Pivoting to Entrepreneurship
Breaking the Barriers for Low Income, Minority Students
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. They are the tinkerers, inventors, makers,and creators that impact the world around us. Their journey to entrepreneurship starts when they encounter a problem or roadblock that typically does not have a solution. When they get the “aha” moment it ignites the “spark” to create the idea that becomes the solution – and in turn, the business opportunity!
Shawntia Lee, founder, president, and CEO of College Thriver, fits that description to a tee. Her “origin story” began when she was frustrated by the college admission process. She was overwhelmed by the applications and did not fully understand the requirements or information needed. As a minority,first-generation college student, living in a rural area, she lacked access to resources to be informed about what opportunities were available to her and how to decipher the information. She felt limited to accept an opportunity to attend college closer to home and was not properly prepared to have the best options available. After this experience, she had a desire to create a service that would provide minority students with the options available to help them make the best decisions for their academic future.
During the early lockdown time of the Covid-19 pandemic inMarch 2020, it would not seem optimal to start a business, but for Lee, that was the perfect time, as she embarked upon her journey. The initial concept originated from an ad to create a college readiness program for a local high school, which evolved into her business concept. She hired a developer and tapped into Facebook, gaining momentum through grassroots outreach and validated her idea.
Soon after, Lee plugged into the Orlando area entrepreneurial ecosystem and became enrolled in StarterStudio’s Build Stage Accelerator. That 90-day virtual program helped her to network and make valuable business connections and learn the fundamentals to create a business. The result was CollegeThriver, Inc., a nonprofit organization on a mission to transform the lives of minority, low-income, and under-served students by helping them enroll in the college of their dreams and graduate with pride. Through its College and Career Readiness program,it connects students in grades 6-12 to data-driven feedback to help them prepare and meet college admissions standards; it also provides test prep and internships.
After participating in StarterStudio, Lee was introduced toSeed Funders and secured a $50K seed investment and signed letters of intent from partners to fulfill her vision to disrupt higher education by breaking the barriers for low income, minority students.
Her tips for aspiring woman-owned tech entrepreneurs:
1. Network - put yourself out there and know what you need, don’t be afraid to ask
2. Don’t chase dollars – chase your purpose – know your mission
3. Practice your pitch – on both a small and large scale – you will be asked to communicate your business to attract investors,talent, and partners – be prepared
Shawntia Lee is an innovative and determined professional with a 15-year career consistently incorporating demonstrated leadership,management, and problem-solving abilities. Lee has been recognized by major magazines including Sheen Magazine, Leading with LEE Digital Magazine, St. Pete Catalyst,and Voyage Magazine showcasing aspiring, seasoned entrepreneurs, trendsetters,and game-changers. She was specifically recognized for being an advocate; providing representation that paved the way for students of color to access a college education. In addition to her startup, Lee works for a higher education admissions office, recognizing the challenges minority students face throughout the admissions process.
According to data compiled from the Orlando Economic Partnership, 20% of the businesses in Orlando are women-owned businesses, while women comprise more than half of the Orlando population. To level the playing field of equity and diversity, it would take the addition of 32,000 women-owned businesses to get to zero disparity. Strategies for a more equitable economic recovery from the Covid pandemic include helping existing businesses scale and encouraging women’s advancement and ownership.