For the ESSENCE Best & Black Owned series, Work & Money Editor Marquita K. Harris and her team learn about the ups, downs, and in-betweens of running a business.

Khalia Braswell, has been passionate about technology since she was in fourth grade. She recalls this period of her life fondly, as this was when her family received their first home computer. She was instantly hooked and eventually, she knew that she wanted a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Now, as the founder and executive director if INTech Camp for Girls, she’s an award-winning technologist with an expansive career.

The Charlotte, N.C. native, attended North Carolina State University, majoring in computer science, ultimately receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from the school’s College of Engineering.

It was during her time as a grad student at UNC that she created INTech Camp for Girls. INTech’s aim is to inform and inspire girls of color to consider careers and jobs in the technology industry. Through hosting one-day camps, and numerous other events and initiatives attendees are exposed to a world of innovation and career options.

Since founding INTech in 2014, Braswell and her team have given more than 1,200 girls exposure to STEM training and mentorship from other women of color within the tech and engineering industries. Braswell and INTech understand that engineering, technology, and computer science careers can be a gateway to numerous opportunities, for individuals who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM.

Ahead, we spoke with Braswell about her pivot into entrepreneurship and where she plans to take INTech next.

How did you discover your passion for both technology and entrepreneurship?

My self-awareness came early, so I was very intentional about my choices. I chose my high school because I knew that by having “academy of technology” in its name, I should likely go there since I loved computers. After I enrolled, I realized that upperclassmen had paid internships and I knew that was the path I also wanted. I later received two internship offers as a junior in high school at Wells Fargo (then Wachovia). It was crazy to me that at 16, I would be able to choose the job I wanted, [which paid] me way more than the grocery store job I originally wanted.

As for entrepreneurship, I grew up around hustlers like my Uncle Steve who was the guy at your hair salon with the CDs, purses, DVDs, etc. and decided that I also wanted to be like him. I had a mentor who said I shouldn’t say I wanted to be a hustler, as it wasn’t ladylike. However, to me, what hustling meant was creating multiple streams of income and literally making a way out of no way. I knew when I was at Wachovia that I wasn’t a traditional worker, as I didn’t like the routine nature of a nine to five. I never expected tech and entrepreneurship to intersect for me the way it did through my non-profit, INTech Camp for Girls. I didn’t understand what “social entrepreneurship” was until well after I finished undergrad and once I realized I could combine my passions of teaching girls who looked like me about coding and technology with this idea of running my own business, the rest was history.

What inspired you to create your own non-profit organization?  

Originally, I just wanted to do an event with a grant that I received. However, an hour after the event, I received an email that said I had changed a girl’s life in eight hours. The tears began to fall, and I knew then that I would have to continue this work. Fast-forward to now and that girl is my mentee, has Adobe Certificates, has been to the Grace Hopper Conference, which is the largest tech conference for women in the world. 

What’s INTech’s mission? Why do you believe it’s important for Black and Latinx young girls to be involved in the STEM industries?

INTech’s mission is to inform and inspire girls to innovate in the technology industry. We couple what is learned in the classroom with inspiration from other Black and Latinx women who are in the industry, whether that be through having my friends like Dr. Christina Harrington, Dr. Denae Ford Robinson, Dr. Nicki Washington, and Dr. France D. Jackson speak with them while they’re at camp, or including women like Dr. Robin Brewer, Dr. Kyla McMullen and soon-to-be Dr. Jasmine Bowers in our presentations when we’re speaking about women in tech. We not only tell them how to do it, we also show them that they indeed can do it.

How is your organization igniting change within young girls’ lives?

While I would like to say it’s solely the instruction that helps spark their interest, what I’ve learned is that our programs provide a community that these young ladies have not experienced [before]. We have parents who have sent their daughters to our Raleigh Camp every single summer that we’ve held it. They tell me “any time you post something, we’re going to sign up for it.” Last year, we piloted what will later become INTech Academy in Charlotte where we held after school program for high school girls. Two of our scholars—we call them scholars so that they know what they’re aspiring to—participated in the Facebook Engineer for The Week Program…

As a result of that, they earned an all-expense-paid trip to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, C.A. for their Achievement Summit, which was a hackathon. We were able to take four of our scholars and while there, they competed against 20 other teams’ country-wide and not only did they place in the Top 8, they brought home the award for the Best Pitch. Two of the young ladies have participated in INTech since the 8th grade. Now they can both say that through INTech, they visited Netflix, Apple, and Facebook, competed and won an award at one of the most well-known tech companies. That experience will really transform their lives forever.

What has been your proudest moment since founding INTech Camp for Girls?

Re-connecting with one of our original INTech Scholars and finding out that after graduation, she intends to major in computers. We held our first camp on April 26, 2014 and Rhynne was a 7th grader. On her application, her mom put that she hadn’t had exposure to tech prior to coming to INTech and fast forward five years later, she’s now an incoming freshman in Computer Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. It shows that what we do really works, and I can’t wait to see more of our scholars graduate and go on to study computing/engineering.

Share the challenges of pivoting from a nine to five corporate job to being in business for yourself.

The hardest part is when you’re a solo-preneur and you don’t have anyone else in the trenches working on your business the way that you do, and you can’t delegate as much. You’re the CEO, CMO, the CTO, the everything and at times. It gets hard trying to figure out what to prioritize and how to manage yourself so that you can get out of your own way. For me, it can be rough because as the founder and executive director of a non-profit, you have a board of directors that you have to answer to and there are just a lot of nuances with this kind of business structure that you don’t account for like bylaws, financial procedures, making sure your 501(c)(3) status isn’t jeopardized, etc. 

ESSENCE: What’s next for INTech Camp for Girls?

BRASWELL: In Spring 2020, we plan to formally launch INTech Academy, a program designed to provide high school girls the skills they need to gain a paid internship in the summer. We’ve already received funding from the Duke Energy Foundation and Spectrum to help assist with the program. Through my own experience interning, I know the value and impact that an experience like this can have for a student, especially one that may be growing up in a household with limited resources. It can change their trajectory to a path to one of financial freedom.