Born in Louisiana, but raised in Jacksonville, FL, Chelsea Pierre, Founder and CEO of Blerds Leading Technology (BLT), is on a mission to help minority founders of tech startups get equal access to resources, capital and support. With a background in corporate IT, six years’ experience as a Network Engineer for the United States Air Force and a passion for helping others succeed, Pierre is well-positioned to make a difference in the lives of many aspiring entrepreneurs.
“When I left the Air Force in 2013, I stayed in Montgomery, AL, while I finished my degree in Applied Computer Science at Troy University,” Pierre said. “After college, I got a job at a Hyundai warehouse where I worked on networks and database systems. In August 2018, I accepted a position at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa as an F5 Network Engineer – a position I previously held in Air Force. It was a great opportunity and moving to Tampa also allowed me to be closer to my aging parents.”
Since the start of her employment with the Department of Defense, Pierre has branched into Cyber Security and other traditional aspects of IT Security. Her experience and involvement in these fields opened additional doors and gave her the opportunity to speak at different Cyber Security conferences. Through her travels, involvement in the industry and by attending local networking events and Meetup groups, Pierre began to see and understand the struggles and disparities experienced by minority founders. By early 2020, she was ready to do something about it.
“After years of attending these conferences and events – and noticing the lack of minorities – I decided to reach out to an organization called Blacks in Technology. The have chapters in different cities to support minorities in the technology industry. They didn’t have a chapter in Tampa, but I convinced them to start one and I volunteered to lead it. After several months as President of the Central Florida chapter, my eyes were opened to the possible impacts I could make in different cities.”
Over time, Pierre had a difference of opinion with the leadership of Blacks in Technology and decided to go in a different direction. Around this time, Pierre met Niesha Marks at a Cannabis conference in Miami. Marks was there to learn more about the burgeoning industry and Pierre was there to learn about the role that technology would play. The two hit it off and discovered a shared passion for a lot of the same things.
“First of all, we stuck out like a sore thumb,” said Pierre with a laugh, referring to the fact that she and Marks were one of the few African Americans in attendance. “Besides having that in common, we discovered a shared passion for helping minorities get equal access to resources. With an undergraduate degree from Tuskegee University, a Master’s from UF and experience with government, policy making and business, she brought a lot to the table. We decided that with our combined skill sets and passions, it was time to start our own organization.”
Blerds Leading Technology (BLT) was official founded in June 2020. Pierre described the business model and explained how becoming a member gives minorities the opportunity to advance their ideas, make important connections and possibly receive funding.
“BLT exists to provide an unconventional hub for all minorities in technology that seek to advance their network and enhance their skills,” Pierre said. “Our mission is to connect talented individuals with unique opportunities for employment, education, and leadership that might not otherwise be afforded to them due to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Our monthly packages consist of everything I struggled with trying to access. From purchasing certifications to e-learning, mentorship and training, our three levels of membership cater to the needs of minority entrepreneurs at every stage of development. We even have a career consultant and a business consultant for people to speak with.”
Pierre added, “BLT is a company created from the pain points of multiple Blerds – also known as ‘Black Nerds’ – in the IT career field. BLT was created to alleviate the financial pain points of affording certifications, create Blerds Leading Technology scholarships for top performing students majoring in a Computer Science or equivalent degrees, redefine the comfortableness of presenting a black-owned startup company to venture capitalists, decrease the worries of editing a technical resume, relieve the stress of not receiving career focused mentoring, receive access to unlimited tech training, and to remove the burdens of hiring a business consultant. We’ve also partnered with a venture capital firm called P27 Ventures, to help our members get funding. For those that don’t qualify for funding, we’ll get feedback from P27 and share that information with our members.”
Since launching in June 2020, Blerds has experience significant growth. So much that Pierre and Marks are looking to hire a marketing professional. They continue to spread the word in a very grassroots manner, but in order to scale and reach more individuals, they’ll need creative ways to engage with others and share their mission. “We’ve created Meetup groups in 10 different cities and still do virtual conferences,” Pierre said. “However, there’s only so much we can do right now.”
Looking ahead, Pierre, who relishes in the opportunity to provide a pathway for minority IT Professionals and Entrepreneurs to excel in their careers, is focused on driving the movement on a national level. She wants diversity and inclusion to be front and center in the tech community and will do anything and everything in her power to make that happen.
What advice does Pierre have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Stay positive throughout the multiple No's that you will receive because the Yes's will come,” she said. “Also, do the FREE legwork FIRST. When uprooting your company there is always a fork in the road to where your company will become either extremely expensive or time consuming. Time consuming implies that you have recognized and are doing all you can do for free to elevate your company. Examples include, sending emails all night to prospective customers or clients, social media marketing, researching market geographic locations, setting up collaboration meetings with potential partners, etc. Expensive means that you have exhausted everything that you physically can do on your own and now you are ready to hire external or internal help, such as employees, etc. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, save money and do the FREE legwork first when starting your company.”