BBJ: Celeebrate Us owner overcomes brain tumor to find success

Editor’s note: The following article appeared on on November 15, 2018.

Lisa Phillips has overcome a lot in her life. After a childhood spent in foster care, she was on her way to becoming a successful small business owner and MBA graduate, when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Phillips overcome that too, and today, her workforce training company, Celeebrate Us, has partnerships with Coca-Cola and pending partnerships with LifeBridge Health and Marriott International.

The beginning

Phillips spent most of her childhood in and out of foster care before aging out of the system. She had three kids at a young age, experienced homelessness and was incarcerated for a time, Phillips said.

“In the first 25 years of my life, I was in the wilderness,” she said. “But I had an epiphany and wanted to have a life.”

While still on welfare, Phillips enrolled in a workforce training program in Baltimore County, which led to her first job in medical billing.

By 2011, she had founded Celeebrate Us, which she originally envisioned as a gift basket and party-planning company. She would eventually add a workforce component inspired by her own experience.

She got her bachelor’s degree from Coppin State University in 2013 and enrolled in the University of Baltimore’s MBA program soon after. In March 2017, she visited the White House for a small business owners roundtable discussion where she met President Donald Trump.

The challenge

Then in December 2017, Phillips was diagnosed with a brain tumor. At the time, she was two classes away from finishing her MBA. And she had parties booked through 2019.

Though the tumor didn’t end up being cancerous, she still had to undergo 30 rounds of radiation treatment and temporarily step away from her business.

The solutions

Despite the setbacks, Phillips used her time in treatment to find ways to grow her business.

“Every time I got on the radiation table I came up with a business growth concept,” she said. “In the end, I had 30 new growth strategies that allowed me to get to six figures in less than three months.”

Phillips relaunched Celeebrate Us on May 1 and decided to focus mostly on the workforce training component. What sets her apart, Phillips said, is that she focuses on the “pain points” of employers by developing programs custom-tailored to each company’s needs.

For example, Phillips is working with Marriott to design a housekeeper training program. She had similar success with Coca-Cola — after her graduates outperformed other workers, she became a preferred vendor, she said.

The lessons

While she’s overcome many obstacles, one lesson that has always stayed with her, Phillips said, is the importance of giving back.

She recently joined the board of directors for HealthCare Access Maryland, and plans to give back to UB, which offered lots of support — from providing a wheelchair to career counseling — to help her finally earn her MBA, Phillips said.

While this form of giving back is more high profile, Phillips said even when she was first starting out, she volunteered at homeless shelters and delivered care bags to those at central booking. She credits this for her success in life.

“If you want to turn your life around, commit to giving,” she said. “What happens is the universe gives back.”

Lisa Phillips

Title: Founder, Celeebrate Us

Age: 50

Residence: Baltimore City

Education: MBA from University of Baltimore; Bachelor’s degree from Coppin State University

What’s in a name: The double “e”s in her company’s name aren’t a mistake, Phillips added them on purpose. “The extra ‘e’ is because when I turned my life around, I understood that I was going to have to do extra to stand out among my competitors.”

Source: Baltimore Business Journal, November 15, 2018

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