Ever since Brianna York was 13 years old, her favorite word was “indomitable.” She refused to be defeated. But growing up in Chicago, she knew there were real fears that she couldn’t simply ignore when navigating through the world. Yet she wanted to explore.

“I grew accustomed to carrying self-defense weapons with me wherever I went,” Brianna explained. Safety devices became integral to her day-to-day wear, carrying keychains styled with color-coordinated LED lights, tactical sticks, and pepper spray. “That’s when it hit me,” she said.

When Brianna graduated from UChicago Charter School Woodlawn (UCW) High School in 2018, she knew that she wanted to start a business, but she wasn’t sure what product or service she wanted to provide to the world. After conducting market research and scoping out other self-defense keychain vendors, she decided to position her product as unique through its styling and branding. “I wanted to make them in a way that would be attractive to young women,” she said.

At the same time, she also wanted her product to give young women a particular feeling: “Indomitable means unable to be subdued or defeated. That’s how I want every woman to feel when they have one of my keychains.”

There is no better evidence of how Brianna achieved her goal than the long waiting list of customers waiting to purchase an Indomitable keychain. Business is booming: Indomitable’s Instagram has more than 44,000 followers, and whenever the online shop is restocked, all Indomitable keychains sell out almost immediately.

Screenshot of the Indomitable online shop with images of the keychains available for sale

Brianna first cultivated her entrepreneurship skills through the Pearls with Power program at UCW, which is made possible by funding from the University of Chicago Women’s Board. The program provides an opportunity for eleventh-grade girls attending UCW to practice networking, presentation, time management, financial planning, and other skills for success. It also provides participating students with opportunities to meet successful women in business and community-based organizations as well as develop an extended support community they can tap into as they continue their journey through high school, to college, and beyond.

Brianna describes her current support systems as invaluable: “You need to have people around you who are willing to support you no matter what. Opening your own business is a risk, but one worth taking.” She characterized the launch of her business as “a lot of long days and sleepless nights” as she developed a social media strategy to build brand awareness.

Initially, her social media strategy involved cultivating audience interaction on TikTok. “I did small giveaways that required my followers to interact with my posts and tag other people that may be interested. Eventually, I caught the eyes of some popular influencers on social media. That led me to a wonderful opportunity with The Shade Room on Instagram, where they gave me a promotional ad for Black History Month.”

Brianna grew her business while beginning her undergraduate career at Valencia College in Florida. Soon, she will be transferring to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee to complete her bachelor’s degree. “I want to be successful and live a comfortable life while also using my skill set and knowledge to help others in any way that I can,” Brianna explained. “As for now, that’s selling self-defense keychains to young women. I feel very fulfilled with the work that I do, and I hope to continue this business for as long as God allows me to.”

Congratulations on your entrepreneurial and academic success, Brianna! We cannot wait to see how far you go.