Laura Galbraith is the president of Venture North, a champion of local businesses and a true North Star. Learn more about her story, which includes supporting a product that made its way to “Shark Tank” on ABC, plus six other incredible Northern Michigan women to celebrate this International Women’s Month.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our magazine library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

The Dream Believer

Ten years ago, Laura Galbraith got a call from Dakota and Garret Porter. The then 16- and 13-year-old Traverse City brothers had a big idea: LED lighting systems for sporting equipment like skis, bikes, stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Galbraith, president of Venture North, a community development financial institution (CDFI), saw potential in their dream at a time when “banks wouldn’t even look at us,” Garret says. With the help of affordable loan capital from Venture North, the Porters founded ActionGlow, and have since worked with major brands like Jeep and Red Bull and even appeared on ABC’s reality television series “Shark Tank” in November 2022. (Spoiler alert: Shark Robert Herjavec invests $200,000.)

“What has meant the most to Dakota and I is the belief Laura had in us from day one,” Garret says. “Not only has she supported us, but she was also one of our very first customers.” ActionGlow is just one of more than 1,500 local businesses in Northern Michigan that Galbraith and her team of eight have championed since Venture North’s inception in 2008. Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire, Frankfort’s Coastline Cycles, J.bird Provisions in Charlevoix, Blue Fish Early Learning Center in Kalkaska—from daycare and high-speed broadband to restaurants, inns and boutiques, these businesses are the heartbeat of our small towns.

Laura Galbraith and her co workers

Photo by Courtney Kent

Fittingly, it was a longing for sense of place that brought Galbraith, a business major, back home to Michigan in her 20s, taking a job with the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce in 2003 after living in Chicago with her husband. And it’s a love for service that continues to drive Galbraith two decades later. She also serves on the Leelanau Peninsula Economic Foundation Board of Directors, TART Finance Committee, Traverse Tourism Board of Directors and is an advisory member of a statewide CDFI coalition.

“The behind-the-scenes work is what’s rewarding,” she says. “Feeling like you’re giving back, feeling like you’re helping somebody solve a problem or connecting them with a resource that really does make a difference. I myself am not taking the risk of owning a business, and I give so much credit to the people I work with.”

Laura Galbraith posing with her lights and co workers

Photo by Courtney Kent

While Galbraith may not be an entrepreneur, she is a dreamer—and a doer. The mom of three went back to school to get her master’s degree in business administration when her twins were then 2 years old and her son was 4, and she continued to work full time. “My own mom was such a huge influence. When I was 13 my dad passed away and she was a single mom for four years raising teenage kids. She worked full time as a nurse; got her master’s degree; joined a national infection control organization during the AIDS epidemic. I saw her really rise to the challenge and continue to educate herself and pursue her dreams and aspirations …”

Galbraith believes in taking charge of your destiny; in not giving up. As a funding angel, she’ll also be right by your side for the entire ride.

“If you have a dream,” she says, “let’s do it.”

Laura Galbraith posing with her lights

Photo by Courtney Kent

Photo(s) by Courtney Kent