Embarking on an Entrepreneurial Journey: Start Where you Are, But Don’t Stay There
Entrepreneurship is as multifaceted as the individuals who embark on its journey, each charting a unique path. Reflecting on my own experiences, it’s evident that the road to business ownership isn’t linear—it’s a winding path and each person’s path can be mapped differently. In fact, it has so many twists and turns you probably need a GPS to figure out where you began and where you should be heading.
Only in hindsight can I see that my journey to run my own business did not begin in 2008 when I launched GeoTechVision but much earlier before the age of 10 and the product which needed to find customers at that time was mangoes.
During the mango season in Jamaica, a time when the fruit is as abundant as the island’s vibrant life, the countryside becomes a tapestry of mango-laden trees. Ms. Gloria, a familiar figure in our village, made her rounds to collect these tropical treasures to sell at a distant market. I carved a niche for myself as one of her dependable sources. In the dewy freshness of morning and the soft glow of evening, I would be found dutifully picking and polishing mangoes, readying them for Ms. Gloria’s anticipated visits to our home.
Next, high school agriculture classes expanded my knowledge beyond just the fundamentals of farming, complemented by hands-on experience on my parents’ farm. I chose to cultivate peppers, capitalizing on their consistent market demand. Scotch bonnet peppers, a fiery favorite in Jamaica, were my crop of choice. Despite grappling with the occasional theft, I was fortunate enough to harvest enough peppers to meet my sales goals. Being entrepreneurial and Jamaican seem to go hand in hand. I don’t know any other way to be and it wasn’t just something I saw in my family. Most Jamaicans have a way of making a dollar out of fifty cents.
My older brother had his own side hustle while he was studying Electrical Engineering. He sold neckties. My mother Monica Grant, was the family matriarch and consummate homemaker, who ran a small dressmaking business and so we all knew how to sew. My job in my brother’s venture was to help pick fabric and assist with marketing and sale of the ties.
My father donned two hats – that of an electrician and a farmer, embodying the essence of hard work and independence. Witnessing our parents’ dedication to their self-made ventures deeply ingrained in me the ethos of entrepreneurship and stoked a desire to extend my professional reach beyond the local Jamaican community to the global stage. This upbringing shaped my understanding that entrepreneurship transcends the act of launching a venture; it’s a comprehensive mindset characterized by a distinct set of thought patterns and behaviors.
In the latter part of my high school years, Saturdays were reserved for grocery shopping, an errand that quickly taught me the art of bargaining. This skill has been invaluable, as negotiation is a cornerstone of business success. While entrepreneurs often face numerous negotiations, I’ve observed that women, in particular, can be at a disadvantage due to prevailing gender biases. However, mastering negotiation techniques can level the playing field and break through barriers to secure advantageous deals.
The bargaining prowess I honed in the markets of Lucea, along with the sales experience from peddling mangoes and neckties in the small village of Dias, equipped me with the skills needed for university life and beyond. Whether it was debating, sports, or fundraising, I could always find creative solutions to meet our objectives. This skill set even translated to my early professional life, where I leveraged my baking talents to supply cakes for staff holiday gifts. The lesson here is to identify needs and fulfill them, constantly asking, “Where are the untapped opportunities?”
During my tenure as a GIS Manager at the then Ministry of Land and Environment in Jamaica my brother (the electrical engineer) and I ventured into the realm of electrical supplies with our own business. Regrettably, within a year, the business failed. In retrospect, the reasons for our business’s failure became clear:
Failure, I’ve come to understand, is an inherent aspect of the entrepreneurial experience. Echoing the words of Mike Ditka, “Success isn’t permanent, and failure isn’t fatal.” It’s not the act of failing that defines us but our response to it. It’s essential to minimize the impact of setbacks and to bounce back with a robust recovery plan.
The lessons from these challenges have only deepened my appreciation for the concept of path dependence—the idea that our present choices are influenced by our past decisions and experiences, relevant or not. This understanding has been a guiding force, shaping my approach to business and personal growth.
My Jamaican upbringing has profoundly influenced who I am today. The very essence of the island has taught me resilience and to aim high—embodied in our local saying, “Wi likkle but wi tallawah,” meaning we are small but mighty. It’s this philosophy that has encouraged me not to see Jamaica’s size as a limitation but as a springboard to a broader horizon. This mindset was pivotal as I expanded my reach beyond our shores, taking on regional projects with GeoTechVision, where challenging the norm and striving for excellence is our creed. Innovation, seizing opportunities, embracing risk, and driving growth are the cornerstones of our business philosophy. Within a year of its inception, GeoTechVision was serving clients in two Caribbean countries, and by 2010, this number had grown to include at least four islands. Our expansion continued with the opening of a second office in Guyana in 2012, serving as a gateway to the Eastern Caribbean.
Today, if asked whether I’d go back to selling mangoes, peppers, or neckties, I’d say no. It’s not for lack of demand—indeed, the local and international markets for these products are robust. My reasons for moving on from those early trades are twofold: they served their purpose in teaching me the fundamentals of business and the power of consistency, and now, I am driven by new challenges and a clear sense of purpose. I’ve learned that a viable business must address a genuine market need, a principle that continues to guide my entrepreneurial ventures.
Never start your entrepreneurial journey with a solution in search of a problem, but rather ensure that your offering is both unique and fulfills a specific need. My own path to geospatial sciences was serendipitous, guided by mentors who recognized a potential in me that I hadn’t seen myself. Originally poised for a career in hydrogeology, I instead found a niche in addressing some of the Caribbean’s most pressing challenges with location-based solutions—a field hungry for skilled professionals and innovation due to rapidly evolving technology. It was this unmet need that carved out a space for GeoTechVision.
Adaptability has been key in our journey. We’ve navigated through various transformations, a testament to the agility necessary in entrepreneurship. A successful business hinges on creating real value for others.
In my view, every entrepreneurial pursuit should embody three core qualities:
These principles shape your business decisions, strategies, and objectives.
Addressing the entrepreneurial landscape without considering the inherent risks involved would present an incomplete picture. The dynamic nature of risk, ever-changing with the ebb and flow of market trends, underscores the importance of vigilance in monitoring both local and global developments. If the Covid-19 pandemic has underscored one lesson, it’s the critical importance of anticipating and preparing for risks. This capacity to preemptively identify and adapt to new challenges is a hallmark of resilient and successful businesses. To sustain a competitive edge, one must consistently re-assess and refine their strategies in light of new information and circumstances.
My advice to budding entrepreneurs is simple: “start where you are but don’t stay there “. Begin with your current resources but elevate your prospects through strategic planning and preparation.
Valrie Grant is an internationally respected geospatial scientist with a passion for science and entrepreneurship. Since 2008, she has built GeoTechVision into a major player in the growing Caribbean Geomatics and Geospatial services industry, earning along the way a litany of special recognitions and awards. Her latest initiative, EduTechAid seeks to respond to the inequality of access to digital tools in education and empower youths. She has served on several national, regional and international Boards and Committees such as the World Geospatial Industry Council (WGIC) and the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM): Americas Private Sector Network for which she is the current Chair. She is also the vice-chair of UN-GGIM PSN at the global level. Valrie is a 2020 WE Empower UN Sustainability Development Goals Challenge Awardee. She has authored the books “Every Day is Day One : Maintaining the Startup Culture and Mindset” and “Hills and Valleys: Poems of Resilience.” This award-winning entrepreneur believes in simply living a great story and endeavours to live her best life every day.