Cate Luzio ’97
By Allison Eatough ’97

Cate Luzio has never been afraid to take risks.
 
The former government and politics and Spanish major took a job in the banking industry, despite having no experience, and thrived. She then left that lucrative career to start Luminary, a woman-oriented collaboration hub, and quickly drew hundreds of members and dozens of corporate partners.
 
So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City and forced her company to temporarily close, she immediately began working on a reopening plan — and reshaping her business model.
 
“I always say navigate the now, but prepare for the next,” she said.
 
Luzio, a winner of this year’s EnTERPreneur Award, founded Luminary in 2018 to support women in the workplace and help them advance. By March 2020, she had more than 700 members and 30 corporate partners who were committed to creating programming and developmental opportunities to boost women’s career prospects. The business held almost daily in-person events, and members frequently used Luminary’s amenities, including workspaces, conference rooms, a meditation room and a beauty bar.
 
“What impressed me most about Cate was her passion and her purpose,” said James L. Giangrande ’90, a founding partner of Altium Wealth Management who met Luzio just before she launched Luminary. “She gave up an incredibly successful career, right in the middle of her prime, to help others and start a movement about something much bigger than herself.”
 
During the early months of the pandemic, Luzio found her members needed Luminary’s sense of community more than ever.
 
"We’re now working from eight in the morning till eight at night because there’s no break, because we’re all at home,” she recalled hearing from members. “I need community. I need the water cooler conversation. I need to just decompress. Even though I can’t be physically with you in having that glass of wine or coffee, I need to do that.”
 
Luzio began hosting virtual community programs like weekly happy hours or “water cooler conversations” every other week.
 
“It’s really important that members feel welcomed, connected and included,” Luzio said. “We talk about whatever people feel like talking about. Some of that is, ‘My kid is driving me crazy,’ and ‘I'm working in my closet.’ Or, ‘How do I handle conversations with my teams about social injustice and racial and gender inequities.’”
 
As a result of the pandemic and increase in online programs, Luzio is now reaching women around the globe. Luminary has grown to more than 1,000 members and 35 corporate partners over the past few months. And in fall of 2020, Unilever announced a $500,000 investment in partnership with Luminary to sponsor 250 fellowships for women-owned businesses.
 
“They’ve been a phenomenal partner to work with thus far and are really concerned about the economy,” Luzio said. “Twenty-five percent of women-owned businesses in America have already been permanently eliminated because of the pandemic.”
 
By the end of 2021, Luzio said she hopes to support 1,000 women-owned businesses.
 
Luzio is also an architect of the Alumni Association’s women’s alumnae forums in and around New York City. 
 
“I've always been someone who relies on my gut,” she said. “I’ve had to do that from day one of starting this company but even more so when you’re going through a crisis. It’s great to lead a company when everything is good, but the real leaders come out during the times of crisis and strife, and I'm hoping that I’m one of them.”

University of Maryland graduates are among the best and brightest in their fields. From scholars and innovators to entrepreneurs, teachers and researchers, our alumni are leaving their mark in our state, nation and the world. The Alumni Excellence Awards provide an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of select Terps, and honor these recipients with distinction. Careful consideration was made in selecting our 2021 recipients across four categories: Rising Terp Award, Research Award, EnTERPrenuer Award and Legacy Award.
 

The EnTERPrenuer Award honors an entrepreneurial alumnus/a whose company has made a significant impact on the university, the state and/or the nation. Up to three EnTERPreneur Awards are granted annually, celebrating a Terp/s who has started a business that is fearlessly disrupting its industry.