Meet Maggie Harlow, 2024 Vogt Awards Selection Committee Chair

This interview was edited for clarity.

Maggie Harlow, CEO of Signarama Downtown, has been a fixture in the Louisville business community for more than 20 years. Her entrepreneurial background, community involvement, and dedication to the Vogt Invention and Innovation Awards program make her the perfect choice to lead this year’s selection committee as they choose up to six early-stage businesses for the 2024 cohort.

We talked with Maggie about her background and experience as a woman business owner, the importance of the Vogt Awards to our community, and why she is excited to be an integral part of this year’s program.


Tell us a little about yourself and your business experience, Maggie.

I was raised in Elmira, New York, but Louisville has been home since 1980. My husband Brian and I have raised our two sons, Jack and Clay, here.

I have a bachelor’s degree in oil painting from Indiana University Bloomington, so I’m truly a great example for people who might be interested in the Vogt [Awards].  Anyone can end up being a business owner. Everything I learned about business I learned by owning a business, watching, learning, asking questions, and trying.

I worked as the general manager for Tom Payette Jaguar, my father’s business, which taught me about retail. I learned a lot about what I’m good at and what I’m bad at, which is so important to know.

In 2003, my husband and I opened Signarama Downtown where I’m CEO.

What made you decide to start your own business?

I didn’t really aspire to have my own business. I left my father’s automotive business when he retired because I knew I didn’t want to own his business. I worked briefly for someone else, and at that point, I realized I wanted a business of my own that I could build and grow. I wanted to be in control. It was a quick decision at that point. I was really excited and very scared, but I was mostly really excited!

What qualities do you think it takes to be a successful business owner?

The two biggest qualities I look for and appreciate in entrepreneurs are persistence and agility. If an entrepreneur is persistent, I know that they are likely to go through many iterations of something and they are willing to fail. They understand that setbacks are just data. To me, failure is data.

All my successes, every single one of them, have not been a stroke of genius, a great idea, or an amazing marketing idea. They’ve always been because I’ve been willing to get up and do it again. I think that is really a key ingredient to success.

Agility is another important factor. You can have failures and be so in love with your idea that you’re not willing to make a change. It’s important that if something isn’t working, you’re willing to face it and make adjustments.

Why did you agree to be the Vogt Awards Selection Committee Chair?

Vogt [Awards] is about helping businesses grow. It’s about pouring into the Louisville startup community. I’ve always felt like I’ve been involved in the startup community in one way or another. I love that feeling of making young things grow–of putting the fertilizer out there and seeing what happens. That’s what’s fun for me: giving back to the community in a way that helps young, new entrepreneurs get their legs underneath them.

I went through the process last year as the Vice-Chair, and Monique Quarterman was Chair, and she did an incredible job. She talked at length about our responsibility to represent the community and made sure the Vogt Awards represented all of us and not just some of us. I definitely feel like I want to carry that torch and do the same job she did.

How will your experience as a woman business owner help you in this role?

I’ve always identified myself as a woman business owner simply because I came out of a feminist family. Working in the automotive business, I definitely felt like a minority. I always felt like the token female and felt like I needed to represent. I needed to connect to other women. I’ve always felt that sense that I need to make sure I’m seen in a room if I’m the only woman. I need to be the one to raise my hand and ask the question, add something to the conversation, or question authority.

For me, being a woman business owner is a big part of my identity.  We have a unique perspective and I have a responsibility to bring that perspective wherever I go. It’s important for me to serve as a role model to everyone in the room so that women can hold authority.

What about the process are you most looking forward to?

We did some visioning with the Community Foundation about what we want the following years to look like. We asked ourselves: what is the Vogt [Awards]’ role in the community, and how do we expand the reach and influence we have on the candidates? How do we create a funnel to help business owners? Maybe they’re not quite ready for the program, but how do we make sure they feel that sense of belonging? How do we help them see where they fit into this startup community? Maybe there’s something else they can do or help they can receive now in preparation for Vogt.

Why do you think the Vogt Awards are so important to our community?

The quantity and quality of coaching and mentoring that goes into these candidates is off the charts. I think the Vogt Awards holds a special place [locally and nationally] where if you’re a Vogt Award winner, people recognize that it has scrutiny and has some real chops to it–that your ideas and your business have merit.

As many business experts as we have out there, we never really know what’s going to take off–what’s going to be the next big thing. I think it’s important for us to have a culture in this community that encourages people to get out and try. Get out and create something. We must provide ways for these new leaders, business-minded people, and creatives to grow and learn. Think of it like a business playground: it’s like continuing education for our community; we have to be willing to try new ideas and keep inviting new people to the table. We have success story after success story out of the Vogt Awards. Those success stories matter, but the non-success stories matter, too. We are creating a community of makers, creatives, and leaders.

What would you say to encourage people to apply for this program?

I would encourage people to get involved. Look at the application, look at all the questions being asked, and get familiar with these ideas because when you do launch your business, and it gets big enough, or you have enough evidence to be a part of Vogt, you want to be prepared.

By applying, you will be asked questions and asked to do things that might be out of your comfort zone. You may not be selected, but in the process, start learning how this startup business culture works. You will get to know people in the community, ask questions, and seek feedback. You’re going to be exposed to things you’ve never understood or known, and that’s okay. The only way to do it is to try.


Interested in applying? The deadline to apply for the 24th Annual Vogt Invention and Innovation Awards is May 28, 2024. For more information or to apply, visit