Meagan Turner went from a passenger on the bus to a driver in just three years. That would be the StartupBus, which began in 2010, a five-day tech boot camp and startup pitch competition that invites would-be entrepreneurs to take a road trip/crash course in all things entrepreneurial. In a few short days, “Buspreneurs” pitch an idea, quickly moving to research, building, testing and actually selling the product or service.
In 2019, the Speed School electrical engineering student was invited to ride the StartupBus from Akron to New Orleans, but last month, she served as lead conductor of the competition’s Advancing Black Entrepreneurs (ABE) bus. From July 27-31, she coached and led 30 aspiring Black entrepreneurs as they traveled from her Cincinnati hometown to Austin, Texas.
Turner graduated high school in 2015, not completely clear about her educational path, but initially pursued international business and finance, following her mother’s path to corporate America. “But that just wasn’t me,” said Turner.
It took dropping out of school and spending time in her hometown with her grandfather to steer her in another direction.
“I hadn’t really spent much time with him and he was the only engineer that I knew of in my family,” said Turner. “Once I started talking about things that got me excited, engineering came into the conversation and I thought of electrical, because I always enjoyed knowing the electrical parts of how something is built, like toys. It was always gadgets or anything that you can kind of physically interact with and involves an electrical component, and so that’s what I wanted to spend time studying.”
In the next year and a half, Turner was anything but idle. She started by picking up prerequisites she would need to study engineering at a satellite location of University of Cincinnati. Outside of school, Turner’s independent study and proactive networking included a total immersion in the tech community.
“I had freedom and time and I joined many tech-related groups and listened to podcasts,” said Turner. “I learned about the StartupBus from a Facebook group I joined called Hackathon Hackers, who are interested in hackathons and coding and creating projects.”
Turner said the entrepreneurial aspect was appealing as well as the engineering. “I like freedom and doing my own thing,” she said. “I think engineering is a way to be able to build the technical skill set, which is important, but I’ve always been interested in the entrepreneurial side.”
For more preparation for engineering school, Turner sought out travel scholarships for tech conferences, including one to San Diego that introduced her to the world of big tech companies and to computer science students.
“It was there when I first felt that maybe I could do this. I could get into engineering,” she said.
The student experienced another major milestone in her quest when she connected online with a Google employee, Don Gerstle, an electrical engineering alum of Speed School, who offered to mentor her.
Turner’s insatiable curiosity and initiative was noticed, and she was invited to the StartupBus in 2019.
“I was on the Ohio bus, but the Advancing Black Entrepreneurs bus in that year, they left from Harlem, New York, and there was just something to say about the startup ideas generated on that bus,” said Turner. “They were more about building their communities, like financial literacy for minorities, for example, things that can really influence their communities. When those different, marginalized groups, have access to technology and education, a lot of the times that’s going into positively impacting their communities. That’s what I like about technology specifically for Black and brown communities is that it’s a tool to build those communities.”
From mixing and mingling with others from the Florida bus and the DC bus, Turner said she ended up spending time in the last stop city of New Orleans, where she met directors of StartupBus Europe and StartupBus Africa. It was that networking that led to her to ask about the ABE bus.
“The other conductors on the bus and me want to make this an amazing experience for riders. I am still actively recruiting to get University of Louisville students involved as well,” she said.
Going into her junior year, she said she is getting more comfortable at Speed School, where she applied in part to be close to her mother, who lives in Louisville and works at Humana.
“I was really nervous when I started here,” she said. “I started taking the bus in the mornings and getting to campus really early and just hanging out on the engineering floor. I thought if I stay in this place long enough, it’ll feel like home.”
Turner co-oped at GE Appliances, and was a student worker for FirstBuild, the GE Appliances start-up. She said the best part of her Speed School experience so far has been getting involved in The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
“Representation is important,” said Turner. “Before I went to Speed School, I developed a great network of Black and brown computer science students at these tech conferences. Being able to find that where I’m going to be spending most of my time at school is important to me, too and NSBE is a great avenue for that. It helped me find other students that look like me and made me feel comfortable.”