Venus Quates started her company from the spare bedroom of her house, working nights and weekends while balancing a full-time job. She laughs, recalling how she’d occasionally adopt a British accent to answer the phone in hopes that prospective customers wouldn’t notice that the receptionist was also the CEO.
Five years later, LaunchTech ranks no. 66 on the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing companies, providing IT strategy and mission support for organizations in the financial service, healthcare, government and space industries. Now with nearly 30 employees and a new location in Huntsville, Alabama, those scrappy early days seem like a distant memory. But even with the company’s success, much about how Quates navigates business and life remains the same.
“I was raised around a bunch of strong women,” she says. “I was taught to take initiative and do what needs to be done.”
It’s this proactive approach that led Quates first to the Air Force, then helped her cultivate a successful career in IT, and eventually start and grow her own business.
A drive to learn
Quates grew up in Western New York near her big, tight-knit extended family. She was the first granddaughter born after six boys and quickly became used to being one of the only girls around. As her senior year of high school drew to a close, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do or whether she should go to college.
“So I walked into the Air Force recruiting office and signed up,” she says. “My mom lost it, but it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.” Until then, Quates had left her hometown only a handful of times. The military allowed her to travel the world, with assignments in Korea and Italy. She found her spot working in the orderly room and IT helpdesk, and managing the small computer office for a squadron.
Quates liked solving problems. And she loved to learn. She was constantly looking for classes to take and new skills to perfect. “I was the one reading magazines to see what top five certifications were trending in IT; then I’d find a way to earn them,” Quates says. “I’d invest in myself to ensure I remained competitive in my field.”
A fresh approach
After spending three-and-a-half years in the Air Force, Quates transitioned into a career in system and network administration, data storage engineering and consulting. The military taught her how to follow just as much as it taught her how to lead. And she took the notion of service before self to heart. But after the death of her grandfather, a retired Major in the U.S. Army, she realized that she needed to be closer to home—and make more of a difference with her work.
Quates was tired of feeling like she was pushing technology on customers, whether or not they truly needed it. She saw an opportunity for more transparent customer relationships that focused on providing innovative solutions that took into consideration technology, people and processes as a whole. Quates also wanted to bring a more diverse talent pool and perspective to the male-dominated industry. She had risen through the ranks of her previous companies, but customers, and even coworkers, often underestimated her experience and expertise. She would host meetings and prospective clients or partners would hand everyone in the room a business card but her, despite the fact she was the one in charge.
“I had actually experienced some challenges on my last job and those challenges made me very aware for the first time in my career that I was different and that there was no one else that looks like me,” she said in an interview with the Space Foundation podcast. Quates dove into the research and realized that many other women of color—and women in general—in technology management experienced similar disregard and discrimination because of their gender and race.
“My answer was to create a company that would be a small solution, [changing the] workforce composition in the technology space,” she told the Space Foundation.
Shooting for the moon
The LaunchTech founder often reminds her employees to lead with what she calls “bold faith.” At the core, it’s the belief that you can do something challenging even if you can’t quite see how you’ll succeed. In growing the company, Quates had to take her own advice repeatedly.
“Putting myself out there, separate from LaunchTech, was not something I was used to,” she says. “But I did so in hopes of finding my tribe.” Joining Dell Women’s Entrepreneurs Network (DWEN) was testament to this pay-off: Quates, who was awarded funding as a part of the DWEN Dream Tech contest, asked DWEN to donate the money to three other minority- and women-owned businesses—Do Well Brands, CoffeeStix and The Botanical Bar—instead of her own. DWEN agreed and LaunchTech also contributed additional funds to the donation. “I wanted to pay it forward,” says Quates. “These smaller organizations were the ones struggling the most during the pandemic. It was a small gesture that I thought would give a glimmer of hope.”
LaunchTech continues to expand, with the company revenue growing an astounding 5,682% over the past three years. As a woman-, minority-, service-disabled-veteran-owned business, the company doesn’t view diversity, equity and inclusion as a checkbox, but instead as part of its core values. The emphasis has helped LaunchTech grow in the public and private sectors.
Looking ahead, Quates wants to inspire other girls to get into STEM careers. She recalled speaking to a group of young girls about her company and how in awe they were that she was president and CEO. “A big part of why I got into tech was because my aunt had a management information systems degree and worked in technology in the public and private sectors,” she says. “I want to be that same person to someone else.”
To that end, LaunchTech is sponsoring 10 girls from New York and Alabama to attend the aviation, cyber and space camps for a week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville next year. In fact, Quates’ expanded her company’s presence in Huntsville in order to be closer to customers and targets in the space and defense industries. It’s a natural fit for this entrepreneur; given Quates’ persistence, proactive nature and bold faith, the sky is not the limit for her and LaunchTech.
Lead photo courtesy of LaunchTech