but also adding value to the ecosystem whether through student placement, internship or other workshops and learning that we can contribute to the community. So our big thing is making sure that we are relevant but also helping all that drives where we are and really helping the whole ecosystem here in the Triangle, and potentially beyond, accelerate their success and become more sustainable.