Cee Chats: A Tierra Hunter Interview

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While scrolling on Instagram sometime last year, I came across a nonprofit called The Black Burdell - a foundation created to help black businesses form and expand. One of the board members, Tierra Hunter, shared a link regarding a scholarship for business-savvy high school and college students aptly named “The Tierra Hunter STEMpreneur Scholarship” and I was intrigued. I sat down with her to understand the “whys” of the scholarship and to learn more about Hunter’s background.

Cee Will: Tell me about Tierra Hunter. Who is she? What is she like? What is she up to?

Tierra Hunter: I am a spontaneous, passionate, larger-than-life human being.I am working on developing my business and the [corresponding] app: a motivational, inspirational, entrepreneurial venture.I’m looking at the app to launch in December 2018.

CW: What is The Black Burdell? What do my readers need to know?

Hunter: The Black Burdell is an organization that helps enhance minority entrepreneurship. The crux of it is to help put more businesses in the hands of black people. Specifically black people because we have the hardest time getting funding for our businesses, the hardest time having startup ventures, the hardest time getting investors, and the hardest time getting money, period. It was started by Brandon Miller, Darren Sanders, and Henderson Johnson, all engineers from Georgia Tech. They found a need to come up with a way to teach others, as well as fund them. Teaching is one thing, but if they don't have the money to put their idea into practice, then it may fall on deaf ears.

CW: You mentioned the founding trio: Miller, Sanders, and Johnson. What year did they get things started? How did you get involved?

Hunter: It was founded in 2015. Henderson and I have been close since high school and I got involved when I told him that it would be nice if there was some kind of venue for people to do both STEM and entrepreneurship. I said, “Why don’t we just add a STEMpreneur scholarship for high school students?” I feel like STEM is heavy in the education curriculum now and there is so much emphasis on it. A lot of kids come up with great STEM ideas. Hair care lines, that’s Science! Apps, that’s Technology!  Creating robots for your school’s competition, Engineering! And just about everything requires Math. Whatever your brilliant, young mind can think of is probably in the STEM field.If you have a good business plan and a good thing going, you should get funding for it.

(Johnson and Hunter pictured with the recipient of the 2017 STEMtrepreneur Scholarship, Jon Johnson. Courtesy: The Black Burdell)

(Johnson and Hunter pictured with the recipient of the 2017 STEMtrepreneur Scholarship, Jon Johnson. Courtesy: The Black Burdell)

CW: That’s awesome! Did you ever have any ideas as a high schooler that didn’t take off because they didn’t have enough money?

Hunter: Yeah, I had a lot! I wanted to do a lipgloss line back when lipgloss was poppin’. I was a biology and chemistry major and always had an inkling about science. I knew what I needed to get started - packaging, business license, business pitch - but then I thought, “Who’s gonna fund a high schooler?” There are millions of kids out there like me, especially in underprivileged communities, that just need help.

CW: Are you still working at your lipgloss? Or are you on to something bigger?

Hunter: I’m on to something bigger now. As you get older, you find more of what your purpose is. I don’t think my purpose now is to develop my own line of lipgloss, but rather to help somebody else develop their own “lipgloss”.

CW: Besides your parents or teachers, who inspires you? Who do you aim to build from? Why?

Hunter: I would say one of my friends, Henderson [Johnson]. He inspires me because he has such a “never give up” spirit. He fights to the finish. He’s so driven and so motivated and ambitious. It rubs off on you.It’s infectious.

CW: Where do you see The Black Burdell in a year?

Hunter: Originally, I was only a scholarship donor, but now I’m part of the team because I want to be able to take the team to new levels and new heights. Last year, we had a really successful annual conference, Burdell School of Entrepreneurship Conference.We invite high school students, college students, and young professionals. We have seminars with great speakers - Daniel Calderon, Gabrielle McBay, Dr. Ayanna Abrams - great speakers.

My focus this year is to get more high school students in attendance.I want them to be there absorbing knowledge.There was a good amount last year, but I think so many more high schoolers can benefit. I want us on a bigger stage. Last year we partnered with J. Mack Robinson School of Business at Georgia State. This year we want to partner with the whole university, as well as Georgia Tech and Junior Achievement. Way bigger, way better.

CW: What advice do you have for people our age who are struggling to find their passion and do well in their career?

Hunter: Don’t be scared. I’ve always heard the saying, “You’re going to fail, but make sure you fail fast.” Get back up. The thing about life is you’re inevitably going to encounter struggles. Some stuff you don’t even see coming and some stuff that will be super hard to get over. You have to find it in yourself to know that you won’t let “it” defeat you.

CW: If you could go back in time and talk to 15-year-old Tierra, what would you say? Be real.

Hunter: Leave these men alone. You will find a great one that will blow your mind, but focus in school. High school is SO important. It can provide you with a springboard. Absorb the information. If I would have done better, you could have made a 4.0. Look at colleges when you’re in 9th grade and learn what financial aid is, so it’s seamless by the time you get to the

12th grade. Don’t try to change yourself for anybody. The world is going to need exactly who you are. You don’t need to go outside yourself to find who you are.

CW: What would you say to those who may be stuck in a job they hate?

Hunter: Take that leap. If you died today, your job would have your job posted today. Use your job as a mechanism to build yourself, but if you hate it, quit it. Stack your coin! Put whatever you can away so you will be ready when it’s time to leap.

CW: One last question before we part: What TV character do you see yourself in? Like, who is living your life on television?

Hunter: I most relate to Molly on Insecure. She’s is successful, but she also faces turmoil. I like the duality. Yeah, you're successful, but you might go through some mess too. I don’t really relate to her sleeping around with Dro [laughs].

Scholarship information can be found here. The deadline to submit an application is March 30th.