A recent report from business.org declared Tampa Bay America’s top-ranked market for women-owned businesses.
The announcement was duly noted, with a touch of irony, by Julia MacGregor-Peralta, the founder and CEO of Global Safety Management, a compliance company headquartered in Tampa. GSM creates OSHA-mandated Safety Data Sheets for a vast cross-section of manufacturers, using a patent-pending, cloud-based SaaS software originally designed by MacGregor-Peralta.
The SDS business has an annual revenue of $10 billion nationally, and that’s only 15 percent of the global market. And GSM, which MacGregor-Peralta created in 2011, has reported double and triple digit growth in recent years. The company was selected as one of USF Alumni Association’s Fast 56 for 2018, among other awards.
Although she was already an accomplished businesswoman, it was the first time she’d sought out venture capital.
And that’s when she realized there were still significant hurdles to jump.
“My previous five companies, I bootstrapped, and was very successful,” she explains. “And I realized that with the patent-pending technology, and with this industry being so big, if we were going to swim in that pond we needed partners with deep pockets.
“Everyone says it’s six to nine months to get venture capital. And this ended up taking 18 months. Little did I know, the venture and investments arena is unbelievably a boys’ club. Like, oh my gosh, are we in the ‘50s? You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Very few people, she says, took her seriously. At first.
Less than three percent of venture-backed companies have a woman founder or CEO. “And I get a double whammy, because I’m Hispanic and a woman. And I’m in the STEM – I’m in chemistry, and regulations, and software.”
Ultimately, “our very first investor was absolutely gender-blind. He looked at it, and saw it was a great idea. He didn’t care whether I was a woman or a man – he cared about what I had done, and my capabilities.”
MacGregor-Peralta’s academic and career credentials were impeccable. Three of her companies went over $1 million in revenue (one, in fact, topped $7 million).
Prior to GSM, she was founder and CEO of WordDoc Translations, Inc. In time, it became the world leader in SDS translations – and MacGregor-Peralta decided to make that her full-time business. She established GSM and acquired the SDS component of WordDoc.
And she accomplished it all despite the towering gender bias she perceived in the business world. “When people are blatant about it, that’s easy to deal with, because you can call them right out on it,” MacGregor-Peralta says. “The problem comes in when it’s subtle. It’s ingrained in the culture, the bias that men are more capable.
“And I wasn’t raised that way. My dad was an engineer; I was raised with the idea that you can do anything that you want to do, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. And to encounter that was very eye-opening to me.”
“Think of us as the Turbo Tax of Safety Data Sheets.” – Julia MacGregor-Peralta.
Virtually all products have hazards associated with them, MacGregor-Peralta explains, “from toothpaste to bleach to super-yucky manufacturing-type chemicals. And people have the right to know the hazards they’re exposed to.”
Chemicals are, of course, heavily regulated, “and the government says you have to disclose, particularly in the workplace or if you’re transporting these products, to the people who are working with these products what’s in them. You have to tell them if it causes cancer, for example.”
And so every product must comply with a Safety Data Sheet, sort of a hyper-complex reference manual. It can be up to 20 heavily-detailed pages for each product. “There are literally hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations that they have to sort through,” MacGregor-Peralta explains. “It can be a nightmare.”
GSM, she says, “makes it easy and fast for companies like to make these documents. We ask them things like what’s the flash point, what’s the boiling point, what’s the ph, what are the different chemicals, and with that information we’re able to create a compliant SDS, in any language (for overseas sales).”
Many members of MacGregor-Peralta’s staff are women. “And not just women – we are incredibly diverse,” she explains. “And I think that is an incredible strength. It was not by design. I’d love to say that I was just that good, that I just had this foresight.”
The reality, she says, is that she had to “get creative” during the time before the first capital arrived.
“We realized that we knew a lot of women who were amazing – with Masters degrees, who’d had great professional careers – and had stepped out of the workplace because of children. But that didn’t change that they had incredible skill sets. They were doing things for the PTA, and their neighborhood associations, on a volunteer basis. It wasn’t like they were sitting around eating bonbons and watching soap operas.
“So it literally started with people we knew. With us saying ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,’ and because it was about chemical safety, and making the workplace safer, people got it. We’re protecting the environment. They got excited about what they were doing, and so they came in.”
When that first venture capital arrived, she already had a phenomenal team in place. “It was not by design. It was a happy, happy accident.”
MacGregor-Peralta is quick to point out that her company’s brain trust includes several men, too. “They are phenomenal. Our Chief Operations Officer likes to joke that he actually broke through the glass ceiling at GSM.”
Hialeah-born, MacGregor-Peralta grew up immersed in Latin culture (her mother was from Uruguay, her dad an American) and bilingual. She was raised in Gainesville and in Tampa, and earned Masters degrees in Operations Management, Entrepreneurship and Applied Technologies, and Business Administration.
She began WordDoc Translations while she, her husband and their two daughters were living in Las Vegas; they relocated to Florida in 2007.
Julia MacGregor-Peralta knows, perhaps better than any other woman executive, that the Tampa Bay area is a business and technology hub on the rise.
Part of what makes it unique, she believes, is the fact that the community is still relatively small and close-knit.
“You can know the business leaders, and the politicians, and the people,” she points out. “You can meet them and you can know them. And if you become involved and active, there’s opportunity there. It’s not going to happen if you’re sitting in your house, but if you get out there.
“Also, I do think that there’s awareness. I do think that there are some amazing women in this area, and amazing business leaders. I think we’re on the cusp – we’re a diamond in the rough.
“Ten years from now, when they look back, they will absolutely say ‘Oh my gosh – Tampa has become a mover and shaker in the startup community, and the business community. It snuck up on everybody.”
Nevertheless, MacGregor-Peralta believes, there’s room for improvement. “Let’s just say that we’ve come a long way, but we’re still growing,” she says. “But there are a lot of things that are happening here in the Tampa Bay area – I’m very active in the Tampa Bay Wave, and we have Synapse, and the Innovation Hub. There are all kinds of things. We are on the cusp.
“There are still some things that we gotta get better at. We gotta get better at our deals, the deals that the VCs are giving, because they’re behind the times. Some of them still don’t think tech, they think real estate.
“But they’re getting there. Just in the last five years, I’ve seen a huge change.”