How She Made It: La-Verna Fountain, VP of Construction Business Services and Consultant
By Marc W. Polite
The model of personal achievement and business success can vary from individual to individual. While some entrepreneurs decide to completely leave the world of 9 to 5 work and pursue their business endeavors, there are others who maintain a job and a business as well. La-Verna Fountain is a great example of the latter. Fountain is the Associate Vice President for Construction Business Services at Columbia University. Late last year, her outstanding work in this capacity earned her recognition from the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce. In addition, she also has her own company, Defiant Hope Consulting which specializes in conflict resoultion. Madame Noire has reached out to learn more about how she was able to achieve all of this, and balance it with her entrepreneurial pursuits.
MN: Could you tell us more about Defiant Hope Consulting?
LF: Defiant Hope is a consulting and training company that at its core is a communications company. We conduct training in conflict resolution including mediation and negotiation, cultural diversity, nonviolence as a way of life, goal setting, time management, vision and mission development, and communications. Additionally, I write two columns. One is a weekly column for Harlem Community News and the other column is for a quarterly magazine, Women Connect. I also co-host a radio program with Tony Rogers on WHCR 90.3 FM. On the first Tuesday of every month for the foreseeable future, we will focus on minority and women-owned business enterprises.
MN: What inspired you to start the company?
LF: I worked with people from all walks of life who seemed to overcome some of life’s greatest challenges. Oftentimes, it was teenagers that had lived through some of life’s most difficult moments and yet they had a vibrancy that I wished I could bottle and give away to those who were downtrodden. I would listen to their stories and there were a few common themes. First, there was a defiance in their outlook. They wouldn’t let people steal their joy. Second, they each had faith. It wasn’t religion. It was faith. They believed in a higher power. They believed in a better future. The believed in the ability of humans to do good. Third, they were willing to do the hard work associated with overcoming their circumstances. Even if they had royally messed up along the way, they willingly accepted responsibility for their mistakes and worked hard to move forward. Then, I attended a business course taught by a former IRS agent. The agent said, everyone should have a legitimate business and he explained the tax benefits to having a home-based business. I found myself considering all of the implications and looked at the type of consulting work I was doing on the side and decided that it made sense for me to put a name and mission to the work I was doing.
In deciding to operate my business I had to analyze the amount of risk I was willing to take, the amount of financial security I needed and the confidence I had in my business’ purpose. The business is an extension of my philosophy and beliefs. I determined that I would need to keep working a regular 9 to 5 because I have a low risk tolerance and manage other projects through my business. I am fortunate because I am a serious morning person and I get up very early in the morning which allows me to creatively pursue my goals with Defiant Hope.
MN: What were your first steps in starting your consulting company?
LF: I knew what I wanted Defiant Hope to encompass. I wanted to be able to inspire and motivate people to pursue their dreams and embrace their strengths. I also knew what I loved doing. I knew I loved being creative. I like to give speeches and I like doing training in conflict resolution and communication. So, the first thing I did was sketch out my weaknesses and my strengths. Then, I started looking at various business models to determine what I wanted for myself. Next, I went to a few classes to understand business. I found mentors. I created a website, www.defianthope.com I wrote a book. I write articles and I’m working on another book. From my mentors, I learned that my academic and work credentials are important. My experience in government and the non-profit arena opened a lot of doors. My experience working with Save the Children helps. My contacts from my time working as a director for former U.S. Senator Harris Wofford helps. My work as an instructor at Columbia University helps. People recognize the experience and the credentials. However, I have not solicited business. The reason is because I work. I am able to give of myself because my survival is not dependent on it. I can still pay my bills. I plotted out the number of clients I could comfortably handle while working a full time job. Word of mouth business from my consulting, speaking, training, teaching and writing has kept me busy.