The HBCUpreneur Corner™ – Norfolk State University’s Harold Blackwell & Chestnut Hollow Farms, LLC


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Name: Harold L. Blackwell

Alma Mater: Norfolk State University

Business Name & Description: Chestnut Hollow Farms, LLC grows hydroponic leafy greens (kale, lettuce, spinach, etc.) and culinary herbs in an indoor controlled environment year round in Fairfield County, CT.

What year did you found your company? In late 2011 and we have been going strong ever since.

What has been the most exciting and/or fearful moment during your HBCUpreneur career? The most exciting moment was when we picked up our first grocery store/wholesale account. It was at that moment the realization set in we were onto something great. My most fearful moment was when it became apparent demand started to outstrip our capacity. A great problem to have, but definitely scary.

What made you want to start your own company? I have always had an ‘entrepreneurial bug’ inside of me. I realized early in life that I wanted to call the shots and not take orders. Obviously you still take orders in some form, but when you own your own business you also control your destiny (for the most part). Based on these internal feelings it was a natural progression to incorporate and do what I enjoy as a business.

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Who was the most influential person/people for you during your time in college? The most influential person was not a professor, but a cousin who was also a HBCU graduate. He explained to me about self-employment and how he built his own real estate empire. My conversations with him helped fill in the gaps of what I did not learn in class. To this day, he is a trusted advisor and has given me gems of wisdom ever since.

How do you handle complex problems? My approach is to always take a step back and make sure I understand all of the facts and think of possible solutions. In each solution, I review whether or not I have accounted for all possible factors (pros and/or cons). Then I do simple benefit analysis and choose my solution.

What is something you wish you had known prior to starting your company? To not delay starting my business because I assumed more money was needed. It was quite the opposite.

What do you believe HBCUs can do to spur more innovation and entrepreneurship while their students are in school either as undergraduate or graduate students? More incubators on campus and partnerships with innovative, private companies looking for the next biggest/best idea.

African American farmland ownership is at an all-time low controlling only 0.4% of America’s farmland. What do you believe HBCUs can do to reverse this trend? I believe HBCUs can help reverse the trend by purchasing farmland and build out beginning/new farmer programs on the purchased farmland. Ideally this would create new African American farmers. The hope would be for these new farmers to eventually move on to purchase additional farmland.

How do you deal with rejection? Constructively. It forces you to rethink your strategy and approach to certain tasks.

When you have down time how do you like to spend it? I spend my down time either reading or doing some farm related activity. I also maintain a day job so these activities serve to relax my mind and spirit.

What was your most memorable HBCU memory? Oh wow, there are so many to choose from! I would have to say graduating. My mother, father, brother, aunt, and some friends were there to show support. One of my proudest days.

In leaving is there any advice you have for budding HBCUpreneurs? Read and be open to ideas that do not necessarily align with your thinking. I believe these factors help you think outside of the proverbial box. Read current events and anything that interests you. Especially books/periodicals related to your industry or a field you wish to become establish a business.

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