As program director of the Georgia Mentor–Protégé Connection, Veronica Maldonado-Torres wears many hats: educator, psychologist, community builder, mentor, storyteller and entrepreneur.
For the past six years, she’s led the nation’s first state-sponsored small business development and leadership training program. To date, it has mentored more than 400 firms and helped create more than 1,000 jobs. But supplier diversity and economic development are polar opposite from the career she envisioned.
An “American Idol” (almost) in the making
Since age eight, Maldonado-Torres had dreamed of a singing career—and it came true while attending Florida International University. With a recording contract in hand, she returned home to Atlanta. But two years later, she left that dream behind.
“I wanted my performances to inspire hope and courage,” said the former “American Idol” competitor. “Instead, I found myself in an environment that didn’t allow me to control my own vision, the messages I shared or the image I wanted to project. I couldn’t be authentic.”
That experience set her on a new career path curating community events for an Atlanta ad agency. After learning everything about the music industry—in case she got another chance at stardom—she worked at EMI Records and Sony Music Norte in marketing and promotions.
“The transition to the business side was not intentional, but it brought me back to storytelling and music,” said Maldonado-Torres, one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2017 “40 Under 40” business and community leaders. “At EMI and Sony, I was doing the same thing with mom-and-pop retailers that I did with recording artists on tour: coaching them, helping them tell their stories and positioning their promotional messages.”
Road to supplier diversity
In 2006, she returned to the family business in Atlanta, InterPrint Communications, a well-established women and minority business enterprise, marketing/printing firm founded by her mother, Monica Maldonado. It brought her into supplier diversity and rekindled the desire to help diverse companies.
“I learned that one of the biggest challenges minority-owned firms face is scaling their businesses, how to create the infrastructure they need to enter strategic alliances and joint ventures,” said Maldonado-Torres.
Add to that challenge: the need to handle business risk, manage a multigenerational workforce, navigate the corporate supply chain, and keep up with technology—it can become overwhelming. She brought those first-hand insights into her work at the Latin American Association, an advocacy nonprofit where she was development manager, and at the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council, where she served as director of strategic alliances and partnerships.
The calling to help small businesses also led Maldonado-Torres to branch out on her own. In 2011, she launched BizMaven Insights, a strategic consulting, marketing, public relations and leadership development firm serving small business CEOs and their companies. She later introduced “DRIVEN to THRIVE,” a personal and leadership development program.
Stepping out of comfort zones is not just hype. Maldonado-Torres recently became the only non-corporate member of the Hispanic Corporate Council of Atlanta, a consortium of Hispanic professional organizations. She also joined the board of The Assembly CID (Community Improvement District), a massive, potentially game-changing regional redevelopment of a former General Motors manufacturing plant northeast of Atlanta.
TO DATE, THE GEORGIA MENTOR PROTÉGÉ CONNECTION HAS MENTORED MORE THAN 400 FIRMS AND HELPED CREATE MORE THAN 1,000 JOBS.