Lisa Phillips, MBA '18, arrived at UB after completing her undergraduate degree at Coppin State University. In 2017, she was named the Greater Baltimore Urban League’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Phillips’ path to success has been a winding road but one steadfast in a strong vision with purpose. She embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship and the love of others. She is the founder of owner and founder of Celeebrate Us Workforce Training Program. A company that evolved from her first business that focused on making gift baskets. Her collaborative attitude has helped her work with multiple organizations to build and enhance workforce programs and building strategic alliances.
Phillips recently sat down with The Merrick Exchange to share some thoughts about her entrepreneurial endeavors, why mentorship is so important to her, and to share some valuable advice for our students.
Merrick Exchange: Tell us about all of your entrepreneurial endeavors since you started your UB MBA.
Lisa Phillips: My goodness, I’ve been so blessed. I will try to remember all the wonderful contracting opportunities. My current business is based solely on contracting.
In the beginning, I decided to contact the Baltimore City Department of Social Services after graduating from college. I had been on welfare and food-stamps multiple times in my life, but when I received my bachelor’s degree, I felt empowered that I would not ever need government assistance again. That faithful phone call resulted in my first government contract for $25,000. Receiving a large payment like that was mind-blowing.
That relationship lasted four years and morphed into a six-figure contract that ended in 2018. During the Freddie Gray uprising, I was asked to facilitate two training cohorts for 11 homeless youth that set the stage for my business to expand. I have been able to successfully expand my workforce training program to Delaware and Pennsylvania. In addition earlier this year, I received a wonderful opportunity to work with federal prison inmates from the Volunteers of America Federal Prison Reentry program. In the future, post-COVID-19, I have partnered with two long-term care facilities to assist them with building an in-house workforce training program that has the goal to replenish the depleted frontline healthcare workforce.
Merrick Exchange: What is one important thing you have learned as an entrepreneur?
Lisa Phillips: Mission over money. Make your business about mission and the money will come.
Merrick Exchange: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your role as a workforce development business leader?
Lisa Phillips: Hearing “Ms. Lisa, I got the job.” It never gets old.
Merrick Exchange: What do you want our readers to know about the people you are helping through workforce training?
Lisa Phillips: Most of the people I serve, have lived in an environment where "difficult starts," are common. However, they are no different then anyone else. They want to earn a decent living, they want relationships, they want better for their children. They are people who may have loss their way like me.
Merrick Exchange: What are some of the business challenges that you face with your current projects?
Lisa Phillips: Everything that ever meant something to me was taken away from me, until I created Celeebrate Us. I struggle with relinquishing parts of the business to anyone. I have to get over that because it will hamper my growth.
Note: the extra “e” in Celeebrate is Phillips’ way of emphasizing her extra effort she put forth for her students, employers and training partners.
Merrick Exchange: Please share your thoughts on the importance of having a mentor in your professional life.
Lisa Phillips: I have five mentors. You need a mentor for every part of your life that needs improvements. Mentors are designed to expose you to the peaks and valleys you will face in life.
Merrick Exchange: What advice would you give to students who would like to pursue the life of an entrepreneur?
Lisa Phillips: Become the absolute best employee before you become an entrepreneur. When I ceased working for someone else to become an entrepreneur, I made sure that I understood fully what it was to be an exemplary employee so that I can set the standard for my future employees.
Merrick Exchange: What is the one job-hunting secret you wish all students knew?
Lisa Phillips: Soft skills. Soft skills. Soft skills.
Merrick Exchange: Why did you choose to earn your MBA degree?
Lisa Phillips: I suffered many losses in my life mainly because of self-sabotaging behaviors. Once I addressed my behaviors, I needed wins that made me stand out. Earning a MBA provided me with such a level of distinction from my peers. I’m so proud of that accomplishment.
Merrick Exchange: How has attending UB helped you in your career?
Lisa Phillips: I am so revered and respected because of my education. It has opened so many doors for me. More importantly, my education from UB has lifted my family out of poverty.
Merrick Exchange: What personal goal have you set for yourself for 2020?
Lisa Phillips: In December 2017, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The surgery, radiation treatment, and losing one of my businesses caused my personal relationship to suffer dramatically. I was engaged to be married in 2018. The devastation of all those events took a toll on us both. We called everything off and ended the relationship for one year. We reunited in 2019 and decided to work on our relationship. So we definitely rediscovered that only we understand our love and that there’s no other man for, but him. He felt the same way so our plans are to skip the big wedding, take a trip down to the court house and get hitched. During COVID-19, we were quarantined separately because of my underlying health issues. I’m spending most of 2020 planning to be his wife and grooming my youngest son to help more with the business.